While you generally find zucchini in markets year-round, they're naturally a summer squash, and right now is prime season. Check out these tips on buying, along with some recipe ideas -- zucchini is wonderfully versatile in the kitchen and can be used in so many ways.
So what do you look for when buying? Zucchini come in all shapes, but when shopping, avoid massive, older squash. Look for smaller zucchini -- the squash is more tender with thinner skin. Also, check for squash that is firm and without any blemishes.
Fresh pasta casually layered with grilled zucchini strips, lemon-infused cream and dollops of garlic- and parsley-flavored ricotta. Sound like fun? It is, and the flavors combine to form something magical. The recipe includes instructions for making your own pasta, and while you can substitute pre-made in a pinch, nothing beats the flavor of homemade. The whole thing comes together in just over an hour, with a little extra resting time needed for the homemade pasta dough (if you'd like, make the pasta the night before or first thing in the morning, then let it rest in the fridge until it's needed).
RECIPES: 15 easy dinners - pasta, enchiladas, shrimp skewers, more
A fragrant mixture of garlic, capers, crushed tomatoes, onion and a touch of wine are cooked to a rich, thick tomato sauce, while freshly made breadcrumbs, pine nuts and a few chopped anchovy fillets are the filling for a hollowed-out zucchini and small ripe summer tomatoes. Spoon the tomato sauce over the base of a gratin dish, and top with the stuffed zucchini and tomatoes. Dinner is ready to serve when the vegetables are softened and the breadcrumbs are lightly browned, about 30 minutes.
Love frittatas? These frittatas make excellent use of this summer vegetable, combining grated small or medium zucchini with crumbly feta cheese, green onion and chopped fresh basil or oregano. Make perfectly-sized individual frittatas or a bunch of tiny ones for dinner, saving any leftovers for snacks later.
For more ideas, click through our easy dinner recipes gallery and check out our Dinner Tonight page, devoted to recipes that can be made in an hour or less. Looking for a particular type of recipe? Comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FREE-FORM ZUCCHINI LASAGNA WITH LEMON-THYME CREAM
Total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes, plus resting time for the pasta dough
3/4 cup flour, plus more for dusting
1 pound zucchini, about 3 medium
1/2 cup diced onion
3 tablespoons white wine
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 cup heavy cream
6 sprigs fresh thyme
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided
3/4 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced parsley
1. Make fresh pasta dough by pulsing the flour and 4 teaspoons olive oil in a food processor. Add the egg and pulse until the dough forms a ball that rides around on the top of the blade. Remove the dough from the food processor and knead until smooth and shiny; this should take only about a minute. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
2. Roll the pasta dough very thin on a pasta machine, about a 6 setting on most machines, flouring as necessary. The sheets should be at least 4 inches wide. Cut the pasta sheets into squares, dust lightly with flour and set aside until ready to use.
3. Cook four or five pasta sheets at a time in plenty of rapidly boiling salted water. The pasta will be done when the sheets float to the surface, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the boiling water and drain on a tea towel if using immediately, or transfer to a large bowl of water to store. Repeat using all of the pasta.
4. Heat a stove top or grill pan over medium-high heat. Trim the ends from the zucchini and slice lengthwise into strips about one-eighth-inch thick. In a large, shallow bowl, toss the zucchini with 3 tablespoons olive oil and one-fourth teaspoon salt. Place the zucchini strips on the grill and grill for about 2 minutes on each side, until the zucchini is softened and has defined grill marks. Set aside.
5. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the white wine, garlic and thyme leaves and cook until aromatic, about 2 minutes. Add the zucchini strips and toss. Season to taste, then remove from heat and set aside.
6. In a small saucepan, simmer the cream over medium-low heat with thyme sprigs, lemon zest, one-half teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon of the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Cook until the cream reduces slightly, about 10 minutes.
7. In a small bowl, beat together the ricotta, one-fourth teaspoon salt, garlic and parsley until mixed. (The dish can be prepared to this point at least 1 hour ahead of time. The zucchini and cream sauce can be held at room temperature. Cooked pasta sheets should be stored in a large bowl of water and drained and patted dry before using.)
