Chef Kelly Unger
Lock your doors! It's Zucchini Season
It's the only time of year some folks lock their doors, to prevent their neighbors from sneaking into their house and leaving them more zucchini! Zucchini is so prolific that even someone with a black thumb, like me, can grow zucchini. It’s a sure sign of Summer, however, when zucchini arrives! I love the different shades of green found in the varieties of zucchini from solid green, to light and dark striped, pale green and speckled. Zucchini can also come in a round golf ball shape as well, which make them perfect for stuffing. The most flavorful of the long straight zucchini we commonly see are those small in size. Their flavor is concentrated. The larger they become, the more watery and less flavorful they become.
One of my favorite ways to enjoy zucchini, which also happens to be super quick and simple, is to saute bite sized peices in olive oil after I have caramelized some onions. After I remove the saute pan from the heat, I season with salt and pepper and generously top it with freshly grated Parmesan. The residual heat from the pan melts the cheese well enough. But zucchini are just as delicious raw, so on a hot summer day when zucchini is plentiful, there’s no need to turn on the oven or stove. Slice zucchini very thin lengthwise and use like pasta sheets for a raw cannelloni dish filled with diced tomatoes, chopped basil and a mix of ricotta and grated mozzarella, drizzled with balsamic vinegar. They also spiralize perfectly for vegetable noodles. The zucchini blossoms are also edible.
Another delicious way to use this bountiful veg is in a Summer Vegetable Gratin. This recipe from America’s Test Kitchen yields similar flavors but adds tomatoes and the dish is baked in the oven. Please use your favorite Rabbits Run Farm cheese in place of the Parmesan called for here. Also, double up on the zucchini called for if yellow summer squash is not available and substitute Nord plain sourdough for the white sandwich bread. It’s important to get rid of some of the moisture from the zucchini in the first step so your gratin cooks up properly and the bottom layer doesn’t end up being a pile of mush. Don’t discard the 3 tablespoons of liquid from them however. You can use this to season soup or a homemade dressing. Hopefully your basil plants are giving you beautiful leaves already since we’ve had such hot weather in recent weeks. Enjoy!
Summer Vegetable Gratin
From America’s Test Kitchen, The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook
1 pound zucchini, sliced ¼ inch thick
1 pound yellow summer squash, sliced ¼ inch thick
Salt and pepper]1 ½ pounds ripe tomatoes, cored and sliced ¼ inch thick
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 onions, halved and sliced thin
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
1 slice hearty white sandwich bread torn into quarters
2 ounces Parmesan cheese grated (1 cup)
2 shallots, minced
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
Toss zucchini and summer squash slices with 1 teaspoon salt and let drain in a colander until the vegetables release at least 3 tablespoons of liquid, about 45 minutes. Pat zucchini and summer squash dry firmly with paper towels, removing as much liquid as possible.
Spread tomatoes out over paper towel - lined baking sheet, sprinkle with ½ teaspoon of salt and let stand 30 minutes. Thoroughly pat tomatoes dry with more paper towels.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add onions and ½ teaspoon of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and dark golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes; set aside.
Combine 3 tablespoons oil, garlic, thyme, and ½ teaspoon pepper in a bowl; set aside. Process bread in a food processor until finely ground, about 10 seconds, then combine with 1 tablespoon oil, Parmesan, and shallots in a separate bowl; set aside.
Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 3-quart gratin dish (or 13 by 9 inch baking dish) with remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Toss zucchini and summer squash with half of the garlic-oil mixture and arrange in greased baking dish. Sprinkle evenly with caramelized onions, then top with tomato slices, overlapping them slightly. Spoon remaining garlic-oil mixture evenly over tomatoes. Bake until vegetables are tender and tomatoes are starting to brown on edges, 40 to 45 minutes.
Remove baking dish from oven and increase the heat to 450 degrees. Sprinkle bread-crumb mixture evenly over top and continue to bake gratin until bubbling and cheese is lightly browned, 5 to 10 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes, then sprinkle with basil and serve.