There's no shame in admitting it: Mid-August may be the point in the summer when you throw up your hands when it comes to zucchini. The vegetable is both the joy and bane of gardeners and cooks. Joy because there are so many possibilities — bread, fritters, stuffed blossoms and ratatouille. And bane because the plants never seem to stop growing, producing squash nearly nonstop until you're up to your eyeballs in the green things.
Kate Workman, author of The Mom 100 cookbook and blog, knows that pain.
"I feel like the zucchini plants are starting to braid themselves together into human form, and they might come inside and kill us in our sleep," she says. "You need to take your vegetable peeler, and go outside to that garden, and show those zucchini who's boss."
We enlisted Workman and two other cooks to come up with some recipes that can help you get a handle on prodigious zucchini plants.
Workman offered a new take on the classic Greek salad. She peels the zucchini into strips, stopping when she reaches the seedy core. She then tosses the paper-thin slices with lemon juice, lettuce, olives, onion, lemon zest, salt, pepper, olive oil, herbs, and tops it off with feta cheese and roasted tomatoes and lemon.
"[It's] a gorgeous, very contemporary Greek salad," she says.
Julia della Croce, an expert in Italian cooking, has battled overabundant zucchini in her garden for years. She recommends a warm pasta dish that mixes fusilli, goat cheese and zucchini. The vegetables are cut into matchstick shapes and sauteed until lightly browned. Then the zucchini is tossed with the barely drained pasta, goat cheese, fresh basil and parsley.
"The goat cheese is tangy, so it really is a nice foil to the bland sweetness of the zucchini," she says. "That zap of the goat's cheese? It's just perfect"
If you feel like filling out your zucchini with some meat, Jay Bentley recommends Iron-Grilled Zucchini and Flank Steak, Asian-style with Chinese Five Spice. Bentley is the author of Open Range: Steaks, Chops & More From Big Sky Country.
He marinates the flank steak in oil, fresh garlic, soy, lime juice, five spice powder and sugar for a few days. When he's ready to grill, he sears both sides of the steak on a hot cast-iron griddle. He cooks the zucchini the same way.
"It's very simple, it looks good and, you know, the great thing about it is if you don't like it, you can throw the zucchini away," Bentley says.
And, of course, you can always try foisting your zucchini on unsuspecting neighbors and co-workers.
Recipe: Katie Workman's Modern Greek Salad
In place of the traditional cucumber, thin ribbons of raw zucchini provide delicate flavor and crunch. This recipe was originally published on The Huffington Post.
Makes 4-6 servings
1 lemon, washed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces with the rind still attached, but seeds removed
1 medium zucchini
1 tablespoon olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1 heart of romaine, slivered crosswise
1/2 cup slivered Vidalia onion
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a medium-sized bowl, toss the lemon wedges with a teaspoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Spread them out on one end of a rimmed baking sheet. In the same bowl toss the tomatoes with the other two teaspoons of olive oil and a pinch of salt, and spread them out, cut-side down, on the rest of the baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, until the lemons are turning golden brown and the tomatoes are starting to shrink. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, take the zucchini and, using a vegetable peeler, press it against the side of the zucchini and pull down so that you create long, almost transparent strips the length of the zucchini. Keep rotating the zucchini so that you get nice wide flat strips, making sure to stop before you get to the seedy core. Place the slices in a large serving bowl, and toss with the romaine and slivered onion. At this point you may separate out some of the lettuce, zucchini and onions, and just sprinkle over a bit of the feta before tossing with the dressing. For the rest, top with the olives, roasted tomatoes and roasted lemon. Sprinkle on the 1/4 cup crumbled cheese.
For the dressing, mash the feta with the vinegar, thyme and oregano with a fork until well blended. Whisk in the olive oil, and continue to mash and stir until smooth. You can add a bit of water as you like to achieve a thinner texture, if you like. Season with salt and pepper.
Drizzle the dressing over the salad, toss and serve.
Recipe: Julia Della Croce's Fusilli With Zucchini And Goat Cheese
This lovely recipe is fast and easy. It's very important is to use small, tender zucchini, not overgrown ones that are tough-skinned and seedy with watery flesh. Older zucchini won't caramelize when you saute them because they're too wet. It's also essential to reserve some of the pasta cooking water before draining and add it to the pasta when tossing it with the sauce; the fusilli need to be dripping wet to loosen up the goat cheese for a nice creamy texture and proper coverage.
Serves 4 to 6
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced and cut into julienne
3 pounds small zucchini, stems trimmed and skin on, cut into thin matchsticks
8 ounces goat cheese
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 pound imported Italian fusilli pasta
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves cut into fine julienne
5 tablespoons fresh basil leaves cut into fine julienne
Freshly ground pepper
In a large pot over high heat, bring 5 quarts water to a rolling boil.
In the meanwhile, in a wide-bottomed skillet ample enough to saute the zucchini matchsticks without crowding, warm the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring until fragrant but not colored, about 1 minute. Raise the heat to high, add the zucchini and cook, stirring often, until lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and immediately add the goat cheese and 1 teaspoon sea salt, using a wooden spoon to blend the cheese with the zucchini.
To cook the pasta, stir it and the 2 tablespoons kosher salt into the boiling water. Cook over high heat, stirring often, until the pasta is al dente, according to cooking time recommended on package instructions. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the skillet with the zucchini-goat cheese mixture and mix in the parsley, basil, and pepper. Add a few tablespoons of the cooking water, or more, if needed, to prevent the pasta from clumping and to loosen the sauce. Cook briefly over low heat to blend the flavors. Serve at once.
