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Versatile vegetable: Zucchini can create a variety of tasty dishes

By Russ Parsons

Los Angeles Times (Mct)

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 18 2012 9:51 p.m. MDT

Photos by Ricardo Dearatanha, Los Angeles Times

Tomatoes are summer's glamour crop, round, red and ripe. But though zucchini will never get as many magazine covers, real cooks know you can't beat it for versatility. If you've got a perfectly ripened backyard tomato, there are only a few things you should do with it (yes, admittedly, all of them are delicious). But if you've got a bag of zucchini, well, the sky is the limit.

Here are some quick ideas.

1. Bulgur salad with arugula, zucchini and pine nuts: Salt zucchini and set aside until soft. Rinse, pat dry and combine with toasted soaked bulgur and minced red onion, dress with olive oil and lemon juice and at the last minute add torn arugula leaves and toasted pine nuts.

2. Ratatouille: Saute onions in olive oil until they're tender and transfer them to a big pot. Saute zucchini until tender and add that to the pot. Saute eggplant until tender and add that to the pot. Add peeled, seeded, diced tomatoes and red wine vinegar and cook until they thicken. Add them to the pot and heat everything through to combine flavors.

3. Zucchini-basil frittata: Saute sliced onion and shredded zucchini in a nonstick skillet until the zucchini is no longer moist. Stir the mixture into a bowl of beaten eggs along with grated Parmesan cheese and torn basil leaves. Return the mixture to the skillet and cook, stirring, until the egg mixture sets like soft scrambled eggs. Run the pan under a broiler just until it browns on top.

4. Zuni Cafe zucchini pickles: Slice the zucchini about 1/16 of an inch thick. Combine in a bowl with a sliced onion and salt generously. Cover with ice water and set aside until the zucchini is softened, about 1 hour. Rinse and pat dry. Combine vinegar, sugar, dry mustard, mustard seeds and turmeric in a small saucepan and simmer for 3 minutes. Set aside until just warm to the touch. Pour the brine mixture over the zucchini, transfer to jars, seal tightly and refrigerate for at least a day.

5. Braised zucchini with mint and lemon: Braise the zucchini in olive oil with chopped onion, garlic, lemon zest and mint. When you remove the lid and turn the heat up to high, add more lemon juice and cook until the liquid is reduced to a syrup. Cool to warm room temperature and stir in more mint and toasted pine nuts.

6. Zucchini and pine nut salad: This is another very simple (and delicious) adaptation of a basic technique. Salt zucchini as in the bulgur salad and combine it with minced red onion and pine nuts and dress with olive oil and lemon juice. Stir in shredded basil just before serving.

7. Zucchini in agrodolce: Cut the zucchini into large pieces. Heat olive oil and a whole peeled garlic clove until the garlic begins to brown. Add the cut-up zucchini and cook until the zucchini begins to brown, add white vinegar, sugar, toasted pine nuts, softened golden raisins and a chopped anchovy fillet and cook until the liquid reduces to a syrup. Remove from the heat, stir in chopped mint and season to taste with salt and black pepper. This can be served either warm or cold.

8. Calabacitas con crema: Cut an onion into thick slices and cook slowly until golden. Add sliced garlic, shredded roasted, peeled, seeded poblano and zucchini cut into thick slabs and cook, covered, until the zucchini is tender. Add Mexican crema, increase the heat to medium, and cook until thickened. Just before serving, stir in chopped cilantro.

9. Garlic and herb-stuffed zucchini: Make a flavorful tomato sauce. Cut zucchini in half lengthwise and use a melon baller to carefully remove enough of the flesh from the center to make a boat. Season lightly with salt and steam until tender. Grind fresh bread to crumbs in a food processor with basil and garlic. Pour into a bowl and stir in chopped anchovies and toasted pine nuts. Pour the tomato sauce into a lightly oiled gratin dish and spoon the breadcrumb mixture into the zucchini, mounding it slightly on top. Drizzle with olive oil and bake until the tops of the breadcrumbs are browned. Serve hot or at room temperature.

ZUCCHINI FRITTERS

Total time: 30 minutes, plus draining time for the shredded zucchini

Servings: Makes 8 fritters

1 pound zucchini

Salt

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 green onion, chopped, green part only

1/2 to ¾ teaspoon minced jalapeno

2 tablespoons flour

1 egg, beaten

Olive oil

Greek-style yogurt

1. Shred the zucchini and put it in a colander. Sprinkle generously with salt, mix well and set aside for at least 30 minutes to drain. Toast the cumin and coriander seeds in a small dry skillet over medium heat until they begin to pop and smell fragrant. Grind in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.

2. Rinse the shredded zucchini under cold running water. Pick up a small handful, squeeze it dry and put it in the center of a linen dish towel. When you've squeezed all the zucchini by hand, gather the dish towel around the zucchini and twist, wringing out as much liquid as you can. The more liquid you remove, the lighter the fritter will be.

3. Put the zucchini in a bowl and add the green onion, jalapeno, cumin and coriander and stir to mix well. Stir in the flour and then the beaten egg. The mixture should be sticky, but there shouldn't be any free liquid. If there is, stir in a little more flour.

