Food & Drink

Squash that bland impulse

It begins so optimistically, with dreams of delicate stuffed squash flowers and tender, tiny zucchini. But as the vines run rampant, reality soon sets in. Truth is, zucchini bread loses its charm after the 40th loaf.

What now?

Several chefs have an answer: Take the squash deliciously upscale. Put it in Thai curries, elegant salads and basil-flecked gratins.

At Bistro Elan in Palo Alto, Calif., Ambjorn Lindskog bakes thinly sliced green and yellow squashes in a ring mold, mixing in a little Gruyere and a dab of pesto or salsa verde for added flavor. Sprinkle in fresh herbs or bread crumbs, tossed in browned, melted butter. Just don't overpower the zucchini, he says, "You want it to be a zucchini, not something else."

Zucchini also makes a marvelous base for salads. Lindskog sautés paper-thin slices with garlic, then mixes them with corn kernels and fresh fava or cranberry beans. Dress the mixture with shallots, olive oil and lemon juice, and serve it at room temperature, perhaps with a little pancetta.

"That," he says, "could be a nice little salad."

Farina Kingsley, too, has some ideas for raising zucchini's profile. The co-author of Organic Marin, a new cookbook that celebrates farmers and chefs in Marin County, Calif., slices zucchini into delicate ribbons, then tosses it with a lemony vinaigrette, fresh tomatoes, feta and olives. She also suggests trying other combinations, such as baby arugula and shaved Parmesan.

The trick, say Kingsley and Deborah Madison, founder of Greens, San Francisco's upscale vegetarian restaurant, is to control zucchini from the start.

"Practice zucchini birth control with the flowers," Madison says.

Pluck the flowers — they're delicious anyway — and you'll reduce your vines' output. Then harvest the zucchini when they're small and the quantity is manageable.

"I cook a lot of Asian stir fries and vegetarian curries with zucchini," says Kingsley, who teaches at San Francisco's Tante Marie Cooking School. "The zucchini really soaks up wonderful curry flavors."

Kingsley's green shrimp and zucchini curry takes just 20 minutes to prepare, and her zucchini chips, coated lightly with panko and Parmesan, can be a grab-and-go snack or a side dish for grilled fish or steak.

But sometimes the simplest treatments are the most effective. The consensus at the farmer's market at San Jose, Calif.'s, Santana Row is simple grilling, 5 or 6 minutes worth. Michelle Rizzi, who writes the Yankee Pier blog for Santana Row, suggests tucking the tendrils and flowers into omelets or soups. And Madison's favorite zucchini recipes — sprinkled through her cookbook, Local Flavors — are also the most straightforward.

Madison cooks zucchini slowly, thinly sliced, in a little olive oil, then lavishes fresh herbs over the surface.

"The zucchini gets golden," she says, "and the more you cook it, the more its real flavor comes out. I put a shower of herbs on it and lots of other little things — a little Parmesan, dabs of goat cheese, crisped bread crumbs to give it a little bit of a crunch. I make it all the time without even looking at a recipe, and serve it with a yogurt sauce with garlic and dill."

Or she'll slice zephyr zucchini — they're yellow with a green tip — lengthwise, steam them and serve them on a long platter with torn purple basil leaves, pine nuts and shavings of Parmesan.

But don't stop at classic zucchini, says Madison. Be daring at the farmers market. Look for pale green pattypans and striated cocozelles, which are about 12 inches long. Seek out ribbed Costata Romanesco, which yield scalloped flower shapes when sliced. They're rich and flavorful, and their flowers are particularly lovely for eating.

"I like to have all different kinds," says Madison. "Cut them into similar lengths and widths, cook them very simply, and have them all together with salsa verde or butter and a little bit of Parmesan. They look so pretty like that."

recipes

Green curry shrimp with zucchini

1 tablespoon green curry paste

3 garlic cloves

2 cups coconut milk

4 tablespoons fish sauce

2 tablespoons lime juice

2 teaspoons light brown sugar

4 tablespoons corn oil, divided

2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced

3 cups zucchini or yellow squash, cut in ¼-inch half rounds

1½ pounds prawns, peeled and deveined

2 tablespoons Thai or Italian basil leaves, thinly sliced

Steamed rice, for serving

In blender or food processor, mix 2 tablespoons water, green curry paste and garlic; blend until smooth.

