Zucchini is a wonderful vegetable. For a gardener, it’s rather easy to grow, it can be picked as a baby or matured into a behemoth, and it’s versatile enough to work well in many different cuisines. Remembering a few tips will help you get the most out of zucchini this summer.
Summer squash are mostly water, so when cooking them, the point is to evaporate most of the moisture. Sautéing or baking should be done in high heat, quickly, and uncovered to concentrate the delicate flavors.
A barely-cooked ratatouille (over the highest heat) with feta or pepper jack cheese is delightful as a warm salad. My dad likes to slice medium zucchini lengthwise into quarter-inch planks, season with a touch of salt, and bake in the oven until they dry out, approximately five to ten minutes. Then, top with marinara, mozzarella, and pepperoni, and return to the oven. It’s a gluten-free pizza analog that’s perfect for warm days and won’t wear you down.
The bigger the seeds, the more unpalatable they are, so halve those big squash and scoop those seeds out. Monster zucchini can then be stuffed with jambalaya, another rice dressing, or even a bread-based stuffing, and roasted. Ground pork goes great in this filling, but there’s no shame in keeping it vegetarian. Upon removing from the oven, serve with tomato sauce and grated hard cheese like pecorino or Parmesan. Giants are also ideal for peeling, seeding, and grating into zucchini bread, easily made by modifying your favorite banana bread recipe. Baby zucchini need no more prep than grilling whole and topping with zesty dressing like a lemon-oregano vinaigrette.
The subtle flavor of zucchini and other summer squashes means that they are amenable to just about any flavor that you want to incorporate, sort of like tofu that you grow in your garden. Not only do they work well in recipes from the south of France or sunny Italy, but if handled properly, they go well with Middle Eastern, Latin, and Asian flavors, and more. They’re perfect paired with tomatoes because “what grows together goes together”; most vegetables that peak in the summer have an affinity for each other. Ultimately, a touch of acid and some natural sweetness do wonders when cooking zucchini. My favorite preparation when I have an abundance is to make pickles from “The Zuni Café Cookbook” by Judy Rodgers.
When I was a kid, everyone had a backyard garden, and zucchini would prosper in that climate. The saying was “don’t leave your car doors unlocked or people will gift you zucchinis.” These delightful summer squash can be so prolific that it’s easy to end up with more than you know what to do with. Just go with it, and see how many different ways you can make zucchini this summer.