Zucchini: The all-purpose vegetable that can fit in nearly any recipe. Plus they absorb tons of flavor

By Evan Kleiman

One way to make zucchini: slice thickly lengthwise for grilling. Photo by Shutterstock.

With zucchini available year-round in grocery stores, it’s easy to forget just how seasonal they are. Any gardener who has planted them can tell you stories of leaving them in front of the neighbor’s door and running away like some kind of vegetable prank. We have so much hope for variety and abundance when planting, then remember that abundance can often mean glut when harvests are continually unabating. My way to control the plant is to put it in a large container instead of the ground. The roots are constrained so the plant gives me just enough on a weekly basis that I still look forward to each little flower or green cylinder. 

Zucchini are fascinating with their subtle flavor and high water content. They are the “Zelig” of the kitchen, a kind of all-purpose player that can be folded into nearly any recipe. 

You can: 

- Saute “coins” or batter and deep fry them.
- Throw a dice into soup, spiralize and pretend the slim ropes are pasta (not my fave).
- Spiralize and toss with oil, lemon juice and a bit of salt and eat raw (wonderful).
- Braise with olive oil into a rough puree with copious amounts of garlic and herbs. 
- Slice thickly lengthwise for grilling, then use for a lighter lasagne or as roll-ups stuffed with cheese.
- Stuff them with a seasoned sauteed mixture of themselves. 

The recipe I’m sharing comes from “Pasta Fresca,” the book I co-wrote with Viana La Place eons ago (1988). It was a dish Viana ate “at a trattoria on Capri set in a grove of lemon trees.” Sounds like heaven. I made the sauce probably 100 times during the time of Angeli. Often I would leave out the tomatoes and add the basil to the cooking mixture. I like drizzling a bit of my favorite olive oil on top of the puree before I add the pasta. You can also serve the sauce as a dip in place of hummus or cold spread on toast a la bruschetta or crostini, or use as a base for risotto.

Zucchini sauce Capri-style
Serves 4

Ingredients 

  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1 ½ pounds tender zucchini, trimmed and cut into small dice
  • 2 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 10 sprigs Italian parsley, leaves finely chopped
  • 1 cup warm water or chicken broth
  • Salt
  • 1 pound imported Italian spaghettini
  • 5 fresh basil leaves, torn
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions

-Combine the extra virgin olive oil, onion and garlic in a saute pan. Cook over low heat until the onion softens. Add the zucchini, tomatoes, parsley and water or broth.

-Season with salt. Cover and cook at a gentle simmer until the zucchini becomes very soft like a coarse puree, about 20 minutes. 

-Cook the pasta in abundant boiling salted water until al dente. Drain well and toss with the sauce.

-Taste for salt. Sprinkle with basil and serve with Parmesan cheese on the side.