Zucchini is fortunately versatile as well as abundant

July 22, 2022

Young zucchini have reached the markets, and I’m bringing them to the summer table in a variety of ways. They can be found in a number of colors and shapes, but the most familiar is the slender green zucchini or summer squash, called courgette in Europe and Australia. Its cousins include golden zucchini, round tatume, striped costata romanesco and yellow crooknecks.

Often the punchline of jokes about its abundant growth habit in backyard gardens and secretive gifts left on the neighbor’s porch, zucchini has been a staple in the diet of Central and South Americans for several thousand years. Zucchini have a thin, edible skin, creamy white flesh and tender seeds running lengthwise down the center. Although they can grow to over 3-feet long, zucchini are best harvested when they’re about six to eight inches in length.

If you look at zucchini and cucumbers, they share a similar shape and color. Cut them open and the differences are clear: cucumber skins are tough and waxy; zucchini skins are dry and slightly bumpy. Cucumber flesh is quite juicy and the seeds are prominent; zucchini flesh is barely moist and the seeds insignificant (unless the specimen is older). The two are also treated differently in recipes. Cucumbers are rarely cooked, as they wilt when heated. Zucchini will soften, sweeten and brown when roasted, grilled or sautéed. Cucumbers have a bright, crisp flavor, and zucchini are slightly sweet with background hints of bitterness.

Zucchini is typically served as a vegetable, but it is botanically considered a fruit: It forms from a golden blossom that is also edible, usually served fried or stuffed. Sometimes called “Italian squash” in older recipes, zucchini is a versatile ingredient in a variety of dishes. Sliced lengthwise into thin, flat strips, zucchini can replace the pasta in your lasagna. Or, turn them into “zoodles” with a vegetable peeler or specially designed spiralizer device.

Shredded on a box grater, zucchini becomes the centerpiece of a frittata or a creamy soup, or a hidden ingredient in chocolate cake. Chopped zucchini can be tossed into a green salad, stirred into a traditional ratatouille or simply sautéed with minced shallot to serve as a side dish. For the feta, tomato, zucchini dish in the photo, sliced zucchini rounds are cooked in a grill pan, along with halved cherry tomatoes. The final touch is a sprinkling of fresh herbs and feta cheese.

Another tasty way to prepare zucchini is to toss it with seasonings, top it with grated Parmesan and bake, with a final moment under the broiler for a crisp finish. As easy as it may seem to reach for a plastic container of grated Parmesan, keep in mind that it’s been treated with anti-caking agents. Instead, pull out your favorite microplane and grate the cheese directly onto the zucchini.

The final recipe is a simple sauté with sliced mushrooms and scallions. If you cook it long enough for the mushrooms to release their liquid, you will create a simple sauce that coats the zucchini. Of course, if you need another layer of flavor, you can pick up that microplane and add some Parmesan cheese.

Grilled Zucchini

2 zucchini
2 T olive oil
2 sliced garlic cloves
1 minced shallot
1 pt halved cherry tomatoes
1 t chopped fresh oregano
2 t chopped fresh parsley
1/2 C crumbled feta cheese
pepper, to taste

Cut zucchini into 1/3-inch-thick rounds. Heat olive oil in a grill pan. Arrange zucchini in a single layer and cook over medium high until golden, about 2 or 3 minutes. Turn over and cook the other sides; remove to a serving bowl. Add garlic, shallot and tomatoes to the pan and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Move tomato mixture to the bowl and toss to combine. Garnish with oregano and parsley; top with crumbled feta cheese. Adjust seasonings with pepper, to taste. Yield: 4 servings.

Zucchini Parmesan

2 zucchini
2 T olive oil
1 t garlic powder
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper
1/2 C grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 450 F. Slice the zucchini into 1/2-inch-thick rounds. Place slices in a large mixing bowl. Add garlic powder, salt and pepper; toss to combine. Add olive oil and toss to coat evenly. Arrange the rounds on a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer. Grate the cheese directly onto the zucchini. Bake for about 5 minutes, then turn on the broiler and cook until golden, about 3 minutes. Yield: 4 servings.

Zucchini Mushroom Skillet

1 T butter
1 zucchini, julienned
8 oz sliced mushrooms
2 sliced scallions
1/2 t fresh thyme leaves
salt & pepper, to taste

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium. Add zucchini and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Add mushrooms and scallions; cook until mushrooms release their liquid, another 5 minutes. Stir in thyme and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper, to taste. Yield: 4 servings.

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