If loving zucchini is wrong, I don’t want to be right
If ever an ingredient was designed for Iron Chef, it is zucchini.
It’s not just any vegetable that can transition seamlessly from appetizer (stuffed Zucchini blossoms) to entree (Zucchini casserole) to dessert (Zucchini bread) without breaking a sweat. I suppose, then I shouldn’t have been surprised to catch a mouthwatering episode of Iron Chef America: Battle Zucchini on the Food network recently. And what better timing? Summer is zucchini season, and by the time July/August rolls around, we’ll be swimming in it.
When I was growing up, my father grew zucchini in our family’s community garden plot. I loved hunting down the fuzzy squash hiding among the twisty vines, but that’s pretty much where my relationship with summer squash ended. That is, until years later, when I tasted the “Quick saute of zucchini” with toasted almonds and pecorino at The Red Cat restaurant in New York City. Ever since then, I’ve spent more than one summer evening trying to recreate this deceptively simple dish, which is super-fast, always a crowd pleaser and shockingly delicious. (Personally, I think it resembles the taste of Cheetos, but I mean that in the best way possible.) I had made such good progress on my recipe, in fact, that I was sort of disappointed when the restaurant published their cookbook and just gave out their secret to all who were willing to spend $35. As fate would have it, another blogger beat me to the post, and has published the recipe as well as a very sexy glamour shot of the final product, so you can follow this link to check it out. (And based on the comments posted there, I’m apparently not the only person who the Red Cat turned on to zucchini!) It’s a pretty fast recipe that you can make even faster by using a mandolin to julienne the zucchini…or even faster still by shredding the zucchini using a box grater. (If you take my lazy suggestion and choose to shred the zucchini, it will give off more water when you cook it, so you may want to use a slotted spoon to remove it from the pan before garnishing with the cheese.) I’ve also combined some yellow summer squash with the zucchini in this recipe and the dish was no worse for it.
If the zucchini-pecorinoey-nutty taste profile appeals to you but you can’t be bothered to saute it even for the one required minute, I’d recommend this pretentiously-named but still quite delicious recipe for Zucchini Carpaccio. I don’t know exactly when we started referring to raw vegetables as ‘carpaccio,’ but if that adds to the appeal, then I’m all for it. And while we’re at it, please pass the baby carrot carpaccio with hummus.
Another way I’ve learned to love zucchini is, surprisingly, in soups. I first encountered zucchini in soups in Mexico, where it played a starring role in a variety of soups featured on the menu in Puebla’s only vegetarian restaurant, La Zanahoria de Esmerelda (which, as I love to point out, translates into “Esmerelda’s Carrot”). While you rarely see zucchini on Mexican restaurant menus here in the US, it’s quite common to find it in dishes south of the border. One way to try it is in this vegetarian version of Pozole — a spicy, hearty Mexican stew that transitions quite well from winter to summer.
Of course, ever since I saw that Iron Chef episode, I’ve been pining for any of the recipes that Chef Hamilton used to cream Bobby Flay; a little bit of searching unearthed her recipe for Soft Zucchini with Harissa, Olives and Feta. Yes, it’s vegetarian, and yes, it’s gluten-free. Thank you, Chef Hamilton. This one is a winner! Harissa is a North African chili/garlic paste, and you can find it pretty readily at a grower number of supermarkets these days. Our favorite brand is a French one called “A Riche A La Sauce Harissa“; here in New York its sold at Fairway, and you can order it from their website through the link I’ve provided.
And what self-respecting zucchini post would this be if we didn’t mention zucchini bread? When it comes to gluten-free baking, I’ve always had the best luck with quickbreads and muffins as far as achieving tender, moist textures that are indistinguishable from the real deal. I tried the gluten-free Zucchini bread recipe featured on the back of Bob’s Red Mill xanthan gum (and on their webiste), and must confess that I found it to be a bit dry for my tastes. I like a really moist quickbread, and I’ve always had the best luck with the recipes posted by my favorite gluten-free chef/blogger, Karina Allrich. While her blog doesn’t have a specific recipe (yet?) for zucchini bread, she suggests swapping in zucchini for the carrot in her recipe for Coconut Carrot Cake. (You can skip the icing, though). Ah, yes. That’s more like it.
By way of nutrition, 1 whole cup of chopped, raw zucchini has a mere 20 calories, 4g of carbohydrate (of which 1g is fiber), and about 1/3 of the daily value for Vitamin C. Which should put your mind at ease in case you are actually planning to use it in all 3 courses of your next dinner party.
Proper care and handling of your zucchini
Summer squash is quite a bit daintier than its thick-skinned winter counterparts, so if you’re not planning to use it right away, you’ll want to make sure to store it properly to prevent it from getting soft too quickly. Since it continues ‘breathing’ even after harvest, your best bet is to wrap it up nice and snug in a plastic bag BEFORE refrigerating it. And don’t wash it until you’re ready to use it.Did you like this? If so, please bookmark it, RSS feed.