Day 68: Zucchine Fritti

Day 68: Zucchine Fritti

inspired by Santoré

If I ever needed a reminder of how much I’ve changed since we first went into lockdown, today has provided just that.

Because today I am eating my first ever home grown vegetable. A courgette.

Until we moved to our new house late last year we lived in a flat with no outside space. A couple of window boxes with herbs was all we could manage. Even then we didn’t grow them from seed. Simply buy the plants, put them in the window box, and try really hard not to kill them. Sometimes it even worked.

Aidan knew he wanted a decent garden. When we were househunting it was one of his top priorities. He was adamant that he wanted to grow vegetables, have a pond, and a big patch of grass to mow. I drew the line at keeping pigs and chickens. It’s a garden, I said, not a smallholding.

Maybe it’s because he grew up in London, so he knows how to appreciate green space. I grew up in the Warwickshire countryside. But I was very much a town mouse. I have no interest in anything relating to the “outdoors”. Long walks? No thanks. Camping? Only at music festivals, and even then I’d rather not. Outdoor sports? Forget it.

It’s no surprise then that I had absolutely no interest in gardening when we moved in. Sure I could appreciate what we could do with the garden. The glasses of wine on the patio, BBQ’s and summer parties we could have.

But I was never planning on getting involved in the hard bit. That was Aidan’s domain. I was much more interested in the house and working out how to decorate it. The only foliage on my mind was printed on wallpaper.

Then lockdown started. The sun shone. And I forgot all about the house.

For the first couple of weeks Aidan would drag me out into the garden and persuade me to help clear ivy, cut back dead branches and dig over soil. I would moan about my back aching, about getting mud on my clothes or getting scratched by brambles.

I would also moan about the fact that the garden was taking over the inside of our house too. Bit by bit indoor surfaces filled up with propagators full of seedlings. Yoghurt pots with fledgling sunflowers. An array of seed packets and boxes of bulbs started turning up in the post.

The day the sacks of manure arrived was one I would like to forget. The smell. Urgh.

As out indoor wilderness grew I had to become more involved. Just so the garden would finally go where it belonged. Outside.

But ever so slowly, I warmed to the idea of a garden. I would sit outside with my breakfast and find myself wandering around, looking at what was flowering or popping up out of the ground. The joy of moving in the middle of winter is that we have no idea what’s in your new garden. We just had to wait and see what grew.

Fast forward a couple of months and I’m watching youtube videos of Monty Don planting asparagus. I’ve even started reading the gardening section of the weekend paper.

What have I become??

With new lockdown guidelines allowing guests in the garden for the first time, I’ve spent today weeding our veg patches in honour of their arrival this week. The house is a mess but that doesn’t matter.

But as I was weeding I noticed something. A couple of courgettes looked ready to eat.

So I ask myself what would be a good way to eat these? I already had dinner planned so these need to be just a snack, or a starter of some kind. I’ve already made Courgette Carpaccio recently so….

Hang on. It’s obvious. Antipasti. Italians know just what to do with a courgette. I’m going to fry them.

Whenever I see Zucchine Fritti on an Italian menu I have to order it. One of my favourite Italian restaurants is Santoré on Exmouth Market. It’s round the corner from a drama school I work at and close to Aidan’s pub so we end up here quite often for dinner. I love it.

I love the fact it feels like a proper family run Italian restaurant. Mainly because that’s exactly what it is. Cold plates of antipasti out on the counter, chalkboard specials, a really good tiramisu. What more could you ask for?

They serve their fried courgettes with calamari. I love ordering this to share, and will happily let Aidan or anyone else I’m eating with demolish the squid. Just leave me those courgettes.

I realise I have absolutely no idea how to make them. Surely there’s some amazing batter that needs careful mixing, resting and dipping.

Nope. These turn out to be the simplest thing in the world.

I’m back reading what Giorgio Locatelli has to say on the matter. He mixes equal parts of 00 pasta flour and semolina flour and seasons with salt and pepper. Cut your courgettes into thin strips, cover in the flour and then fry.

I don’t have any semolina flour so I just use pasta flour. The semolina probably adds a bit more crunch but as these courgettes are young and as fresh as they get I’m sure they’ll be fine without.

I cut out the spongy white centre as these bits contain too much water so will go soggy.

The rest of my veggies get tossed in the flour.

Because they are so thin you don’t need much oil to fry them. I added about a centimetre to the bottom of a deep frying pan and heated it to 180°C.

Fry the courgettes in small batches so the temperature of the oil doesn’t drop too much.

I serve mine with some aioli, which I’ve also never made before. Mayonnaise for me comes from a jar that says Hellmann’s on it. Nothing wrong with that.

But making your own couldn’t be simpler. I take one egg yolk. Give it a whisk and then slowly start dribbling in olive oil and keep whisking. A lighter flavoured oil works for this so you don’t need to use the more expensive extra virgin stuff.

Recipes will tell you exactly how much oil to add. But really just keep adding until it’s really thick. Then add a squeeze of lemon juice (which will make it thinner again) and then add more oil until you have a flavour and consistency that you’re happy with. Crush in some garlic (again to taste) and season.

That’s it. Months of growing, 15 minutes of cooking and eaten in a matter of seconds

Our first ever home grown vegetables. What could be better than that?

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