Thursday, September 1, 2016

What to Do with All That Zucchini
What’s cooking? Shaved Zucchini Salad, Zucchini Muffins, and Hasselback Zucchini

When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. When life hands you zucchini, you make, well, bread and a veggie casserole and salad and soup and.... And the list goes on. I’ve pretty much decided that zucchini is the most adaptable veggie around. Good thing, too, because it’s everywhere at the farmers’ markets these days, and in great abundance.

I’ve been looking for new ways to use the green beauties, and in doing so, I’ve been struck by the number of ways they’ve already appeared on this blog.

There’s my friend Laurie’s Zucchini Soup – cool, creamy, and tasting of summer.

There’s the Italian Vegetable Gratin casserole dreamed up by the Kitchen Goddess herself, as a means to testing out a Hamilton-Beach Food Processor. It’s a great accompaniment to a fall dinner.

I’ve featured zucchini “ribbons,” raw, in an Herbed Salad with Squash Ribbons, dressed with olive oil and lemon juice and Pecorino Romano cheese.

And of course the slightly chunky Zucchini Sauce – redolent with herbs and garlic – served to me over pasta on the Amalfi Coast of Italy. What you see here is the Kitchen Goddess’s version, which was a very good approximation.

All squash is essentially an American plant – for this one, South American in origin. But then a funny thing happened in the 19th century. The plant migrated to Italy, where the Italians developed a variety of squash that was smaller, green and cylindrical. Because the larger, rounder version of squash was called “zucca,” these diminutive veggies came to be called “zucchini,” which in essence means “little zucca.” And then they traveled back to America (North, this time) in the early 20th century. Welcome home, mi amore!

“Little zucca” is a funny term for a fruit (remember, it’s the fruit of the vine) that can grow to be the size of a baseball bat. In the larger specimens, the flesh gets more watery, the skin gets tougher and less shiny, and you’ll want to scrape out the seeds before cooking. But what you typically find at the grocer’s or the farmers’ market is picked when the seeds are soft and young, and the fruit itself is 6-8 inches long. So for the best texture and the most flavor, look for zucchini that feel heavy for their size, with a smooth, shiny, dark green and lightly freckled exterior. Wipe them off with a paper towel and store them in the fridge – unwashed, please – in a plastic bag with as much air removed as possible. The ones from the grocery store will keep for almost a week; farmers’ market purchases will keep even longer.

So here comes the easy part: the cooking. Even as I worked on this post, I discovered another amazing technique, which I’ve included as #3 below.

The first of my trio is another lovely fresh salad with an unusual texture. In addition to the herbed salad above, I’ve had ribboned/shaved zucchini salad in a couple of restaurants, and it takes to lemon-and-olive-oil dressing like peaches to cream. If you’re out of pine nuts, try toasting some almonds or pistachios.

Oops -- I forgot the cheese. It was good anyway.

1. Shaved Zucchini Salad

Adapted from Ian Knauer in Bon Appétit, August 2010.

Serves 6.

⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or ¼ teaspoon chili flakes)
2 pounds zucchini (6-8 inches long), trimmed
Scant ½ cup fresh basil, ribboned
¼ cup toasted pine nuts (can substitute toasted pistachios or almonds)
Parmigiano-Reggiano, about ¼ cup shaved

In a jar or small bowl, mix the first 5 ingredients together. If you’re using a jar, put the lid on and shake furiously for a minute – just the jar, shake the jar; if using a bowl, whisk the mixture well until emulsified.

Use a vegetable peeler or any other slicing equipment that can give you really thin slices (like 1/16th inch thick), and ribbon the zucchini lengthwise until you reach the seeds. Rotate the squash and continue ribboning until you’ve got only the core left. Discard the core and transfer the squash ribbons into a bowl. Add the basil and pine nuts (or pistachios or almonds), and toss with the dressing.

Depending on the size of your zucchini and how aggressively you ribbon it, you may not need all the dressing, so start with half of what you made and add judiciously. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle cheese shavings over the salad.

* * *

I have an extra incentive to bake during the summer, even if it does make the kitchen hot. I’ve made these zucchini muffins for my grandchildren, who rave about them. And it’s an easy enough process that if the kiddos in your family like to cook, they can help make these.