4. Pour olive oil into a nonstick skillet to a depth of about one-fourth inch (it'll take about one-fourth cup) and heat it over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot enough that a little bit of zucchini sizzles immediately, drop 4 (2 to 3 tablespoon) mounds of the batter into the pan, flattening them slightly with the back of a spoon.

5. Fry until golden brown on one side, 3 to 4 minutes, then gently flip and fry until golden brown on the other side, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate and gently pat away any excess oil.

6. Serve immediately, with a dollop of thick Greek yogurt.

Each fritter: 147 calories; 2 grams protein; 4 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 14 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 23 mg cholesterol; 1 gram sugar; 87 mg sodium.

. . .

ZUCCHINI TIAN

Total time: 30 minutes, plus 1 to 1 1/2 hours baking time

Servings: 6

1 large onion

Olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

Salt

2 tablespoons slivered basil leaves

2 zucchini, cut into ¼-inch rounds

16 to 20 cherry tomatoes, quartered

3 tablespoons slivered, pitted black olives

Freshly ground black pepper

4 ounces fresh goat cheese

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the onion in quarters lengthwise and then in one-fourth-inch crosswise strips. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is softened and translucent, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook until fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes.

2. Generously oil an earthenware, glass or enameled cast-iron baking pan approximately 10 by 8 inches. Scatter the onions across the bottom, season lightly with salt and scatter the basil leaves over the top.

3. Arrange the zucchini on top of the onions in a single tight-fitting crosswise row. Arrange the remaining zucchini following the same pattern, overlapping each successive row by about one-half. Scatter the cherry tomatoes and black olives evenly over the top and again season lightly with salt (remember, the goat cheese will be slightly salty) and more generously with black pepper.

4. Crumble the goat cheese evenly over the top of the mixture, drizzle with olive oil and bake until the zucchini is very soft, the goat cheese is lightly browned, and most of the liquid from the vegetables has disappeared, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Each of serving: 166 calories; 6 grams protein; 8 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 13 grams fat; 5 grams saturated fat; 15 mg cholesterol; 4 grams sugar; 137 mg sodium.

. . .

WOVEN ZUCCHINI WITH FRESH GOAT CHEESE

Total time: 20 minutes, plus draining time for the zucchini

Servings: 4

3 to 4 (6- to 7-inch) zucchini

Salt

Olive oil

2 clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon lemon juice

10 to 12 cherry tomatoes

8 ounces fresh goat cheese

1 teaspoon dried oregano (preferably Sicilian)

6 leaves fresh basil

1. Trim the ends of the zucchini to make them a uniform length. Slice them lengthwise as thin as you can, about one-eighth inch (this is most easily done with a mandoline, but if you're careful, a very sharp knife will also work). You should have at least 24 thin strips of zucchini.

2. Place the zucchini in a bowl, salt generously and toss to coat, then transfer to a colander and set aside until the zucchini have softened, at least 30 minutes.

3. While the zucchini are sitting, whisk together 3 tablespoons olive oil, the minced garlic and lemon juice and season with a pinch of salt. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and season lightly with salt.

4. Rinse the zucchini slices under cold running water, then pat dry with a paper towel. Return to the bowl and season with just enough of the olive oil-lemon mixture to moisten lightly.

5. Weaving the zucchini may sound complicated (as with weaving a lattice-top pie), but it is not difficult at all. You'll need 6 strips for each plate. Arrange three strips of zucchini side-by-side on the first plate. Lift the middle strip and place one strip of zucchini perpendicular to the other strips and over the two outer strips, making an "H." Unfold the middle strip over the perpendicular strip. Fold back the two end pieces on one side and lay another perpendicular strip, then unfold the end pieces. Repeat at the other end, then use your fingers to gently push the pieces together to make a tightly woven mat of zucchini. Repeat for the three remaining plates.

6. Place the fresh goat cheese in a bowl and stir in the dried oregano and the remainder of the olive oil-lemon mixture to make a smooth, creamy mixture. If necessary, add a little more olive oil.

7. Divide the goat cheese mixture evenly among the four plates, spooning it in the center of the zucchini mat. Scatter the cherry tomato halves around the outside. Drizzle lightly with a little more good olive oil and sprinkle with coarse salt. Tear the basil leaves into small pieces and scatter over top. Serve at room temperature.

Each serving: 336 calories; 15 grams protein; 9 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 28 grams fat; 13 grams saturated fat; 45 mg cholesterol; 7 grams sugar; 599 mg sodium.

. . .

A look at different sizes, types of zucchini

There are hundreds of varieties of summer squash sold as zucchini, but they break down into two main families. Though they can be used interchangeably, each has different strengths.

The familiar deep green cylindrical zucchini tends to have the best flavor, and the darker the zucchini, the better it is. But the flesh can be soft and breaks down when cooked.

The light gray-green slightly bulbous zucchini, which is common at Latino and Middle Eastern markets, has a milder taste but denser, firmer flesh that holds together during cooking.

You may also sometimes see round zucchini, such as Ronde de Nice and Tondo di Piacenza. These are not technically zucchini but summer pumpkins. Nevertheless, they have firm flesh and mild flavor and are very good for stuffing.

Distributed by MCT Information Services