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Zucchini Loves High Heat

A few simple tricks and a hot sauté pan or grill give zucchini the perfect texture for quick summer side dishes

by Tony Rosenfeld

fromFine Cooking
Issue 65

A while ago, I resolved never to cook mushy zucchini again. Easier said than done. The vegetable’s water content is so high, it seems destined to cook into a sodden mess. But I’ve figured out how to prevent that, and now my cooked zucchini is always pleasingly firm and meaty. Here’s my secret: Before I let the vegetable touch a hot pan or grill, I slice it and salt it to draw out some of the water. Then I cook it quickly over dry, high heat to caramelize the flesh before it has a chance to steam and get soggy.  

Slice and salt zucchini before cooking. I start by quartering the zucchini lengthwise and cutting off the top of its seed core—that spongy part that immediately turns to mush when it encounters heat. I salt the zucchini quarters and let them rest for about 10 minutes in a colander. The salt pulls a good deal of water from the zucchini and also starts to season the vegetable. Then I dry the zucchini well with paper towels and cook it.  

Dry-heat cooking generally suits zucchini best. Grilling or sautéing sears the vegetable and allows you to cook it quickly and avoid the dreaded mush. I generally grill and sauté zucchini unadorned and then toss the cooked vegetable with other garden-fresh ingredients and flavorful accents like fresh basil or thyme, olives or sun-dried tomatoes, and cheeses like Parmigiano Reggiano or ricotta salata.

Basic method for slicing and salting zucchini

Wash the zucchini well to remove any grit and dry them with paper towels. Trim off the ends and quarter the zucchini lengthwise. Slice off the top 1/4 to 1/2 inch of the soft seed core by running a sharp knife down the length of each quarter; it’s all right if some of the seeds remain. Arrange the zucchini, cut side up, on a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Sprinkle with kosher salt (about 1/2 tsp. per pound of zucchini) and set aside for 10 minutes. Blot the quarters dry with the paper towels.

Tony's tips for fantastic zucchini

• Choose little zucchini. Their flesh is firm, not pithy, and it browns without turning to mush.
• Wash zucchini well. To remove grit, I rinse the zucchini well and wipe down the skin with a cloth or paper towel.
• Don’t move the zucchini much while cooking. This gives the exterior a chance to develop a deep golden color.
• Serve cooked zucchini dishes immediately. Cooked zucchini softens as it sits, which isn’t necessarily bad, but it detracts from the perfect texture you’ve worked to achieve.

Photos: Scott Phillips

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