Throughout my life I have had a love hate relationship with zucchini. A popular summer squash, it grows in great quantity and if you have ever planted it in your garden, you know a little goes a long way (I have been know to put boxes full on street corners with free signs). My very first experience with this prolific vegetable was when I was a preschooler. We lived next door to a couple we referred to as Aunt and Uncle although neither was an actual relative. “Uncle Joe” grew a large and beautiful garden every summer and we delighted in watching him till the soil in Spring and carefully plant the rows in anticipation of the harvest. We would visit him frequently to follow the garden’s progress and squeal with excitement seeing the lettuce and other veggies pop their first sprouts from the earth. As the season progressed, we began seeing the fruits of his labor. Then without a bit of notice, the dreaded day arrived. My sister and I would be playing in the yard and suddenly “Uncle Joe” would appear with a bushel basket full of green things. We would run to see what he was bringing to our mother’s kitchen only to see the basket was full of zucchini! My sister and I would beg him not to bring it into our house. “Please, please, “Uncle Joe”, we hate zucchini and mommy will make us eat it!” He would laugh and continue with his delivery much to my mother’s delight.
Why did we hate it so much? Not because it wasn’t fresh but the one and only way our mother knew how to prepare it was stewed in tomatoes (probably also grown in “Uncle Joe’s” garden). Doesn’t sound so bad, you say? Well consider that it was cooked to mush every time! That is one of the problems with cooking this vegetable as well as the tendency to underseason (Mom was also guilty of that). I beg you to take these things into consideration each and every time you cook it. Less is more for cooking time (this recipe calls for cooking it for one minute) and season well to balance its natural blandness.
Recipe Serves 4-6
3 small to medium zucchini
3T walnut oil
1t red wine vinegar
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
2 oz. Roquefort cheese
1/4 c toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
- Using a Japanese mandoline slicer or a sharp knife, thinly slice the zucchini crosswise into rounds.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt generously.
- Blanch the zucchini slices in the boiling water for about one minute. Drain and dry on a clean towel.
- Transfer slices to a bowl and pour the oil and vinegar over them and add the pepper.
- Crumble the cheese over the mixture and turn.
- Add half the walnuts and turn again.
- Transfer to a platter and sprinkle with the remaining walnuts.
This recipe, given to me by a good friend, has crunch from the nuts, saltiness from the cheese, brightness from the vinegar and warmth of the walnut oil. These simple ingredients give it perfect balance. Don’t have walnut oil? Olive oil would be a good substitute. You can also use feta or goat cheese if Roquefort is not to your liking, according to my friend.
Finding new and delicious recipes have made me fall in love with this versatile vegetable. I have even witnessed my husband, a confirmed zucchini hater, request seconds. So I ask you to open your mind and try new combinations of flavors. Remember the enemies of zucchini are overcooking, and underseasoning. Also, choose small to medium sizes as they tend to be more tender with fewer seeds. If you grow your own, watch them carefully as a small squash can grow from a few inches to the size of a baseball bat seemingly overnight. No joke!
So “Uncle Joe” we all loved you even though we dreaded your baskets of zucchini and to this day we marvel at your gardening skills. We now know our distaste for this vegetable was not your fault. Sorry, Mom, we love you in spite if it.
Have some good zucchini recipes? Would love it if you would share.