Tomatoes are summer’s glamour crop, round, red and ripe. But though zucchini will never get as many magazine covers, real cooks know you can’t beat it for versatility. If you’ve got a perfectly ripened backyard tomato, there are only a few things you should do with it (yes, admittedly, all of them are delicious). But if you’ve got a bag of zucchini, well, the sky is the limit. Here are some quick ideas.
1. Bulgur salad with arugula, zucchini and pine nuts: Salt zucchini and set aside until soft. Rinse, pat dry and combine with toasted soaked bulgur and minced red onion, dress with olive oil and lemon juice and at the last minute add torn arugula leaves and toasted pine nuts.
2. Ratatouille: Saute onions in olive oil until they’re tender and transfer them to a big pot. Saute zucchini until tender and add that to the pot. Saute eggplant until tender and add that to the pot. Add peeled, seeded, diced tomatoes and red wine vinegar and cook until they thicken. Add them to the pot and heat everything through to combine flavors.
3. Zucchini-basil frittata: Saute sliced onion and shredded zucchini in a nonstick skillet until the zucchini is no longer moist. Stir the mixture into a bowl of beaten eggs along with grated Parmesan cheese and torn basil leaves. Return the mixture to the skillet and cook, stirring, until the egg mixture sets like soft scrambled eggs. Run the pan under a broiler just until it browns on top.
4. Zuni Cafe zucchini pickles: Slice the zucchini about 1/16 of an inch thick. Combine in a bowl with a sliced onion and salt generously. Cover with ice water and set aside until the zucchini is softened, about 1 hour. Rinse and pat dry. Combine vinegar, sugar, dry mustard, mustard seeds and turmeric in a small saucepan and simmer for 3 minutes. Set aside until just warm to the touch. Pour the brine mixture over the zucchini, transfer to jars, seal tightly and refrigerate for at least a day.
5. Braised zucchini with mint and lemon: Braise the zucchini in olive oil with chopped onion, garlic, lemon zest and mint. When you remove the lid and turn the heat up to high, add more lemon juice and cook until the liquid is reduced to a syrup. Cool to warm room temperature and stir in more mint and toasted pine nuts.
6. Zucchini and pine nut salad: This is another very simple (and delicious) adaptation of a basic technique. Salt zucchini as in the bulgur salad and combine it with minced red onion and pine nuts and dress with olive oil and lemon juice. Stir in shredded basil just before serving.
7. Zucchini in agrodolce: Cut the zucchini into large pieces. Heat olive oil and a whole peeled garlic clove until the garlic begins to brown. Add the cut-up zucchini and cook until the zucchini begins to brown, add white vinegar, sugar, toasted pine nuts, softened golden raisins and a chopped anchovy fillet and cook until the liquid reduces to a syrup. Remove from the heat, stir in chopped mint and season to taste with salt and black pepper. This can be served either warm or cold.
8. Calabacitas con crema: Cut an onion into thick slices and cook slowly until golden. Add sliced garlic, shredded roasted, peeled, seeded poblano and zucchini cut into thick slabs and cook, covered, until the zucchini is tender. Add Mexican crema, increase the heat to medium, and cook until thickened. Just before serving, stir in chopped cilantro.
9. Garlic and herb-stuffed zucchini: Make a flavorful tomato sauce. Cut zucchini in half lengthwise and use a melon baller to carefully remove enough of the flesh from the center to make a boat. Season lightly with salt and steam until tender. Grind fresh bread to crumbs in a food processor with basil and garlic. Pour into a bowl and stir in chopped anchovies and toasted pine nuts. Pour the tomato sauce into a lightly oiled gratin dish and spoon the breadcrumb mixture into the zucchini, mounding it slightly on top. Drizzle with olive oil and bake until the tops of the breadcrumbs are browned. Serve hot or at room temperature.
A look at some types
There are hundreds of varieties of summer squash sold as zucchini, but they break down into two main families. Though they can be used interchangeably, each has different strengths. -- Russ Parsons
The familiar deep green cylindrical zucchini tends to have the best flavor, and the darker the zucchini, the better it is. But the flesh can be soft and breaks down when cooked.
The light gray-green slightly bulbous zucchini, which is common at Latino and Middle Eastern markets, has a milder taste but denser, firmer flesh that holds together during cooking.
You may also sometimes see round zucchini, such as Ronde de Nice and Tondo di Piacenza. These are not technically zucchini but summer pumpkins. Nevertheless, they have firm flesh and mild flavor and are very good for stuffing.