Finally, zucchini that's exciting

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 4D
Last Modified: Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013 - 8:00 am

Editor's note: Thursday is National Zucchini Day, a.k.a. "Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbors' Porch Day." We have some zucchini recipes here that should make you reconsider dumping your squash.

The trouble with late summer's bounty of zucchini isn't in the volume of the vegetable itself. Rather, it is in the lack of creative recipes for using it.

Because frankly what the world most certainly does not need are more recipes for zucchini muffins and breads and casseroles.

The website AllRecipes.com, for example, lists 244 recipes for zucchini bread alone. In fact, there are so many that users of the site have stopped even trying to come up with creative names for the recipes, instead resorting to Roman numerals. A slice of Zucchini Bread VI, anyone?

So it has been a long time since I have been impressed by a zucchini recipe. Using a vegetable peeler to turn it into ribbons for a salad is benign. Shredding it into strands for "pasta" is creative, if not particularly delicious. And I have no interest in yet another variant of stuffing and baking them, no matter how much bacon, sausage and cheese you jam in there.

But recently I was impressed by, yes … a zucchini recipe. I no longer thought this was possible.

A generous reader sympathetic to my ongoing battle to get my 8-year-old son to embrace more vegetables directed me to a recipe for zucchini hummus on blogger Kait Capone's site, LaCucinadiKait.com. The recipe is precisely as it sounds – a hummuslike spread made from ground zucchini.

The name doesn't do it justice, hence I tried it somewhat reluctantly. As is my wont, I modified the recipe the first time I tried it. The recipe calls for puréeing raw zucchini, which held little appeal for me. So I grilled it first. I also upped the garlic, and added smoked paprika and salt. The result was insanely good.

A few more modifications in round two and I had something I'd long thought impossible – an amazingly delicious, creative and even healthy way to use zucchini.


Tahini-dressed zucchini and green bean salad

Serves 4

This salad is all about the dressing: thick, creamy (yet vegan) and brightened by the inclusion of lemon and orange juices. The dressing is particularly good on chargrilled (or pan-fried) summer vegetables, but you could use it on a salad that includes lentils, chickpeas or other legumes; farro, barley or other grains; or other seasons' vegetables, such as asparagus, sweet potatoes and hearty greens. Its consistency means it could also be a dip for crudites.

Adapted by The Washington Post from "River Cottage Veg: 200 Inspired Vegetable Recipes" by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (Ten Speed Press, $35, 416 pages).

INGREDIENTS

For the dressing:

1/2 clove garlic, crushed with a little coarse sea salt

2 tablespoons tahini (stir the jar well first)

Finely grated zest and juice of 1/2 lemon

Juice of 1/2 orange

1/2 teaspoon honey

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

For the salad:

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 medium zucchini (about 14 ounces total), sliced into 1/8-inch rounds

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 fresh small red chili pepper, seeded and finely chopped

About 4 ounces green beans, trimmed

4 good handfuls of salad greens

12 to 18 oven-dried tomatoes (optional)

Handful of mint, finely shredded (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS

For the dressing: Combine the crushed garlic in a medium bowl with the tahini, lemon zest and juice, orange juice and honey; season lightly with salt and a grind of black pepper; stir to form a dressing. If it seems too thick, add 1 tablespoon of water at a time to achieve a creamy, trickling consistency. Then gently stir in the oil. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as needed.

For the salad: Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add the zucchini slices and cook, tossing them occasionally, for a few minutes, until tender and browned on both sides, transferring them to a mixing bowl.

Once the zucchini is all cooked, season it generously with salt and pepper. Add the lemon juice and chili pepper, and toss to incorporate.

Fill a bowl with cool water and a few ice cubes.

Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the green beans; once the water returns to a boil, cook for 1 minute, then use a slotted spoon to transfer them to ice-water bath. Drain after a few minutes; if the beans aren't cool, rinse under cool running water. Drain again, pat dry with a clean kitchen towel, then toss the beans with the zucchini.

When ready to serve, spread the salad greens in a large, shallow serving bowl. Scatter the dressed zucchini and beans over them, then the oven-dried tomatoes and shredded mint, if using. Drizzle the dressing generously over the salad.

Per serving: 210 calories, 4 g protein, 12 g carbohydrates, 17 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 160 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 5 g sugar


Grilled zucchini hummus

Start to finish: 20 minutes

Makes about 2 1/2 cups

This is J.M. Hirsch's recipe. He writes:

I prefer roasted (also called toasted) tahini, but it can be hard to find. The recipe is still great with regular tahini.

Note: If you don't want to crank up the grill, you also could pop the zucchini under the broiler for a few minutes. Coat the zucchini lightly with cooking spray or olive oil, then set on the oven's lowest rack. Broil just until very lightly browned and starting to get tender.

INGREDIENTS

1 large zucchini (about 1 pound)

1/4 cup roasted tahini (sesame seed butter)

3 to 4 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

INSTRUCTIONS

Heat a grill to high. Use an oil-soaked paper towel held with tongs to lightly oil the grill grates.

Trim the ends from the zucchini, then slice it in half lengthwise. If the seeds are large and watery, use a melon baller or small spoon to scrape out and discard most of the seeds from the center of each half. It's not critical to get them all. If the inside of the zucchini appears firm and the seeds small, you don't need to scrape them out.

Place the zucchini on the grill, cut side up, then reduce heat to low. Cook for 10 minutes, or until just lightly browned and starting to get tender. Set aside to cool.

When the zucchini has cooled enough to handle, place it in a food processor. Add the tahini, garlic, lemon juice, cumin, smoked paprika and salt. Process for 1 minute, or until very smooth.

The hummus can be served immediately, or chilled. The hummus will thicken slightly as it chills.

Per 1/4 cup: 45 calories; 30 calories from fat (67 percent of total calories); 3.5 g fat (0 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg chol.; 3 g carb.; 1 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 2 g protein; 110 mg sodium.


Pasta and zucchini with lemon-basil ricotta cream

Serves 4 or 5

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick developed this recipe for The Washington Post. She writes:

I've grown away from cream sauces that seem to drown vegetables and pasta rather than enhance them. Instead, I use ricotta cheese, which adds a lighter dairy element. Ricotta tends to be a little dry, so I mix in milk. After that, it's just a matter of flavoring the ricotta and combining it with well-cooked vegetables and pasta.

Here, the ricotta is treated to lemon and basil. Zucchini and onion are sautéed until tender, then everything is combined with corkscrew-shaped pasta. It's easy, delicious and summery.

INGREDIENTS

Salt

8 ounces dried corkscrew-shaped pasta, such as rotini or fusilli

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup finely chopped onion (from a medium onion)

1 pound zucchini, cut into cubes no larger than 1/2 an inch (about 2 medium zucchini)

1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese

2 tablespoons low-fat milk

Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon, plus more for optional garnish

1/3 cup coarsely chopped basil leaves (about 16 large leaves), plus 2 basil leaves cut into thin strips for optional garnish

Freshly ground black pepper

INSTRUCTIONS

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large nonstick sauté pan or skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and season with salt to taste; cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens. Add the zucchini and toss to combine.

Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat so the zucchini becomes tender but does not brown.

Combine the ricotta, milk, lemon zest and basil in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

When the pasta and vegetables are ready, add them to the bowl and toss to combine. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as needed.

Transfer to a serving bowl or to individual serving plates. Garnish with more lemon zest and the basil strips, if desired.

Per serving (based on 5): 294 calories, 13 g protein, 44 g carbohydrates, 8 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 16 mg cholesterol, 136 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by J.M. Hirsch



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