Combine coconut milk, fish sauce, lime juice, brown sugar; set aside.

Heat large sauté pan until very hot. Add 2 tablespoons oil and sauté shallots until translucent, 1 minute. Add zucchini and stir-fry until squash just browns, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer shallots and zucchini to a bowl.

Reheat same pan and add 2 tablespoons oil and sauté curry paste for several seconds. Stir in the coconut milk mixture and simmer 5 minutes. Right before serving, stir in shrimp and basil; cook until shrimp turns just opaque. Stir in zucchini and serve warm with rice. Serves 6.

Nutritional information per serving: 250 calories, 12 g. fat, 0 mg. cholesterol, 970 mg. sodium, 13 g. carbohydrates, 1 g. fiber, 24 g. protein.

From Farina Kingsley, co-author of Organic Marin

Oven-roasted zucchini

2 pounds zucchini or summer squash, ends trimmed

2 egg whites, beaten

½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 cup panko bread crumbs

¼ cup finely grated Parmesan

3 tablespoons cornstarch

½ teaspoon sea salt

¼ teaspoon fresh black pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Thinly slice zucchini on the bias into 1⁄8 inch ovals and place in large bowl.

Whisk together egg whites and mustard, then toss with sliced zucchini until evenly coated.

Combine remaining ingredients in shallow bowl and mix well. Dip zucchini slices into bread crumbs and coat well. Shake off excess and place in single layer on oiled pan.

Roast 15 to 20 minutes or until crisp and golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 4 servings.

Nutritional information per serving: 210 calories, 3 g. fat, 5 mg. cholesterol, 1230 mg. sodium, 34 g. carbohydrates, 4 g. fiber, 14 g. protein.

From Farina Kingsley

Shaved zucchini and Pecorino salad

2 medium zucchini, ends trimmed

½ cup Pecorino, thinly shaved

3 cup baby arugula

½ cup toasted, sliced almonds

Dressing:

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon champagne vinegar

¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard

1⁄3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt, pepper to taste

Using a mandoline, carefully slice zucchini lengthwise into very thin, long ribbons and place into large bowl. Add arugula, pecorino and almonds.

Whisk dressing ingredients. Toss just before serving. Makes 4 servings.

Nutritional information per serving: 320 calories, 30 g. fat, 5 mg. cholesterol, 180 mg. sodium, 6 g. carbohydrates, 2 g. fiber, 8 g. protein.

From Marche Aux Fleurs Restaurant, San Anselmo, Calif.

Summer squash showered with herbs

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 pounds mixed summer squash, sliced ¼ inch thick

½ cup simmering water

1⁄3 cup chopped flat leaf parsley

Sea salt and fresh pepper to taste

2 tablespoons chopped fresh marjoram, oregano or basil

Heat oil in wide skillet. Add squash and cook over medium-low heat, flipping squash in pan every 3 or 4 minutes, until it's tender and golden, about 20 minutes.

Add water and continue cooking until water evaporates. Season with salt and pepper, shower the herbs over all. Slide onto a platter and serve. Makes 4 servings.

Nutritional information per serving: 140 calories, 11 g. total fat, 0 mg. cholesterol, 0 mg. sodium, 9 g. carbohydrates, 4 g. fiber, 3 g. protein.

Deborah Madison, Greens Restaurant, San Francisco

Zucchini gratin

3 or 4 small yellow and green zucchini, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon pesto or salsa verde

2 tablespoons shredded Gruyere or Parmesan, optional

1 tablespoon minced shallots

Lightly grease four small molds or mousse cups. Toss zucchini with shallots, cheese and pesto. Layer zucchini slices into molds in spiral pattern, pressing them gently into place. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Let cool slightly, then invert onto serving plate (or place a mousse cup on each plate). Makes 4 servings

adapted from Bistro Elan Restaurant, Palo Alto, Calif.

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