There is, perhaps, no sight more depressing to a vegetable grower than the ubiquitous late-summer phenomenon of piles of overgrown zucchini being given away on little makeshift roadside tables dotting our rural, country roads.
Zucchini is the butt of jokes, its prodigious production and speed of growth overwhelming all but the most attentive caretakers. In order to keep our plants in good health and to keep the fruit size moderate, we pick twice a day, morning and night.
Indeed, there comes a point where even the most ardent enthusiasts of this noble fruit seem to have had enough.
But I don’t know of any vegetable more versatile in the kitchen or more able to take on different guises with aplomb. Zucchini fits in everywhere: in numerous side dish preparations, as a main course, in soups, in pasta sauces, in broth, in frittatas and risotto. The diverse uses of zucchini in the kitchen are more than able to keep up with the quantity this time of year. No zucchini should end up, sad and deflated, on some roadside table being given away for nothing.
So this will be the first in a series of posts on zucchini. I have the ambition and desire, if not the time, to publish a different zucchini recipe every day for a week. I’ll do my best, and hopefully offer some new ideas to those struggling to make the most of their zucchini this time of year.
First a note on the name and proper size of zucchini. In Italian, the word “zucca” means pumpkin or squash. Zucchini, therefore, is Italian for “little pumpkin”. Although in the US we tend to call the green type “zucchini” and all other colors and types “summer squash”, in Italian all summer squash are called “zucchini” and I follow that practice.
As for size, the human inclination to swing from one extreme to another has led some, in response to many zucchini being sold too large, to refuse to eat zucchini any larger than the diameter of a nickel. This is folly. I aim to harvest my zucchini at around 8 ounces, so that two together make a pound, though I think anything between 4 and 12 ounces is reasonable. Don’t let anyone convince you that little baby 2-ounce zucchini represent the pinnacle of zucchini pleasure!
Spaghetti with zucchini & mint (makes 2 or 3 servings)
Begin by cutting 8 ounces zucchini into half moons or little cubes. The choice you make here will affect the final result, but one is certainly not better than the other.
Also slice or chop about 2 to 4 ounces of onion and (optionally) an ounce or two of pancetta or bacon.
While your pasta water is heating, cook the pancetta and onion over medium-high heat in a generous bit of olive oil until a little softened and very lightly colored. Add the zucchini along with a pinch of salt and stir well.
It’s okay for the zucchini to overlap a bit, but not too much. Keep the heat strong enough to produce some real sizzle and some light browning, but not so strong that there’s a danger of burning. Be mindful that the zucchini has adequate lubrication, adding additional olive oil as needed.
After about 10 minutes, the zucchini should be softened and significantly reduced in bulk. Remove from heat.
Cook your pasta (about 150 grams for 2 to 3 people) in properly salted water (1 to 2 tablespoons for 4 quarts), and just before it is ready, return the sauce to strong heat. Taste for salt, and also season with black and/or hot pepper. Perhaps add a knob of butter if the spirit moves you. Finally, add a generous bit of mint leaves, either whole or chopped as you prefer. There is something about mint and zucchini which works beautifully. Of course, other herbs are suitable too (basil or parsley), but mint does something special for zucchini.
Drain the pasta and toss in the pan with the zucchini. Some people might add a little of the starchy pasta water, though I rarely do this.
Serve at once, garnished with a little drizzle of olive oil.