Zucchini is probably summer’s most underappreciated — maybe even downright disrespected — vegetable (OK, technically, it’s a fruit). It’s abundant, nutritious, and cheap — all good qualities — but there’s something about zucchini’s intensely mild flavor and the challenge of coaxing out its taste and texture that frustrates us. Plus, anyone who’s experienced the unrelenting wave of zucchini and other summer squash that comes in most CSAs will tell you that it can get hard to come up with new and exciting things to do with it.
So…here’s zucchini, 12 ways, to actually celebrate the fact that zucchini has a lot going for it. It’s firm enough to stand up to all cooking methods, tender enough to eat raw, quick-cooking, and amenable to all kinds of flavors. Major bonus: Zucchini maintains firmness and freshness longer than any of the more beloved summer vegetables.
The recipes here cover my four favorite zucchini cooking methods, two (grilling and sautéing) that are likely very familiar, and two (microwaving them and leaving them totally raw) that are maybe a little less common. The microwave thing may sound strange, but it produces zucchini that’s wonderfully silky and tender and comes in handy when the weather really gets warm and you don’t want to turn on the oven or stove.
A quick note on buying zucchini: I like to look for the smallest zucchini and yellow squash that I can find. They don’t necessarily have to be designated as the “baby” variety, but something under six inches long and an inch or so in diameter is ideal; it will have better flavor and smaller, less cottony seeds. If a zucchini is tender enough, you can even eat the stem. You may also come across the flying-saucer-shaped pattypan squash, which is a bit trickier to cut up but can be used in any of the recipes here.
And if zucchini happens to be your favorite food (I’ve yet to meet a person fitting that description and have probably unfairly assumed that they don’t exist), my apologies; send me an email, tell me why you love it and what you do with it. I could always use some new ideas.
Peel 1 pound zucchini into ribbons with a vegetable peeler, then spread out on a platter. Whisk together ¼ cup olive oil and the juice of 1 lemon. Drizzle over the zucchini ribbons and scatter shaved Parmesan over the top.
2. Crostini with ricotta and mint
Shred the zucchini. Toss together the zucchini, 1 cup ricotta, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and the lemon juice. Skip the Parmesan and serve on toasted crusty bread. Garnish: chopped fresh mint.
3. Tahini salad
Slice the zucchini into thin rounds with a knife or mandoline. Whisk 2 tablespoons tahini into the olive-oil-and-lemon mixture, adding water as needed to thin to a pourable consistency. Toss the zucchini slices with the dressing. Garnish: chopped fresh parsley.
4. Za’atar spiced
Make a medium-low fire in a grill with the rack 4 inches from heat. Cut 1½ pounds zucchini into ½-inch slices. Combine ¼ cup za’atar and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Rub the zucchini with the za’atar, and grill, turning once, until browned and tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Garnish: parsley.
Skip za’atar and olive oil. Combine ½ cup ketchup, 2 tablespoons each red wine and brown sugar, 1 tablespoon rice vinegar, and 1 teaspoon each Worcestershire, dry mustard, and chili powder. Quarter the zucchini lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 3-inch wedges. Baste with sauce as it grills.
6. Fresh Tomatoes and mozzarella
Skip the za’atar; grill using ¼ cup olive oil. Slice 1½ pounds ripe tomatoes and 1 pound mozzarella into ¼-inch-thick rounds. Toss (or layer) with the grilled zucchini, and drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Garnish: chopped fresh basil.
7. Pasta with Sausage
Cook 2 minced garlic cloves and 8 ounces chunked Italian sausage in 3 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium heat; remove. Cook 1½ pounds cubed zucchini until lightly browned, 10 minutes. Toss with the sausage and 1 pound cooked pasta. Garnish: parsley and olive oil.
Omit the garlic, sausage, and pasta. Sauté 3 slices cubed stale bread until crisp; remove. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil before cooking the zucchini. Toss the bread and zucchini with 1 pint halved cherry tomatoes, shaved Parmesan, basil leaves, 1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar, and ¼ cup olive oil.
Omit the garlic, sausage, and pasta. Cook the zucchini until nicely browned; cool. Purée in a food processor with ½ cup toasted pine nuts, ¼ cup lemon juice, ½ teaspoon minced garlic, pepper, and 2 tablespoons tahini until smooth. Add a few teaspoons water or olive oil to thin, if necessary.
10. Vegetable soup
Put 1 pound chopped zucchini, 1 cup corn kernels, 2 sliced garlic cloves, 2 chopped tomatoes, and a splash of stock in a microwave-safe bowl. Season, cover, and microwave on high until vegetables are tender, 8 to 10 minutes, stirring after 4 minutes. Garnish: basil and olive oil.
Substitute 5 ounces baby spinach for corn, minced ginger for garlic, and ¾ cup coconut milk plus ¼ cup stock or water for tomatoes. Mix in 1 tablespoon curry paste. Cover and microwave until zucchini is tender, 8 to 10 minutes, stirring after 4 minutes. Serve with rice. Garnish: cilantro.
12. Zucchini confit
Cut 1½ pounds zucchini into ½-inch pieces, put in a bowl with ¼ cup (½ stick) butter or olive oil (or a little of both), cover, and microwave until tender, 4 to 6 minutes, stirring halfway. Garnish: chopped fresh parsley.