Paper-thin ribbons of pale flesh dressed in nothing more than a slick of oil, a little lemon juice and a dusting of salt – just thinking about courgettes brings out the Nigel Slater in me. Pan-fried in butter and garlic until the edges curl and crisp and sweeten. Or the height of home-grown luxury – pick baby courgettes, flowers still attached, dip them in a fine batter and fry until their tails turn crisp.
It makes sense, then, that when you go to the letter C in my filing cabinet of seeds, it spews out endless possibilities; straight, knobbly, curved, round, yellow, orange, green-striped, bushy, wild, scalloped, those for flower production, those with mildew resistance or cold tolerance and those without.
There is, however, such a thing as too many courgettes. When you start to extol the virtues of a good marrow jam (plenty of ginger is the secret) you know you’ve fallen for them hard. For a family of four with an average sort of love for courgettes I recommend a plant per person; maybe one or two extra for good measure. At least two plants should be a different variety: a ball type for stuffing, a pattypan for variety and a good modern hybrid for early reliability.
It is hard to keep a courgette or a summer squash happy in a pot, unless that pot is very large, and your potting compost is rich in organic matter. Courgettes like to get their roots somewhere deep and cool and have their head basking in the sun (courgettes never do well in shade). A pot, particularly if it is metal, will often get too hot and burn the roots. They also require a lot of water. Still, if you have a big pot (50 litres or more) then Thompson & Morgan’s variety ‘Venus’ is a compact F1 hybrid with a long harvest of deep green, smooth courgettes.
For a yellow-fruited variety, I like ‘Soleil’. Again it’s an F1, but this means it has better resistance to powdery mildew and is early to mature in our climate. My favourite ball courgette is ‘Tondo di Piacenza Emilia Romagna’, from Franchi Seeds, but it is a beast of a plant that likes to sprawl. The fruit are deep green, perfectly spherical and wonderful for stuffing. You get a lot of courgettes from this. ‘Eight Ball’, which is a more compact plant, comes a close second.
For pattypan, I like ‘Sunburst’, a bright yellow F1, and the light green ‘Peter Pan’. Those with green tint or custard in the name, such as ‘Bennings Green Tint’, ‘Patty Pan Green Tint’ and ‘Custard White’ are older varieties. They have some of the best flavour, more nutty than regular courgettes. For ribbed courgettes, I always go Italian, ‘Romanesco’ or ‘Lungo di Firenze’. And for the curiosity, I love ‘Summer Crookneck’, which is as ugly as hell as it is covered in warta, but picked young, there is no finer flavour. It needs a very warm spot and is often slow to get going, but it is worth the wait.
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