Zucchini

Zucchini

By
Greg Malouf, Lucy Malouf
Contains
3 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781740667678
Photographer
William Meppem

One of Greg’s favourite home-cooked meals – cooked by his mother, that is – is Koussa Mahshi. This is zucchini (or baby marrows) stuffed with a mixture of rice, minced lamb and pine nuts, flavoured with allspice, and gently braised in a tomato sauce. It is a hugely popular Lebanese dish, and just one way of cooking the infinitely versatile zucchini.

Like its cousins the marrow and squash, the zucchini is a type of edible gourd which grows close to the ground under a riot of lush leaf cover. The best zucchini are small-to-medium in size and firm to the touch. They can be a lovely, shiny dark-green, or paler and speckled-looking, or even a butter-bright yellow. Sadly, they are often allowed to grow too large, which makes their flesh spongy and bitter. Greg’s father has a fantastically productive vegetable garden, and we are often the lucky recipients of his bounty. The best zucchini of all are picked fresh and tender from his vines, no bigger than a finger, with their gorgeous golden flower still attached.

Selecting and storing zucchini

Ideally, zucchini should be firm, shiny and unscarred, but all too often they are droopy, soft, wrinkled and blemished. Avoid these! Zucchini do not keep terribly well and even in the refrigerator they have a tendency to get wet and slimy quickly, so eat them within a day or so of purchase. Choose larger ones for stuffing, medium or small ones for slicing and frying.

Using zucchini

Wash larger zucchini well and carefully pat them dry. Slice off and discard the ends. The zucchini can then be sliced into discs, on the angle, or lengthways into long strips, or they can be grated. It is best not to boil zucchini, as they quickly become waterlogged and collapse into a soggy, flavourless mass. They are far better steamed, or sautéed in a hot pan with a little olive oil or butter. Add a good squeeze of lemon juice at the end of cooking and throw in a handful of fresh herbs – dill, mint and thyme are all good choices. The tiny babies can be sautéed whole, for the briefest of moments, in a little olive oil, a hint of garlic and a good squeeze of lemon juice.

Zucchini are also excellent chargrilled on a griddle pan or on the barbecue. Slice them lengthways, brush with extra-virgin olive oil, season well and sear on the grill until they are soft and golden. Grilled zucchini are equally delicious eaten hot or allowed to cool, and dressed with lemon juice and garlic-infused olive oil.

In the eastern Mediterranean zucchini are often prepared as a salad for a mezze selection, in a yoghurt dressing with mint or dill; or sliced wafer thin, and tossed in a vinaigrette with thin slices of Spanish onion, currants and pine nuts.

Cheese and eggs are natural allies of zucchini. Grate them and combine with beaten eggs, onion, parsley and a touch of garlic to make a sort of Arabic frittata called an ‘eggah’. Zucchini and cheese is a classic Judeo-Spanish combination. Bake lightly steamed slices in the oven with a mixture of creamy ricotta style cheese, a couple of eggs and a pinch of nutmeg. Another equally good version uses salty fetta and mint.

Zucchini flowers are considered very chichi. Some upmarket green grocers sell baby zucchinis with flowers attached and they are very pretty cooked whole. The flowers from larger plant can be removed and stuffed. The preparation method is described on page 327, but always make sure you cook them as quickly as possible after purchase. The petals will start to close up once they have been picked, which can make the whole exercise very fiddly and frustrating.

Recipes in this Chapter

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