I think zucchini unfairly gets bad press. People make jokes about Zucchini because they are prolific growers and most people don’t pick them when they are small and tender and delicious. If zucchini is left to grow into giant gourds they are only good for cake. It is easy to have too many zuchinni if you are only going to make cake.
Zucchini picked from its plant small, still with its yellow flower wilting on its tip, is sweet, firm and fragrant. If you select the good varieties, zucchini has plenty of flavour. I grow a yellow pattypan variety, as well as a green striped Italian heirloom. I rarely grow the common dark green type, though some of them produce very early. They are useful for cakes and loaves later in the season.
Zucchini makes a regular appearance in our kitchen during the summer months and we love it every way we cook it. And because it grows quickly it is important to know many ways to handle it.
New Potato and Zucchini Pasta
We love to pick the season’s first zucchini along with some waxy fingerling potatoes that I secretly tug out from under the potato vines. We turn these newest vegetables into a pasta dish. I slowly stew the roughly sliced vegetables in a good glug of olive oil with garlic or garlic scape, and just a tipple of water. Once the vegetables are soft-firm tip the lot into spaghetti and toss in a big fistful of rough torn basil. It should be good Italian brand durum wheat pasta cooked just until al dente. This is finished with a grating of pecorino romano and perhaps a drizzle of good olive oil and a grinding of black pepper and scattering of sea salt. This is a very good summery pasta to eat out doors – preferably on the deck of a small farmhouse near the garden patch where the veg was harvested – and if you want to know more about this type of eating I recommend you read the very excellent works of Nancy Harmon Jenkins.
These are crisp and salty and fresh, perfect to nibble on with a glass of wine. I grate two zucchini along with a good medium-sized potato and salt it and leave it all in a colander for a half hour. Then I squeeze it all out, add an egg, just enough flour to bind it (the batter should be quite thick – more like cooked porridge than pancake batter), and season well with cracked pepper and grey sea salt. Then I toss in a mountain of fresh chopped herbs such as parsley, mint, dill, fennel, golden oregano or basil (not all at once, but don’t be hesitant, use herbs generously and with conviction as all good middle eastern cooks are known to do, and from where these cakes are from). I drop rounded teaspoons of the batter into about two inches of hot olive oil and fry briefly, sprinkled with salt when they are still scalding hot. We sometimes mix some good full fat yoghurt with dill, cucumber, garlic and olive oil to dip them in.
Zucchini Fried in Olive Oil and Finished with Lemon Juice
Sometimes we fry slices of zucchini in a half-inch of hot olive oil until good and brown. We finish them with a squeeze of lemon and a handful of a fresh fine herb and eat them as is, on top of garlic toast, or to top whatever our main course is. Recently this was a green pea and orzo salad with dill and feta. The peas were freshly podded and made very good friends with the zucchini.