Apparently, at this time of year, people who grow zucchini are avoided by all and sundry. Not just casual acquaintance but friends, family, absolutely everyone hides from them, deliberately crossing the road at their approach, ignoring the ding dong of the doorbell, pretending in extreme cases to be on holiday. Early in the season when the first courgettes appear there is delight all round, they are crisp and small and, crucially, few in number. As the peak of the season arrives - right about now - they are prolific in every sense, each one picked seemingly replaced by 2 more next day, and each of those twice the size of the one they have replaced. The magic of cucurbitas, you really can see them grow, an inch a day every day, they are irresistable.
Avoidance is wrong. What is needed is ideas, lots of them, to use up this incredible veg. It is versatile, makes great pasta sauce with a little basil or some cream. Or both and a little Parmesan grated over to finish. It's a joy with garlic and mascarpone and a concentric delight as topping for tart They work well in vegetable curries, are simple and quick in frittata, they roast to golden perfection on their own or toss them with tomatoes and aubergine and slow roast with garlic for a great side dish or salad. Brilliant turned into ribbons with a steamed meatball topping for pasta.
And then there is this torte. Or rice pie as the man dubbed it when asked to stir the bowl on his way through the kitchen. From the brilliant Anna del Conte it mixes thin rounds of zucchini with rice and eggs and herbs then the lot is wrapped in filo for baking.
I love the paper-thin translucent sheets of filo and the incredible crunch they acquire when baked. It's so delicate to handle, soft almost like fabric, soothing somehow. It offers a small resistance when you bite into it, then crackles into luscious flakes. And if your timing is just ever so slightly out, any burnt bits break off and still leave lots of pastry underneath.
The rice is used raw, but then it sits in the rest of the filling for 2 hours, thus becoming soft. An interesting way to treat rice
1 white onion or 1/2 small spanish onion
125g/4oz Italian rice, preferably Arborio
8 tbspn extra virgin olive oil
3 tbpsn freshly grated Parmesan
1 tbspn finely chopped fresh herbs, marjoram, thyme and parsley
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs
125-150g filo pastry, defrosted if frozen
Cut off and discard the ends of the courgettes, then slice them very finely indeed. put the courgettes in a baol.
Peel the onion and slice it paper-thin. Add to the courgettes together wiht the rice, 5 tablespoons of the oil , the Parmesan, herbs, salt and a good grinding of pepper.
Beat the eggs lightly and add to the bowl. Mix the whole thing very thoroughly. (I find the best tool for this is a pair of clean hands.) Cover the bowl and set aside for a couple of hours. Mix again and again whenever you remember during this time, becasue the liquid sinks to the bottom and you want the rice and the courgette to sit in it equally.
Heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.
Pour the remaining oil into a small bowl. Use a little of it to oil a 20cm/8in spring form tin.
Unfold the filo pasty leaves carefully,one at a time. Keep the rest covered while you work oneach leaf because filo pastry dries out and cracks very quickly. Lay one leaf of pastry over the bottom and up the sides of the tin, allowing the ends to hang over the outside of the tin.. Using a pastry brush, brush the pastry with a little of the oil, then lay another leaf of filo across the previous one so as to cover the sides of the tin completely. Brush with oil, and cover with 2 more leaves, brushing each leaf as before. You will then have 4 layers of filo pastry.
Stir the courgette meixture thoroughly and spoon it into the prepared case. Fold the over hanging pieces of pastry over the top, one at a time, brsuing with oil between each leaf. If necessary add another oiled sheet across the top.
Place the tin int he oven and bake for about 30 minutes. Turn the heat up to 200C/400F/Gas 6 to crips the top until it becomes a lovely golden brown colour.
Let the tourte cool slightly in the tin, then unmould and transfer to a round serving dish and serve warm or at room temperature.
To cut, use a very sharp knife or the pastry will crumble.
This pie is very quick and easy, produces a very moreish array of textures as well as flavours when baked, with a moist filling inside that crispy crust. We ate it warm Sunday night for dinner with a crunchy celery, fennel and carrot salad and cold for lunch for a couple of days after that.
It is possibly perfect for picnics.
A big thank you to Sue whose garden was the source of the very fine zuccini used in this recipe.