2. Zucchini Muffins

Makes 24.

The KG uses her food processor to shred the zucchini in seconds.
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
1½ teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground clove (optional)
3 eggs
1 cup white sugar
⅔ cup dark brown sugar
⅔ cup vegetable oil
1½ teaspoons vanilla
3 cups grated zucchini (from two squash, about 6 ounces each)
½ cup chopped walnuts (strictly optional – the KG’s grandchildren prefer no nuts)

Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease muffin tins or use muffin papers.

Sift together the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and clove, and set aside.

In a large bowl, use a whisk to beat the eggs with the sugars until smooth and slightly fluffy. [Kitchen Goddess note: If using a stand mixer, start with the mixer at medium-low speed, and gradually increase to medium high. This action – which takes about 4 minutes – gives the muffins a lighter texture.]

Mix in the vegetable oil and vanilla. Add the sifted ingredients and mix well. Stir in the zucchini and nuts (if using). Pour the batter into muffin tins, filling about three-quarters full. Bake at 350º for 24 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Cool muffins in the tins on a rack for 10 minutes, then remove from the tins and let cool completely on the rack. (If, like the Kitchen Goddess, you cannot resist the urge to eat them warm right out of the oven, that’s okay. But if you’re packing the muffins up to take to your grandchildren, just have one and let the rest cool completely before boxing.)

* * *

You might have heard of Hasselback Potatoes. The dish, developed at the restaurant of the Hasselbacken Hotel in Stockholm, Sweden, describes a treatment in which the potatoes are thinly sliced, but not all the way through, then basted with butter and baked until the slices fan out like a crispy accordion. This clever treatment has been extended to chicken breasts, apples, and even carrots. And now here it is as a cheesy, buttery, herby way to cook zucchini. And if that string of adjectives doesn’t do it for you, I don’t know what will. It was a big hit at the Kitchen Goddess’s dinner table.

3. Hasselback Zucchini

Adapted from Kristina Preka at the Tasting Table Test Kitchen.

Serves 2. [But nothing could be easier than doubling or tripling these ingredients. Cooking time will be the same. And you’re smart people – go for it.]

For the Toasted Bread Crumbs:
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup finely ground bread crumbs
1 tablespoon parsley, roughly chopped
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon kosher salt

For the Compound Butter:
¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
¼ teaspoon onion powder
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For Hasselback Zucchini:
2 medium zucchini (5-6 ounces each), trimmed
Compound butter
Toasted bread crumbs
Finely grated Parmesan, for garnish
Roughly chopped parsley, for garnish
Chopped fresh oregano and thyme (optional)
Lemon wedges, for serving

Make the toasted bread crumbs: Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat, and add the remaining ingredients. Cook, stirring almost constantly, until the bread crumbs have reached a toasty brown, about 5-6 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Make the compound butter: Into a small bowl, add all the ingredients and stir together until well combined. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350º. Line a baking pan with foil or baker’s parchment and set aside.

Cut the zucchini crosswise into ¼-inch slices, being careful not to cut all the way through the squash – it should still be in one piece when you’re done. [Kitchen Goddess note: The slicing is the hardest part of this recipe. One handy technique is shown at right – using chopsticks or pencils as “guards,” to keep the knife from slicing all the way through. Just take note if there’s a point at which your squash curves away from the cutting board.]

Transfer the sliced zucchini to the prepared baking pan and roast at 350º for 10 minutes.
Remove the zucchini from the oven and spoon bits of the compound butter into the spaces between the slices. The slices will be a bit soft but you may still want to use your fingers to pry them apart – more butter between the slices makes for tenderer, more flavorful zucchini.

Return the zucchini to the oven and roast another 15-20 minutes, depending on where your squash are in the 5-6-ounce range. Baste with the melted butter about halfway through this roasting stage.

After roasting. Ready for the garnishes.
Gently remove the zucchini to a serving platter, and garnish with bread crumbs, cheese, grated parsley and other herbs, if desired. Squeeze a lemon wedge over each and serve.

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