Zucchini are abundant — and versatile in the kitchen.

You don't have to be a carb-free, clean-eating owner of a spiraliser to love zucchini. Certainly zucchini's new-found status as a low-cal "pasta" has upped the status of this tender cucurbit, but let's face it - what's not to love about a vegetable that cooks in five minutes, is delicious raw, and has chameleon-like qualities enabling it to morph easily from soups, salads and fritters to purees, tender vegetable stews and crispy chips?

For the gardener, zucchini are one of the most satisfying crops to grow. Plant outdoors (they don't like pots) in the spring when all danger of frost has passed, ensuring that you compost well and water regularly. Before you know it you'll be struggling to keep up with the harvest. But as any grower will tell you, zucchini grow like triffids and if you don't get out to check your plants every few days, it's game over - your tender fingerlings will have turned into giant, tasteless, watery marrows. Sometimes they grow so fast they get big but are still tender. I always check whether I can break the skin with my fingernail easily - if I can then the zucchinis are still good to cook as you would a smaller specimen.

Lately I have been making potfuls of that classic French stew, ratatouille, as a way to deal with my over-abundant supply. I just finely chop eggplant, onions, garlic, zucchini, tomatoes and peppers. Heat a good glug of oil in a pot and fry off the eggplant first until it releases moisture and is tender and golden, transfer this to a plate and then cook the onions and garlic gently until they are meltingly tender. Throw in a good dollop of tomato paste and all the rest of the veg, add the browned eggplants to the pot, give it a good season, cover and let the whole things simmer for 15-20 minutes until its tender and stewy. I like to add a big handful of chopped herbs and a teaspoon or two of sherry vinegar at the end (vinegar is always a good balancer). It makes a great partner to roast and grilled meats, as well as a sauce for pasta and couscous.

My friend and fellow cook Tiffany makes a terrific pasta sauce with little more than zucchinis, garlic, olive oil and parmesan. It's so delicious you can't believe it could be so simple. The trick is to gently cook the chopped zucchinis in a covered pot with lots of garlic, a big glug of olive oil, a good splash of water, and some salt and pepper. Cook until they are completely collapsed - when you stir, the mixture should be saucy. And that's it! Just like that you have your sauce ready to toss through cooked pasta with a grating of parmesan. You could fancy it up with lemon zest, chilli, pine nuts, basil, etc but actually it doesn't need it. And at this time of year it's cheap as chips.


Grilled Zucchini with Sesame and Chilli

Ready in 15 mins
Serves 4

4 large zucchini, thickly angle-sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 Tbsp sesame oil
½ tsp chilli flakes or cayenne pepper
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
1 Tbsp sesame seeds, toasted

Grill zucchini over a medium heat until lightly charred and slightly softened (about 3 minutes each side). Transfer to a serving platter. Mix garlic, sesame oil, chilli flakes, salt and pepper. Toss through zucchini, sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve warm or at room temperature.

Annabel says: This is a deliciously moreish side for Asian-style dishes and so quick and easy to whip up if you feel like you need to increase the vege content of a meal.

Greek Zucchini Salad

Ready in 10 mins
Serves 4

4 zucchini
2 Tbsp chopped capers
2 Tbsp chopped kalamata olives
1 Tbsp boutique extra-virgin olive oil
Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
2 Tbsp lemon juice
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
10-12 chopped mint leaves

Cut zucchini into ribbons with a vegetable peeler or mandolin. Place in a bowl with remaining ingredients, toss to combine and serve.

Annabel says: Add chunks of feta or slices of grilled halloumi to make this flavoursome side dish more substantial or as a main course for vegetarians.

Quick Zucchini and Tomato Sauce

Ready in 20 mins
Serves 4-6

4 zucchini, cut into 2cm dice
About 14 cherry tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, crushed
¼ cup water
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sugar
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
¼ cup finely grated parmesan
¼ cup boiling water
1 Tbsp lemon juice
10-12 basil leaves

Place zucchini in a pot with cherry tomatoes, garlic, water, olive oil, sugar and salt and pepper. Cover and cook until zucchini have softened (8-10 minutes). While zucchini are cooking, whisk together parmesan and boiling water. Add to zucchini and toss to combine. Drizzle with lemon juice, scatter with basil leaves and serve immediately.

Annabel says: This is delicious as a side dish with grilled meats, fish or chicken. You can also toss it though al-dente cooked pasta for a delicious meat-free meal.