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Recipes that will make you love zucchini

Think you don’t like zucchini? Think again.|

In the 1970s and early 1980s, there was a sweet little bistro in Cotati called A` Chez Nous, operated by the Saulnier family, from Algeria with French roots. Sometime in the mid 1970s, one of the sons took over the cafe. I worked there as a server starting a couple years later.

Old Redwood Highway ran right in front of the bistro, and when a few blocks were dug up and remained so for months, business plummeted. On those dreadfully slow nights, Hubert, the younger of two sons, invited me into the kitchen to cook together.

The first thing he taught me was how to make a dish I call Algerian Carrots and Zucchini. Previous experiences had made me hate zucchini, including potlucks at Sonoma State University, where I was then a student, that always included zucchini loaves and zucchini bread that were just awful.

But Hubert made me taste what I had been serving for months. A single bite changed my life. When I began writing a column several years later, one of my first was titled “The Man Who Made Me Love Zucchini.”

I have been making this dish ever since. It’s my favorite way of preparing both carrots and zucchini.

Over the years, Hurbert’s recipe has evolved into my own, though the biggest change I have made is the addition of the herbs. Feel free to leave them out.

Algerian Carrots and Zucchini

Makes 8 to 10 servings

1 ½ pounds, approximately, zucchini

1 ½ pounds carrots

Juice of 3 lemons

3 tablespoons ground cumin

3 tablespoons minced garlic

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro, optional

Kosher salt

Black pepper in a mill

Set up a steamer with about 2 to 3 inches of water in the bottom pot. Put the steamer on top and set it on the stove, over a burner set to medium-high.

Cut the zucchini into chunks, about 1 to 1½ inches wide. Put the zucchini into the top part of the steamer, put on the lid and cook until the zucchini is very tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.

While the zucchini cooks, prepare the carrots. Trim them, peel them and cut them into ⅛-inch thick diagonal slices.

When the zucchini is done, tip it into a large strainer or colander set over a bowl. Let it drain, stirring it now and then, until most of the excess liquid has drained off. If you like, you can add this liquid to broth or stock; otherwise, discard it. Tip the drained zucchini into a bowl.

Put the carrots into the steamer basket, set it over the pot with the water and cook until the carrots are just tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, let cool slightly and tip into a bowl.

Pour ⅔ of the lemon juice over the zucchini and pour the remaining lemon juice over the carrots. Add 2 tablespoons of ground cumin to the zucchini and 1 tablespoon to the carrots. Divide the garlic in the same way. Pour 3 tablespoons of olive oil over the carrots and the rest over the zucchini.

Toss the zucchini and the carrots, separately. Add the parsley to the zucchini and add the cilantro, if using, to the carrots.

Season the zucchini very generously with salt. Add a light sprinkling to the carrots. Season both with several turns of black pepper.

Taste and correct for salt, pepper and acid balance. If either dish tastes flat, it needs more salt.

Serve warm or at room temperature. To do so, put the carrots and zucchini next to each other on a serving platter — oblong is best — or in separate bowls, next to each other.

Enjoy right away or cover and keep in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Spaghetti Carbonara is named for black pepper, a primary ingredient the resembles bits of charcoal. A true carbonara never includes cream, basil or other herbs, or any of the other ingredients chefs toss in these days. If you want to dress it up, top each serving with a poached egg. This version replaces pasta — either spaghetti or bucatini — with zucchini. It’s an option for people who can’t tolerate gluten. It is traditional to use guanciale instead of either pancetta or bacon, but it takes considerable effort to find it in Sonoma County ever since Traverso’s Market closed in 2011. Here, I recommend bacon because it resonates beautifully with the zucchini.

Zucchini Carbonara

Makes 3 to 4 servings

1 large or several medium-small zucchini

6 slices bacon

3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed

2 large eggs, from pastured chickens

1 egg yolk

6 ounces (1 ½ cups grated) Pecorino-Romano, see Note

¼ cup hot water

Black pepper in a mill

Kosher salt or Maldon sea salt

Trim off the stem and flower ends of each zucchini.

With a mandoline or a spiralizer, cut the zucchini into ribbons about the size of spaghetti. If using a very large zucchini, rotate it so most of the “noodles” have skin on them. The interior, where the seeds are, can be tricky, so you may want to set it aside to use for another dish, such as vegetable stock or soup.