Recipe: Jay Bentley's Iron-Grilled Zucchini And Flank Steak
Plan on using a cast iron griddle or plancha over a gas grill, preferably outside because there will be smoke.
2 pounds flank steak, around 3 inches thick
1 cup uncooked long grain white or brown rice
3-4 fresh zucchini cut lengthwise to a 3/4-inch thickness
1 cup peanut or canola oil
1/4 cup sesame oil
5 cloves of fresh garlic smashed or 3 tablespoon dried granulated
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 fresh lime squeezed
3 tablespoons five-spice powder
2 tablespoons sugar
Sea salt, to taste
Marinate the flank steak in the refrigerator for 24 to 36 hours in a large resealable plastic bag, turning occasionally to thoroughly coat the meat. About an hour before you are ready to cook the meat, remove it from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature.
Place the remaining marinade in a saucepan and bring it to a boil for later use.
Lightly salt and slice the zucchini and put it aside
To finish, place the griddle directly over the burner, preheat at medium high to high heat until a drop of oil smokes when it hits the metal. Place the marinade-covered meat on the grill and sear each side for around 5 minutes until a crust has formed. (There had better be smoke, if not the metal wasn't hot enough.) Turn down the heat and cook for around another 10 minutes until the internal temperature of the meat hits around 120 to 125 degrees. Remove from the heat and allow it to rest under foil for another 10 to 15 minutes.
While the meat is resting, brush the zucchini slices with some of the reserved marinade and grill them on both sides until they have a slight char but are still a bit al dente in the middle.
To serve, slice the meat across the grain into thin (1/4 inch) slices and arrange with the zucchini by alternating slices of meat and vegetable. You can double up on the meat but it must be cut thin to work with the tender vegetables.
Drizzle the reserved marinade over everything and serve with or without rice.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
By now, many of you have probably just about had it with zucchini. It's both the joy and bane of gardeners and cooks - joy because there is zucchini bread, zucchini fritters, stuffed zucchini blossoms, ratatouille; bane because there's just too much zucchini. These squash plants grow aggressively, prodigiously. We at Found Recipes feel your pain.
KATIE WORKMAN: I feel like the zucchini plants are starting to braid themselves together into human form, and that they might come inside and kill us in our sleep.
SIEGEL: That's Katie Workman, the woman behind "The Mom 100" cookbook and blog.
WORKMAN: You need to take your vegetable peeler, and go outside to that garden and show those zucchini who's boss.
SIEGEL: Katie Workman is one of three cooks we enlisted in the fight against zucchini fatigue.
WORKMAN: If you take a raw zucchini and a vegetable peeler, you will end up with a gorgeous, raw zucchini ribbon salad. All I do is take the zucchini, peel them stem to stern - try to get a little bit of that pretty, green skin on each one; and then just toss those paper-thin slices with lemon juice, lemon zest, salt, pepper, olive oil, maybe a handful of fresh herbs.
And if you want to take it up a level, you can try a very modern Greek salad with feta and roasted tomatoes, pieces of lemon. Toss those up with some lettuce and some zucchini strips; and you have a gorgeous, very contemporary Greek salad.
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JULIA DELLA CROCE: I have been confronted with the overabundant zucchini problem many summers because I have a garden. This is Julia della Croce, and I'm a cookbook author and food writer.
Here's what you do with the zucchini: fusilli with zucchini and goat cheese. It's going to use about a pound and a half of zucchini - the small ones. You cut it into little, matchstick shapes; saute it in fragrant olive oil which has a little bit of garlic in it. Cook them until they're lightly browned. Take the zucchini off the heat; and then you combine it with the pasta, with the fusilli - they're like a little spring; it actually means corkscrews - just drained; still piping hot, very moist.
You're going to combine that pasta with the goat cheese, which is going to melt from the heat of the pasta. You toss it all together - with the zucchini and the fresh basil and the fresh parsley. The goat cheese is tangy so it really is a nice foil to that bland sweetness of the zucchini. That zap of the goat's cheese - it's just perfect.
JAY BENTLEY: Well, you know, I really like those recipes; they sound wonderful. But me, I love to eat meat. So I thought I'd throw together something that incorporated zucchini and flank steak, which is a great summer option. Oh, by the way, I'm Jay Bentley. I own Open Range Restaurant in downtown Bozeman, Mont.
So my recipe is iron-grilled zucchini and flank steak, Asian-style, with five spice. Quite simply, it's 2 pounds of marinated flank steak; three to four medium to large zucchinis - large being, of course, very relative. Some of them get big enough to club somebody to death with them, you know, but you don't want them quite that large.
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And then I do a marinade out of vegetable oil, peanut oil, canola - whatever you want - sesame oil; fresh garlic, soy, fresh limes, some five-spice powder and sugar. And take the steak - I marinate it for a couple of days; cook it over a very hot, cast-iron griddle or plancha. Basically sear both sides; do the same with the zucchini. And then you arrange it very nicely on a plate, in kind of an alternative thing - with meat, zucchini, meat, zucchini - and then you drizzle the remaining marinade over that. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Marinade that was previously used on raw meat or poultry should not be reused as a sauce for the cooked dish unless it's boiled first. The best option, though, is to reserve a portion of the marinade to use only on the cooked dish.]
It's very simple, it looks good and, you know, the great thing about it is if you don't like it, you can throw the zucchini away.
SIEGEL: No, don't throw it away. Give it away. Somebody will eat it.
That was Jay Bentley, author of the cookbook "Open Range," with his antidote to zucchini fatigue. You can get his recipe and the recipes from food writers Julia della Croce and Katie Workman on the Found Recipes page at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.