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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The poor zucchini

I love zucchini (and its little brother, the courgette), but I feel that this humble vegetable suffers from a bit of an image problem. Quietly sitting on the greengrocer's shelves, it sometimes gets overlooked in favour of other, more visually commanding fresh produce (artichokes, beetroots and unusually-shaped pumpkins come to mind as examples). Not in my kitchen, though. I sometimes wonder if I actually overuse zucchini in my cooking, such is its appeal and versatility.

See, the thing is, it's just so agreeable. It's cheap; the flavour is mild and very 'clean'; and the texture is such that it will pick up almost any flavour you choose to throw at it (sweet things included). Also, it's one of those vegetables which lends itself to being eaten raw or cooked.

In the hope of expanding your zucchini-eating horizons, I'm not going to give a single recipe today, more a collection of little ideas which you can incorporate into a wide range of meals. In any given week, I might include 'the zucc' in the following dishes (and more):

Cut into rough chunks and tossed in a touch of olive oil, salt, pepper and perhaps chilli flakes, and roasted alongside a chicken or joint of red meat until melting and browned.

Grated into a bowl, stirred up with other veg (maybe carrots, onions and parsnip), a little flour, egg and some crumbled feta cheese to make fritters.

Sliced roughly into a pan with crispy-fried pancetta, mushrooms, garlic, chilli and a bit of white wine to make a fantastic 5-minute pasta 'sauce' (well, not so much a sauce as a collection of tasty bits to mix through your pasta, but the wine and pancetta fat will give you just enough of a slick to coat everything nicely).

Sliced lengthways, grilled on a barbecue plate and dressed while warm with lemon juice, olive oil, lots of black pepper and the merest hint of sliced garlic - this will keep for days in the fridge and is great warm or cold with just about anything.

Shaved into thin strips and tossed through a salad of leafy greens, bacon, carrot shavings and toasted nuts, with a light vinaigrette dressing.

And, not really last or least, but to finish this particular post on a sweet note, turned into a cake in much the same way as you would with carrots. If you'd like to give it a go, there's a lovely recipe here (I'm not a fan of the raisins/sultanas in it, so I substitute chopped dried apricots and/or dates, which works like a charm).

What's your favourite way to cook or eat zucchini?

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