If zucchini season were as short as asparagus season, or the squash as rarefied as truffles, surely it would command more respect.
As it is, it’s just too easy to poke fun at the little gourd, which can grow from the size of a finger to a femur seemingly overnight. And the incredible abundance of zucchini, whether it’s the bumper crop from your garden or the take in your community-supported agriculture share, turns it from a welcome sign of summer to an unwelcome guest by the end of July.
All of this ridicule is just a distraction from the zucchini’s many charms, which are especially apparent in young, slim specimens. They are tender, mild and slightly herbal, with a delicate freshness that’s wonderful when they’re thinly sliced and raw, or can be brought out with a gentle saute or a light sear on the grill or in the broiler.
Another way I like to serve zucchini is to bake them into a tian, which is basically a casserole that prefers to go by its French designation. Calling this dish a tian lends it an air of chic mystery.
As with a casserole, you can layer almost any combination of vegetables into the pan and bake until soft and golden.
I start with a base of caramelized onions, orange zest, rosemary and halved cherry tomatoes. I place the zucchini on top, cap it off with toasted, curried bread crumbs, then repeat twice more to create multiple strata.
Mild zucchini take well to robust flavors. Here, the onions and tomatoes bring out their sweet side while the bread crumbs add a salty crunch.
If you can get small zucchini, do so for the best texture; large ones can be watery. A mix of green and yellow zucchini (or summer squash) is attractive but won’t matter in terms of flavor.
The tian can be served straight from the oven, or it can sit until warm or room temperature.
The curried bread crumbs make it substantial enough on its own as a main course, although serving it with a couple of fried eggs on top, or next to your grilled protein of choice (chicken, steak, fish), makes an even heartier dinner.
You may even find yourself grateful for zucchini overload.
To see a printable version of the recipe, click on the link below:
HEAT oven to 400 degrees. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, then add curry powder and let toast until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, then stir in panko bread crumbs and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer to a bowl and wipe out skillet.
HEAT 2 tablespoons olive oil over high heat in the same skillet, then add onions, rosemary and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring often, until onions are a deep golden brown. Add tomatoes and cook for another 5 minutes. Pour white wine into pan and bring to a simmer, scraping up any brown bits. Remove from heat and stir in garlic, orange zest and black pepper.
GREASE inside of a medium-size gratin dish with 1/2 tablespoon olive oil and spread a third of the onion and tomato mixture on the bottom. Begin layering zucchini in an overlapping pattern, beginning around the outside and working your way in. Sprinkle with a third of the bread crumbs. Repeat layering two more times, ending with bread crumbs. Drizzle 3 tablespoons olive oil over bread crumbs and bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until vegetables are extremely tender and top has browned. Yield: 6 to 8 servings