When you have made the zucchini noodles, set them aside.

Cut the bacon into ½ inch crosswise slices, put them into a large saute pan and cook over medium heat until just barely crisp; do not over-cook them. When the bacon is almost ready, add the garlic, cook for 90 seconds and remove from the heat. Pour off all but about 3 tablespoons of the bacon fat (enough to coat the pan generously) and set aside.

Put the eggs and egg yolk into a large bowl, whisk until very smooth and creamy and add the cheese and several very generous turns of black pepper. Set aside.

Return the pan with the bacon and garlic to the medium heat. When it is hot, add the zucchini noodles. Add several generous turns of black pepper. Using good tongs, gently lift and fold the zucchini several times to heat it through. When the zucchini is very hot but has not yet started to cook, tip everything into the bowl with the eggs and cheese. And the hot water and continue to use the tongs to lift and fold the zucchini noodles until they are coated with the egg mixture. Make sure the bacon is evenly distributed.

Use tongs to transfer the Zucchini Carbonara to individual pasta plates or bowls.

Season with a few turns of black pepper and a bit of salt and enjoy right away.

Note: Pecorino-Romano is the traditional cheese to use in Spaghetti Carbonara. If you prefer, you can use a local cheese, such as Vella Dry Jack, Estero Gold or Bellwether Pepato.

Before grilling season ends, if it does, this is an easy and delicious way to enjoy zucchini. I included a version in this column many years ago and I still get requests for it.

Grilled Zucchini with Moroccan Dressing

Makes 4 to 6 servings

6 medium zucchini, trimmed and cut in half lengthwise

Olive oil

Kosher salt

5 - 6 large garlic cloves, crushed and minced

⅓ cup fresh lime or lemon juice

½ teaspoon crushed coriander

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons ground cumin

Black pepper in a mill

⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to taste

1 tablespoon chopped spearmint

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley

Put the zucchini in a wide, shallow bowl. Drizzle with just enough olive oil to lubricate it. Season with salt.

Build a fire in a charcoal grill or preheat a stovetop grill.

Meanwhile, put the garlic, lime juice, coriander, pepper flakes and cumin in a medium bowl. Season generously with salt and pepper, and stir until the salt is dissolved. Add the olive oil, taste and adjust for salt and acid balance. Stir in the herbs and set aside.

Set the zucchini, cut side down, on the grill rack and cook for about 5 minutes. Rotate the zucchini 90 degrees and cook 5 minutes more. Turn the zucchini over and cook until tender, about 5 minutes more. Transfer to an oblong platter and let cool slightly.

Pour the dressing over the zucchini and enjoy right away.

The late Mary Duryee, my dear friend and longtime landlady, was a phenomenal cook and baker. She rarely cooked from recipes, including for her marvelous desserts. When she loved something she made, she wrote down the recipe and whenever I asked, she would share it with me. This delicious cake is a great way to use those enormous zukes, which will provide enough to make at least three cakes. And, no, the cake does not taste like zucchini.

Mary’s Basic Zucchini Cake

Makes 6 to 8 servings

Butter, for the pan

Flour or sugar, for the pan

3 cups grated zucchini

1 cup butter, at room temperature

2 cups sugar

3 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 cup raisins

1 cup nuts (walnuts, pecans or hazelnuts), chopped

3 teaspoons vanilla

3 eggs, lightly beaten

Powdered sugar

Prepare a large (such as 9-inch-by-12-inch) pan, rubbing it all over with butter and then sprinkling it with flour or sugar. Shake out the excess and set it aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Put the grated zucchini into a large bowl. Add the butter, sugar, flour, baking soda and baking powder and mix well. Add the cinnamon, raisins, nuts, vanilla and eggs and mix gently for 2 to 3 minutes, until thoroughly combined.

Pour the batter in the prepared pan, set the pan in the center of the oven’s middle rack and bake until the center springs back when lightly touched, about 45 to 60 minutes.

Cool slightly, remove from the pan and set on a rack. Sprinkle powdered sugar on top and enjoy warm or at room temperature.

Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date, including “The Good Cook’s Book of Salt & Pepper.” Email her at michele@micheleannajordan.com.

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