I love this time of year. It’s often a bit warmer out, the kids are out of school, and zucchinis are in season. Although you can easily get zucchinis all year long, they just aren’t as fresh when shipped from hundreds of miles away (usually from Mexico) in the winter. As a fan of this versatile squash variety, I have been indulging in its seasonality, purchasing and eating it pretty much every week, all summer long. I prefer to buy zucchini at my local farmer’s market, where there are a range of varieties (light green, dark green, with a ribbed exterior, with yellow stripes, and the list goes on) that are usually just-picked and on the small side. They are also pretty easy to grow at home.
Zucchini is best barely cooked. Baked, fried, or simmered too long, and it looses its moisture content and becomes soggy. Al dente and raw zucchini recipes highlight the squash’s naturally subtle sweetness and crisp texture. It’s unfortunate that so many people overcook their vegetables anyway, but with zucchini, it is — as my mother would say — a sin because you lose its innate nutty sweetness. Following are four of my favorite recipes which I think capture the summer flavor of zucchini best. I hope you like them.
The first recipe uses zucchini flowers, which are usually available at your local farmer’s market, or you can grow them yourself. Sweet and earthy, with a light texture, these are really the perfect vehicles for containing soft cheeses I recently made this dish on a few separate occasions, once using goat cheese, another time ricotta and the third time with brie. Eaten on its own, or in crusty bread as a sandwich, these little morsels epitomize summer.
The second recipe is for a raw zucchini salad. It is simplicity incarnate. When made with just picked squash, the tenderness of the vegetable meat creates a subtle flavor that beautifully pairs with the sweetness of vine-ripened cherry tomatoes. And, with only splash of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, and a sprinkling of salt, the freshness of the zucchini is the real star.
The third recipe is my mother’s favorite. Just thinly slice zucchini and lightly sauté it in extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle on some red wine vinegar and salt and then serve room temperature or chilled. It’s a great alternative to a standard dinner salad. When I was a kid, my mom would eat so many freshly fried zucchini pieces fresh out of the pan that our salads were often on the small side, so be sure to cut up enough slices.
Finally, my daughters’ new favorite dinner: zucchini calzones. This is a take on the standard spinach pie. Accompanied with fresh ricotta cheese, mozzarella, and Parmesan and then stuffed into fresh pizza dough and baked, it’s a little pillow of happiness.
Oh, zucchini. How do I love thee. Let me count the ways…
Stuffed Zucchini Flowers
Serves: 4-6 as an Appetizer or Makes 2-4 Sandwiches
Ingredients: 12 Zucchini Flowers 8 oz. Goat cheese, ricotta cheese, or brie 1 Tbsp Basil chopped (optional) 1 Egg Salt and pepper to taste
Preparation: 1. Soak flowers in a bowl of water and thoroughly rinse the inside of each one by gently opening them. When finished, pat flowers dry and lightly salt. 2. Mix cheese with some salt and pepper to taste and add the basil (if using). 3. Fill each flower with enough cheese to cover the inside width, being sure not to overfill, and then twist the petals to close it. 4. Scramble the egg, season it with some salt and pepper, and then dip each stuffed flower in the egg. 5. In a medium to large pan, heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom about a 1/4-inch deep. 6. When pan is hot (but not scalding), add the egg-dipped flowers and sauté on each side until golden brown. 7. Drain on paper and serve either as an appetizer or in Italian bread as a sandwich.
Raw Zucchini Salad with Tomatoes
Ingredients: 4 smallish or 2 large zucchinis A half pint of cherry tomatoes Extra virgin olive oil (the good stuff, if you have it) About a half lemon Kosher or sea salt
Preparation: 1. Wash zucchini and grate it using the coarse side of your cheese grater. 2. Set zucchini in a bowl and sprinkle on enough olive oil to lightly coat. Squeeze on the lemon juice and season with salt. 3. Divide zucchini onto salad plates, lay the tomatoes on top, and serve.
Fried Zucchini Salad
Ingredients: 4 Medium zucchinis Extra virgin olive oil Red Wine Vinegar Salt to taste
Preparation: 1. Cut zucchinis into 1/4-inch slices. 2. In a medium to large pan, heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom about a 1/4-inch deep. 3. When the oil is medium-high heat (but not scalding), cook the zucchini slices in batches until golden brown on each side. 4. Remove the zucchini from the pan and lay in a platter. Sprinkle on enough red wine vinegar to lightly coat the zucchini. 5. Season with salt and serve either room temperature or chilled.
Makes: 6 calzones
Ingredients: 4 Medium zucchinis Extra virgin olive oil 1 lb Fresh pizza dough, rested at room temperature 8 oz Fresh ricotta cheese 4 oz Freshly grated mozzarella 2 oz Freshly grated Parmesan Salt and pepper to taste
Preparation: 1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 2. Wash zucchini and grate it using the coarse side of your cheese grater. 3. Place ricotta in a bowl and season with some salt and pepper. Set grated mozzarella and grated Parmesan next to the ricotta so you have an assembly line of cheese ready to go. Oil a large baking sheet and set at the end of the assembly line. 4. In a large pan on medium to high heat, add 1 Tbsp olive oil and add zucchini when the pan is hot. 5. Salt zucchini and then sauté on high heat so it crisps a little on the ends. Cook until al dente. 6. Meanwhile, divide dough into 6 equal pieces. Spread some flour on a counter top or cutting board and then stretch each piece into a round circle, thinning (but not ripping) the dough as you gently tug it. 7. When the dough is about the size of your hand, set about a 1/8 – 1/4 cup of zucchini inside it, along with an equal measure of ricotta, about 2 Tbsp grated mozzarella and a sprinkling of Parmesan. 8. Fold the dough over the fillings and press the ends tight so there aren’t any leaks. Set each piece on the oiled pan when finished. 9. Rub olive oil on top of the calzones and then set in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes, or until golden and crispy. 10. Serve all hot and gooey.