We’re right in the middle of zucchini overload season. The long green vegetables are pretty much everywhere – overflowing in farmers’ markets, filling up the produce bins in our grocery stores, maybe even growing all over the place in our own vegetable gardens. Here are my ten favorite ways to take advantage of all this abundance and turn the nutritious zucchini into a delicious ingredient that can be included in almost everything you’re cooking right now. Bonus: You’ll save money and reduce waste, since this vegetable is inexpensive to buy and you can eat pretty much all of it except the vines it actually grows on.
Note: The bigger zucchini gets, the less flavor it has. Choose zucchini that are 6-8 inches long, around an inch or inch and a half wide, and deep glossy green in color. If you buy organic, there’s no need to peel the thin outer skin, which is good, since that’s where so many nutrients are. Organic or not, it’s always a good idea to wash zucchini before eating them. Just hold them under running water for a minute, then shake them off and cut them up.
1) Don‘t cook it – Could anything be simpler? Cut the ends off the zucchini, then cut each zucchini in half, then in quarters lengthwise, and so on, until you have zucchini sticks that you can use for dipping into yogurt and dill or a thick creamy salad dressing like ranch or bleu cheese.
2) Add to spaghetti sauce – Chop or dice zucchini then throw the chunks in the sauce during the last ten minutes of cooking. Alternatively, dice them and sauté separately in a little olive oil, salt and pepper, then either add to the sauce at the last minute or serve as a garnish. They retain more flavor that way and you can cook them exactly to your liking.
3) Layer it in lasagna – Slice the zucchini into rounds no more than a quarter-inch thick, season with a dash of salt and fresh ground pepper, then layer the rounds into the lasagna along with the cheeses and sauce. You should not need to increase cooking time for the lasagna.
4) Make Ratatouille – This is one of my favorite recipes because it uses so many delicious vegetables and tastes so good. Cut the zucchini in half lengthwise, then slice the halves into crescent-shaped pieces about a quarter-inch thick. Separately, chop up eggplant, white onions, and green peppers. Sauté each of the ingredients in olive oil, salt, and pepper separately, then add them to several cups of canned or chopped fresh tomatoes, along with garlic, some basil and oregano, and a little red wine vinegar. Yum!
5) Toss it into salad – Most green salads will benefit nicely if you add a dice of zucchini to the lettuce, tomatoes, carrots and red onion. Use one zucchini per bowl of salad and toss with your favorite salad dressing.
6) Grate it into Pancakes – Grate 2 medium zucchini (use a box grater or the grater function on your food processor). Add some minced red onion and 3 large eggs, lightly beaten. Mix together a half-cup flour, 1 tsp baking powder, and 1 tsp kosher salt. Add to the egg-zucchini mixture and stir. (If the batter is thin, add more flour, a little at a time until the mixture is thick enough for the griddle.) Heat a griddle or large sauté pan and a little butter or oil to coat. Drop tablespoons full of batter on the griddle, using the back of the spoon to flatten out the batter slightly. Cook until one side is browned and crispy; flip and cook on the other side. When done, remove to a warmed plate or put in the oven to keep warm.
7) Substitute it for bananas – You know that favorite banana bread recipe you have? Substitute the zucchini for the bananas and add chocolate chips. Yum! Alternatively, try this recipe for dark chocolate zucchini cake.
8) Stuff it – Cut zucchini in half length-wise and, using a melon baller or sharp knife, remove the zucchini pulp. Chop the pulp, then sauté with onions, garlic, and chopped tomatoes. Add some Parmesan or goat cheese. Drizzle the zucchini “boats” with olive oil and salt and pepper and put them in a lightly greased casserole pan. Fill the boats with the stuffing, top with breadcrumbs, and pop into a 425 degree oven for around 15 minutes.
9) Grill it – Cut zucchini into thin strips length-wise, as pictured above. Brush each side with vegetable oil and season with salt, pepper and a sprinkle of oregano. Grill for about a minute until slightly charred but not burned. If you want more of a salad, skip the oregano. Grill, then drizzle with a mustardy vinaigrette and let marinate for 15 minutes or so. Serve with a hard shaved cheese like Romano and dash of parsley.
10) Saute it – Slice zucchini into rounds a quarter-inch thick. Sprinkle with salt, fresh-ground pepper and a bit of garlic powder. Heat olive oil in a sauté pan, add the zucchini, and cook over medium-high heat just a few minutes. Zucchini should be firm and somewhat crisp on the outside, but soften on the inside. Add additional herbs to complement whatever else you’re serving. Sauted zucchini seasoned with parsley, oregano and basil is a perfect complement to almost any Italian dish.
What’s your favorite zucchini recipe? Please share!