by Jennifer Brizzi – How to put summer’s bountiful baby zucchini to good use
Zucchini – the wee baby ones – are my favorite summer vegetable. Forget the big bland baseball bats left sneakily on doorsteps and in unlocked cars; I’m talking about the ones that you have to dig through the bin for, at farmstand or farmers’ market. The perfect specimens are well-worth the hunt: tender, nutty and sweet. I tend to like variety in my diet, lots of it; but I eat zucchini all season long, when I can find it like that.
Unlike other gardeners, I could never grow it, so I don’t take it for granted; I treasure it. For not much money you can make lovely appetizers, sides or whole meals out of a few little zukes. Here are a few of my favorite things to do with them:
Sometimes I sauté slices with onion and maybe garlic and tomato, coat lengthwise slices in olive oil and grill them or cut them into French-fry shapes, dust with flour and fry. When I have a little extra time I like to stuff them, making boats by cutting them in half lengthwise and hollowing out the middle, then making a stuffing for them by sautéing the insides, chopped, with onion and garlic and adding rice or bread crumbs and/or ground savory meat like lamb or pork – whatever’s handy.
The smallest ones are great raw, cut into thin slices then halved or quartered, in a green lentil salad with feta, or in a tossed green salad – or just marinated in olive oil, lemon and/or white wine vinegar, a hint of garlic and an herb or two; zucchini love fresh basil and mint.
One of the simplest sides – great when you are cooking other things, or outside grilling and don’t feel like fussing – is one that I learned from my Sicilian mother-in-law: You cut them into lengthwise wedges two or three inches long, steam until tender, then toss with a smashed garlic clove that you remove before serving, tossing gently with salt, pepper and olive oil. Fresh basil is nice with this, or basil oil instead of olive oil if you have it. Make sure that you have crusty bread on hand to dip in the tasty oil.
Last week I had a tiny solitary zucchini in the fridge, and my son and I made a killer chocolate zucchini loaf, studded with chocolate chips and addictive: a keeper.
August 8 is National Sneak Some Zucchini onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Day; but, instead of that, find some little tender ones and keep them all to yourself! Fortunately they’re not hard to find. Look for zucchini at the Migliorelli farmstands in Red Hook or Rhinebeck or at the weekly farmers’ markets in Kingston (Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.) or Rhinebeck (Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.). Check (845) 757-3276 or www.migliorelli.com. Theirs are my favorites; try their lovely “Lita” variety with its interesting flavor.
I also like the Wonderland Farm Market on Route 308 in Rhinebeck, call (845) 876-6760 or (845) 876-4981; Davenport Farms in Stone Ridge, (845) 687-0051 or www.davenportfarms.com; Gill Farm Market in Hurley, (845) 338-0788, and Wallkill View Farm in New Paltz, (845) 255-8050 or www.wallkillviewfarmmarket.com. The Saugerties Farmers’ Market from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays is another good source.
Here are some recipes for you to try:
This should be served with good-quality crusty bread for soaking up the zucchini-infused oil. This frittata is one of those things, like a fine ratatouille, that is equally delicious hot out of the oven or cold out of the fridge – or even at room temperature, sandwiched in crusty bread for a tasty pack-along lunch. Serves four as dinner, more as a snack.
1 ¼ pounds zucchini (about four medium), cut about ¼ inch thick
3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 clove garlic, crushed with garlic crusher
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, torn up, slivered or chopped
6 large eggs
2 tablespoons milk (I use two percent fat, but any kind is fine, skim to whole)
¼ teaspoon Tabasco
1/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Heat two tablespoons of the olive oil in a ten-inch heatproof pan, cast-iron if you have it. Sauté zucchini slices about 15 to 20 minutes over medium/low heat, sprinkling with a touch of salt, until soft with golden parts. Some parts will be brown, some more raw, but all tender. Remove from heat; add garlic and basil and let cool about ten minutes.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, place all remaining ingredients and mix well. Add cooled zucchini mixture to bowl and mix in. Reheat pan, at medium/low again, with additional one to two tablespoons oil. (I prefer two for this dish, but if you are watching calories, one is plenty.)
