Did anyone grow up liking zucchini? Raise your hands. I don't think I see many out there. Zucchini is so easy to grow, so prolific and - in the hands of a 1970s working mother - so big, woody and boring. My mother and grandmother did their best to disguise the fact that we had too many zucchini by baking them in sweet zucchini bread or burying them in zucchini lasagna. But nothing could disguise the fact that, on their own, they were the most boring vegetable in the world. Or so I always thought.
Then I moved to Europe. I discovered this wonderful vegetable called a "courgette", that had a vague resemblance to a zucchini. It was the zucchini's younger, more elegant and refined cousin. And I fell in love. I have long loved grilling zucchini and eggplant and layering them in a salad with sweet grilled peppers. I love to include them in my non-authentic stir fries. I have even experimented successfully with turning them into mini-cheese tarts. But I think this new simple salad might be my favourite use for tender young zucchini. I will warn you: it's not low calorie. Oh yes, you saw the word "salad" and thought it would be a nice healthy side dish. Well, it will help you towards your 5-a-day goal for vegetables but it will also probably take you to the maximum limit on fat. But it's so worth it. Buttery, nutty, silky zucchini set off perfectly by sharp sweet tomatoes, with a side note of lemony basil. Even the Critic - who is no fan of the courgette - had a healthy (ahem) portion.
One of the things that surprised me most when I came to assemble this salad is how well the combination of butter in the cooking and olive oil in the dressing worked. Don't ask me why: I just take a leap of faith sometimes and it works. Don't skimp on the salt, either, as it will liven the flavours, always important when you have very simple ingredients.
Warm zucchini salad (serves two)
2 small zucchini (courgettes)
4-6 small very ripe cherry tomatoes
2-4 Tbs sweet butter
1-2 Tbs peppery olive oil
pinch of salt
good grinding of pepper
a small handful of fresh basil leaves, finely chopped.
Melt the butter until it froths in a nonstick frying pan and add the zucchini, sliced in rounds about 1/2 to 3/4 cm thick. You will probably need to cook them in a few lots, as you want them to be in a single layer. After a few minutes, turn over the slices. They should be just starting to brown. Remove when they are tender but not cooked to the point of falling apart and drain on a paper towel. While you are cooking, you may notice the butter has browned a bit - this is fine and adds a nutty flavour, but don't let the butter burn. You may need to add a bit more butter as you finish cooking the last of the zucchini. To assemble the salad, spread the zucchini out on a platter and sprinkle with cherry tomato slices and basil. Drizzle the olive oil over the salad and lastly sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper. You can prepare this before you make the rest of dinner and just set it aside. For this reason, it's perfect for a dinner party as you can prepare it completely in advance. Just don't forget to serve it (as I tend to do whenever I prepare something well in advance of a dinner party, sigh).