A confession: I hate zucchini.
Watery, mushy, tasteless — I am hard-pressed to identify a preparation containing said ingredient that I have ever desired in the least.
As with most fried foods, it’s all about the batter. Zucchini spears are merely delivery devices for whatever dip or sauce accompanies them. And who wants to fry anything right about now?
But it is the season and, as with most endeavors during the pandemic, the challenge is to make the best of a bad situation. It passes the time and, if you’re lucky, provides an unexpected pleasure.
The misconception about zucchini and most summer squash (as well as other “fresh” produce in this country) is that bigger is better. That’s why you see Bocce-ball-sized tomatoes and golfball-sized strawberries. While not in the same botanical families, they share a similar texture and flavor profile with club-sized zucchinis that are the deserving butt of home-gardening jokes.
Size does matter, but smaller is better. It concentrates the flavor, the skin is thinner, the texture crisp and tender, and the seeds, of which there are many, are so tiny as to be almost negligible.
I suppose I am speaking of what the gods of marketing call “baby zucchini,” but are just fresh young specimens. The food writers I trust specify 3- to 4-inch zucchini and most recipes that appeal to me specify nothing larger that 6 inches. The home gardener has an upper hand here.
I have to admit to having heard the advice to salt sliced squash before cooking. In this case, salting thinly sliced small zucchini (I found 4-inch cucurbits but also discovered organic 5- and 6-inch squash at Foodtown in Cold Spring) did draw out a lot of liquid. It also concentrated the vegetal notes and created an on-the-fly “pickle,” negating the need to add heat to the process. That is appealing in 90-degree weather.
So, Carpaccio… While the vegetable is a New World crop (along with the tomato), zucchini reached its warmest culinary embrace and apogee in Italy and perhaps specifically Sicily. To honor that noble heritage, my thin, raw slices are dressed in a loose vinaigrette of sweet sun-dried tomatoes, capers, basil and Balsamic. If that’s bolstered with a splash of lemon juice and extra-virgin olive oil, you’ve covered the flavor bases. A sprinkle of toasted pine nuts adds some crunch.
Serve over a bed of arugula with a garnish of shaved Parmesan and I’m seeing zucchini in a whole new way.
Zucchini “Carpaccio” with
Sun-dried Tomato-Basil-Balsamic Vinaigrette
— Serves 4 —
- 2 to 3 medium (6-inch) or 8 to 10 baby (4-inch) zucchini
- Kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons pignolis, briefly
- toasted in a hot skillet to lightly color; reserved
- 4 handfuls of washed and dried arugula, divided among four plates
For the vinaigrette:
- 1 tablespoon minced shallot
- 1 small clove garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
- 2 tablespoons chopped oil-soaked
- sun-dried tomatoes, drained, patted dry, chopped
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh
- basil (plus small leaves for garnish)
- 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed
- lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar (the best you can muster up)
- 5 to 6 tablespoons extra-virgin
- olive oil
- Salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
- Shaved Parmesan (optional)
- With a mandoline or vegetable peeler, shave the zucchini lengthwise into thin strips. (Discard the first and last slices with solid dark-green skin.). Lay the strips in a single layer on a clean cloth or paper towel and dust with salt. Set aside while you prepare the vinaigrette.
- Prepare the vinaigrette: with a spoon lightly mix the ingredients in a small bowl or measuring cup. Do not overmix or whisk: you want a loose aggregation with distinct elements here, not a puree.
- Blot and wipe excess salt from the slices; arrange in overlapping layers on individual plates of arugula. Spoon vinaigrette over zucchini and arugula. Garnish with a scattering of the pignolis, more cracked black pepper and curls of Parmesan if desired.
Anniversary Note: This is Joe Dizney’s 113th column. The first appeared in the Feb. 8, 2013, issue.