Preheat broiler and put oven rack on top shelf. Put egg and zucchini mixture into pan and cook until edges are set. Then broil until top is set and golden brown. My oven takes exactly two minutes, but check after one in case yours broils hotter.
Cool for ten minutes or longer. Cut into wedges to serve.
Mediterranean Zucchini and Feta Fritters
These tempting little patties are a hybrid of Turkish mücver and Greek kolokithokeftedes, and are served in those countries as part of an array of appetizers. A little bit like latkes, they are zesty and savory and laden with fresh herbs. Here they’re served with a simple yogurt sauce, but lemon wedges or tzatziki (Greek cucumber/yogurt dip) work well, too. Makes 40 to 45 patties, depending on size.
1 ½ pounds zucchini (about 2 medium)
1 teaspoon salt plus 1/8 teaspoon, divided
1 cup (8 ounces) Greek-style yogurt
1 large clove garlic, crushed
6 scallions/green onions, trimmed and finely chopped
½ cup chopped fresh dill
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
4 ounces well-flavored feta cheese, preferably made with sheep’s milk, crumbled
¾ cup unbleached flour
1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Pure olive oil as needed
Grate zucchini with the large holes of a grater. Toss with one teaspoon of the salt and let drain in colander for about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, place yogurt in a small bowl and add crushed garlic and remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt, mix well and chill.
Squeeze as much moisture as possible from the zucchini and transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add scallions, dill, parsley, mint, eggs, feta cheese, flour, breadcrumbs and pepper. Stir well to blend.
Heat 1/8 inch of olive oil in large sauté pan over medium heat until hot. Form zucchini mixture into small patties about two to three inches across. Cook about three to five minutes per side until golden brown. Drain on brown paper or paper towels. Serve hot or warm with yogurt mixture for dipping or dolloping.
Parmigiana di zucchini napoletana
A great party or buffet dish, this crowd-pleaser stays tasty even as it cools. Serves six.
1 ½-2 pounds zucchini (about 3 medium)
1/3 cup flour
2 large eggs
1 ½ cup coarse breadcrumbs (day-old or older, from a loaf of good crusty bread)
7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 small to medium onion, chopped finely (about ¾ cup)
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
Pinch red pepper flakes
1 ½ pounds fresh in-season tomatoes, blanched in boiling water for 1 minute, drained, peeled and chopped coarsely (if not in season, use 28-ounce can Italian tomatoes)
½ teaspoon coarse sea salt (1/4 teaspoon if using canned tomatoes with added salt)
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup packed fresh basil, shredded
7-to-10-ounce ball fresh mozzarella, sliced
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano
Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
Wash zucchini, trim and cut on the diagonal into slices ¾-inch thick. Pat dry with paper towels.
Coat large baking tray with three tablespoons olive oil. Line up flour and breadcrumbs in plates; beat egg in shallow bowl. Coat each zucchini slice with flour, shake off, dip in beaten egg and then breadcrumbs, then place in oiled baking tray. Brush tops with remaining two tablespoons olive oil.
Bake 30 minutes or until golden brown and tender to point of small knife, turning over halfway through. Reduce oven to 375 degrees.
Meanwhile, make tomato sauce: Heat two tablespoons olive oil in deep stainless steel pot. Add onion, garlic and red pepper flakes and cook and stir for ten minutes, until beginning to soften. Add chopped tomato, salt and pepper and raise heat until mixture comes to a simmer. Lower heat and cook gently for about ½ hour. Remove from heat and stir in fresh basil.
Spread one-third of sauce on bottom of large shallow baking dish. Layer zucchini, sliced mozzarella, Parmigiano and sauce again, ending with cheeses.
Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes, then remove foil and bake another 15 to 20 minutes or until it begins to brown on top. Let cool 10 to 15 minutes before serving.