8. Place the cooked pasta in a large mixing bowl and pour the cream sauce through a fine strainer over the pasta. Mix gently to lightly coat the pasta squares. Place one pasta square on an oven-proof plate and spoon about 3 tablespoons of ricotta in the center. Arrange a few strips of zucchini on top. Place another pasta square on top of that. Sprinkle with some of the remaining grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and scatter more zucchini over the top. Repeat with three more plates.
9. Place the plates on a cookie sheet and place in the oven to heat through, about 10 minutes. Serve immediately.
Each serving: 603 calories; 12 grams protein; 27 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 49 grams fat; 21 grams saturated fat; 162 mg. cholesterol; 706 mg. sodium.
GARLIC AND HERB-STUFFED TOMATOES AND ZUCCHINI
From California Cook, "Shades of Summer" by Russ Parsons and Leslie Brenner, Aug. 10, 2005
Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Note: Salted anchovies are available at Nicole's in South Pasadena, Bay Cities in Santa Monica, Market Gourmet in Venice and Surfas in Culver City. Canned anchovies in oil may be substituted.
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling (optional)
1 onion, minced (about 1 cup)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup white wine
3 tablespoons capers
1/2 pound baguette
1/4 cup loosely packed, coarsely chopped basil leaves
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 salted anchovy fillets, rinsed, bones removed and chopped
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
3 (8-inch) zucchini
12 small round tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Cook the olive oil and the onion in a large skillet over medium heat until the onion softens, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic; cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, wine, capers and one-half teaspoon salt. Simmer until the sauce thickens, about 20 minutes.
2. Trim the crusts and cut the bread into cubes. Place in a food processor or a blender with the basil and garlic and grind to fine crumbs. Pour into a bowl and stir in the anchovies and pine nuts. Set aside.
3. Cut each zucchini in half lengthwise and use a melon baller to carefully remove some of the flesh from the center to make a "canoe." Leave about one-fourth inch at the sides and ends and a little more at the bottom. Season the inside with one teaspoon salt, and steam over rapidly boiling salted water until just tender, about 10 to 15 minutes.
4. Cut a slice from the top of each tomato. With the melonballer, gently remove most of the pulp. Season insides with one-fourth teaspoon salt.
5. Pour the tomato sauce into a lightly oiled 5-quart gratin dish or substitute two smaller gratin dishes. Spoon the breadcrumb mixture into the zucchini and tomatoes, mounding slightly on top. It will take 1 to 2 tablespoons for each zucchini and 2 to 3 teaspoons for each tomato. Do not press the breadcrumbs or they will become pasty when cooked. Arrange the zucchini and tomatoes in the gratin dish. Drizzle with olive oil if desired.
6. Bake until the vegetables have softened and the tops of the breadcrumbs have browned, about 30 minutes. (Time will vary for the smaller dishes, so start checking after 15 to 20 minutes.) Serve hot or at room temperature.
Each serving: 308 calories; 10 grams protein; 42 grams carbohydrates; 7 grams fiber; 12 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 2 mg. cholesterol; 648 mg. sodium.
ZUCCHINI, FETA AND BASIL FRITTATA
Total time: 50 minutes
Servings: Makes 8 medium or 30 mini frittatas
3 medium or 4 small zucchini
2 large eggs, separated
1 1/3 cups coarsely grated feta cheese
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1/2 cup flour (or slightly more if necessary)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh basil or oregano (or half of each)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Olive oil for frying
1. Rinse the zucchini, grate and place in a colander. Drain for 15 minutes, then squeeze to remove any excess liquid; you should have 2 packed cups.
2. In a large bowl, mix together the egg yolks, feta cheese, green onions, flour, baking powder, basil and pepper. Add the drained zucchini, and mix well. Whip the egg whites till soft peaks form and fold into the feta mixture.
3. Heat an 8-inch heavy or nonstick frying pan over medium-low heat and add just enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Pour enough batter to cover the base of the pan, a scant one-half cup for each medium frittata or about 1 heaping tablespoon for each mini frittata. Cook the frittatas until they are golden brown on one side and set in the center, about 3 minutes (the mini frittatas will take less time), adjusting the heat as needed so they don't brown before they are set. Gently flip the frittatas over and lightly brown the other side.
4. Keep the finished frittatas in a warm oven until all the batter is used.
Each of 8 servings: 200 calories; 7 grams protein; 10 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 15 grams fat; 5 grams saturated fat; 75 mg. cholesterol; 2 grams sugar; 335 mg. sodium.
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