Of course, a lot of people will wonder which word to use to qualify the vegetables in the picture. From what I understand, you Brits will favour the word « courgettes », while my US friends and relatives will favor the term « zucchini ». Whatever.
I bet the likes of those shown here do not cross the Channel, nor the Atlantic (and least of all reach down-under) that easily. But I do wonder whether the following statements can be heard where you live:
« There’s no taste to them »
« Hardly good enough for a ratatouille »
« Best not to put them in a ratatouille »
Or, as my own kids would have put it:
« What’s the use of eating them? »
(They would also say this when talking of lettuce or of any salad, which I insisted on serving at every meal)
Well, let me tell you, these remarks were probably made by some people who have no notion whatsoever of what this typical niçois flowery vegetable looks like or tastes like.
This is the reason why I am enclosing a photo, so you can understand that this beauty has nothing to do with the long, green stuff that one can find in most supermarkets here and there.
These are incredibly soft, their skin being as smooth and tender as a baby’s; their shape is a delicate curve, their smell of freshly roasted nuts is quite irresistible, and their orange-hearted yellow flower casts a spell on you even before you have put on a chef’s apron to deal with them.
All summer long they will put on their show on the public markets of the region, sometimes surrounded by a swarm of greedy bees. They will invite you to consume them right away. Indeed they can be served raw, cut in thin slices, or steamed, with a few sprigs of mint, a dash of lemon juice and olive oil – nothing too fancy, for their subtle taste does not require much in the way of dressing. Should you feel like adding a bit of sophistication to the picture, you can swiftly bake them with a little parsley, some Parmiggiano cheese, breadcrumbs, pepper, and a bit of crushed garlic. Without forgetting the indispensable sprinkle of olive oil.
Its delicate flower’s texture and flavour will – and I sense your surprise there – be amazingly tasty fried in a light batter, or stuffed with cheese, onions, or whatever your fancy will lead you to put in it!
There are lots of recipes for them. But I am not sure if the best book I know has been translated into English, so I won’t try to test your French!
Be that as it may, the very best courgettes in the world are those I found on the other side of the Var River that separates Nice from the rest of France, namely abroad.
And if they are the best in the world, it is simply because they were planted, grown and taken care of, with much love and attention, by some friends of mine.
When some people reluctantly give you presents that they believe to be glorious, these true friends share, on the spur of the moment, and with great generosity the fruit of their crop, the produce of hours of hard labour in the garden, of years of experience. The result being that these very special courgettes (or zucchini?) turn out to be as special as my mum’s own tomatoes, or those grown by my friend Gabriel in the Auvergne region.
As a matter of fact, all these beauties are not just ordinary veggies, but the precious and valuable fruits that come from the heart of humanity.