Courgette & Feta Fritters With Basil Mayo

Now, there’s really no two ways around this; this is another recipe from the “You Can’t Make That Look Elegant No Matter What You Do” chronicles, but like most I post from that particular archive, it doesn’t stop them tasting absolutely gorgeous.

In a way, that sort of sums courgettes up, or rather their reputation. Like London buses, they all arrive at once…then the first warm salad is really nice and then you realise you still have about twenty more of them, you’re suddenly struggling for inspiration and glaring at them, mentally accusing them of being bland and difficult to get rid of. And of growing too fast, generally where you didn’t want them to. Of generally being a massive inconvenience.

But that’s actually nonsense.

I suffer from the above scenario every year, without fail. Whilst on one hand it can be challenging to not waste the annual glut, equally when seed sowing time rolls around I can’t bear the thought of an inadequate crop and invariably over-sow accordingly. But, being very easy to grow, the unavoidable conclusion every year is not just a glut of fruit, but of plants in the first place.

There are only so many you can offload for free to your neighbours and at the bottom of the driveway for curious passers-by during a lockdown, too.

So, now their season is kicking off, I’m faced with the usual annual creativity challenge of making this actually very flavourful, healthy and adaptable ingredient go a bit further than the odd stir fry and the now dare I say it, maybe already cliched courgette noodles. Fortunately, once you get a bit creative with it, they’re really pretty adaptable and they’re healthy while they’re going about it.

That said, even the most healthy of ingredients can be made less so; I very rarely deep fry any food, unless I really want a treat, but I’d seen one too many recipes for a crispy courgette fritter and my curiosity was piqued…and I figured the lightness of the ingredients, the health benefits of the nutrients and the fibre of the veg, combined with pan-frying in an oil with a good burning point at a high temperature to avoid taking on too much greasiness, might just about offset the indulgence. At least a little.

So off to the kitchen I toddled with the first of the crop, ready to experiment…And whilst the resulting fritters may resemble something that landed on earth in a Dean Koontz movie adaptation, they tasted really, really good.

To up the ante on the health front (who are you trying to kid, I hear you ask…. but hear me out….), I decided to bind the ingredients together with chickpea flour, which has a strong flavour before cooking out but does so quickly. On the less virtuous front, I decided to create a dip in memory of an incredibly strong, basil-packed mayonnaise that I came across in a great wine bar restaurant at Fallon & Byrne in Dublin, because with not knowing when I’ll next see my beloved Dublin, one of my favourite foodie destinations was pulling at my heart strings.

That said, basil is good for you, eggs are great and good olive oil isn’t a bad idea either…so making that from scratch put me, in my mind at least, back on the side of good behaviour.

Or, as an alternative, you could just pour a cold beer, sit down in front of the football and scoff a load of lovely, crispy, fluffy, flavourful fritters and feel smug about that instead.

One important point on these though – the key part of the method, apart from oil temperature, is getting as much water out of the grated courgette as you can. But then to avoid losing all the nutrients and flavour that tries to make a break for it with that step, I used the residual water to bind the batter together, whilst still leaving the actual courgette flesh drier in the mix. More on that below.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 x medium-sized courgettes (or zucchini, if you’re that way inclined)
  •  150g ricotta
  • 1 x medium egg, mixed
  • 20g grated Parmesan or Grana Padano
  • 30g Feta, crumbled
  • 170g gram (chickpea) flour
  • 2 garlic cloves, grated
  • Lemon juice (just a squeeze)
  • Handful of Basil leaves, chopped
  • Maldon Sea Salt and freshly ground black pepper – plus a generous pinch of salt to drain the courgettes

METHOD

Okay so here’s where it gets serious. Prep is IMPORTANT, people.

First of all, grate the courgettes with a box grater. Then put in a colander, give a generous sprinkling of Maldon Sea Salt, give it a little mix and then leave alone for at least a half hour, colander propped over a bowl.

See that water in the bottom of the bowl after? That’s nothing.

Get yourself a clean tea towel, dump the courgette shreds in it, and twist. TWIST. I mean it. Keep twisting a bit more. Take out some anger. Boss annoyed you? Twist. Stood up? Twist again. Vaguely annoyed that Masterchef isn’t on tonight? REALLY TWIST (oh is that just me?) JUST TWIST.

Then twist again.

A LOT of water will come out of these things, and you want to lose it or you’ll have horrendous soggy fritter monsters  – yet while it seems surplus but don’t chuck it just yet.

Sieve the gram flour into a bowl, add the garlic, seasoning, Basil, Parmesan, Ricotta, feta, mixed egg, lemon juice, seasoning – and the star ingredient, the courgettes.

Mix well, and to get a thick batter texture, use the courgette water to bind. You want something like a thick paint. This way you keep a lot of the courgette flavour and nutrients.

Meanwhile, heat some oil – I use rapeseed oil. About a couple of inches thick in a pan if you don’t have a fryer, and be warned, these things do like to sink – so be ready to nudge them back off of the bottom of the pan.

Carefully spoon the mixture in – about a tablespoon at a time. Fry until golden brown, and take out on to paper towel on a drying rack so that the air can get to all sides – take off of the paper as soon as the excess oil is taken up.

THE MAYO!!!

Two egg yolks, some seasoning, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, and a generous handful of finely chopped fresh basil leaves

Whip the yolks with the mayo and seasoning and VERY slowly drip in oil whilst whisking constantly until you have a steady, consistent mayo mix. Then you can speed up a little (play gentle), add the basil, beat together and serve.

Beautiful? No. Delicious? Oh god yes. Trust me, courgettes do not have to be boring. Enjoy everyone x

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