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north fork chef column john ross
Photo by John Ross

And thus the people every year in the valley of humid July did sacrifice themselves to the long green phallic god and eat and eat and eat …

Get rid of old friends, they too have gardens and full trunks. Look for newcomers: befriend them in the post office, unload on them and run. Stop tourists in the street. Take truckloads to Boston. Give to your Red Cross. Beg on the highway, please take my zucchini, I have a crippled mother at home with heartburn …

~excerpt from ‘Attack of the Squash People’ by Marge Piercy

Zucchini is one of the easiest vegetables to grow and very prolific. It is also readily available at your supermarket year-round. It is not known as a “luxury” vegetable, like asparagus, or as a vegetable that’s worth waiting for, like corn. And zucchini can end up as a sloppy, tasteless mess if not cooked properly. With all these negative attributes, is it worth eating it at all? The answer is yes. Zucchini can be delicious eaten cooked or raw. It is very easy to prepare, economical and good for you. You just need to remember that it needs added flavors (and absorbs them well) and does not hold well after cooking. Here are some recipes to try:

 

ZUCCHINI, EGGPLANT AND MUSHROOM LASAGNA

Trim off the ends and cut one large eggplant lengthwise into quarter-inch-thick slices, leaving the skin on. Sprinkle coarse salt over the eggplant slices and place them on a rack for 30 minutes. Rinse under cold water and drain.

Make a tomato sauce by heating 2 tablespoons olive oil in a saucepan and adding 1 chopped onion, 3 cloves of sliced garlic and 1 teaspoon sugar. When the onions are soft, add 1 large can of crushed tomatoes along with 1 tablespoon chopped oregano, 2 teaspoons coarse salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Simmer for 30 minutes and stir in 1/4 cup chopped basil.

Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a pasta pot and add 1 package of whole wheat lasagna noodles. Cook, stirring, until al dente, about 15 minutes, and drain. Combine a 16-ounce container of ricotta cheese with 1 egg, 1 teaspoon pepper and 1/2 cup chopped basil.

Remove the dark gills and place 4 portabella mushroom caps on a sheet pan. Spray the mushrooms lightly with no-stick and cook them in a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes.

Slice three medium-sized zucchinis lengthwise into quarter-inch slices and set aside.

To assemble, spoon a little tomato sauce onto the bottom of a shallow casserole. Line the bottom with lasagna noodles, then eggplant slices, zucchini slices, and mushrooms. Spread half of the ricotta cheese mixture on top and another layer of lasagna noodles. Spoon more sauce onto the noodles and another layer of vegetables. End with another layer of noodles and tomato sauce. Sprinkle the top with shredded mozzarella cheese and cover with foil.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and continue cooking until bubbly, about 20 minutes. Let cool for 20 minutes and cut into squares.

Serves 4-6.

 ZUCCHINI ‘SPAGHETTI’ WITH PESTO

Make pesto by adding to a food processor 2 cups chopped fresh basil, 1 tablespoon chopped garlic, 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, 2 tablespoons pine nuts and 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil. Process until almost smooth, scraping down processor often with a rubber spatula. Gradually add another 1/4 cup of olive oil, remove from the processor and stir in 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese.

For the “spaghetti,” trim the ends off of 4 medium zucchinis and shred them into a bowl using the coarse side of a box grater. Place the shredded zucchini in a clean kitchen towel and gather it up into a ball. Twist the towel very tight so the moisture from the zucchini oozes out. Keep twisting until zucchini becomes dry and set aside in a colander.

Heat a large sauté pan and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add to this 4 sliced cloves of garlic. Cook until garlic begins to brown and remove with a slotted spoon. Add 1 thinly sliced onion and the shredded zucchini. Cook quickly at high heat for about 5 minutes and remove from the heat.

Stir in some of the pesto and serve with more pesto and cheese on the side.

Serves 2-4.

ZUCCHINI ROLLS WITH GOAT CHEESE

Purchase a container of local soft goat cheese and let it come to room temperature. Place the cheese in a bowl and stir in 1/4 cup minced red pepper and 1/4 cup minced green pepper. Remove the zest from 1 lemon and add it to the cheese along with 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Season with 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper and a few drops of Tabasco sauce. Fold in 2 tablespoons chopped basil.

Trim the ends off of 3 medium zucchini and, using a vegetable peeler, cut lengthwise ribbons of zucchini. Press hard on the peeler to get uniform thin slices. Lay out each slice on a cutting board and spread it with pesto (recipe above). Put 3 or 4 leaves of baby arugula on the pesto and spoon 1 tablespoon goat cheese mixture on top. Roll up the zucchini and turn it on end, placing a toothpick through it to hold it together.

Makes about 12 rolls to use as appetizers.

ZUCCHINI PANCAKES WITH LEMON/BASIL AIOLI

Trim the ends off of 2 medium zucchini, rinse and dry. Shred into a bowl using the coarse side of a box grater. Place the zucchini in a clean kitchen towel and twist it into a tight ball, squeezing the moisture out. Put the dry zucchini into a clean bowl and add 1 cup minced scallion and 1/4 cup chopped basil.

Separately, whisk together 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl.

Just before service time, add 2 beaten eggs to the shredded zucchini along with the flour mixture. Add 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese and fold the mixture together.

Heat a large sauté pan and add 3 tablespoons canola oil. When hot, measure 1/2 cup zucchini mixture into your hand, mold it into a pancake and add to the sauté pan. Cook until brown and crispy on each side and remove to a warm place.

To make the aioli, combine 1/2 cup mayonnaise with 1 crushed clove of garlic, the zest of 1 lemon and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Fold in 2 tablespoons chopped basil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few drops of Tabasco sauce.

Serve with sautéed sea scallops or with shrimp.

Serves 4.

Note: Do not let the zucchini mixture sit long before cooking or it will release more moisture, making the pancakes soggy.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years.

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