Seasonal Pantry: Versatile Romanesco zucchini
Is it possible to stay on top of the zucchini harvest? Zucchini’s fecundity is renowned; it could easily be referred to as the rabbit of the vegetable kingdom. It seems to breed overnight and grow from finger-sized to melon-sized in a few hours; turn away from it for a day or two and it is out of control.
Farmers market stalls, especially at this time of year, typically have big zucchini left over at the end of the day.
“People are so afraid of big zucchini,” Caitlin Hachmyer, of Red H Farm, said last week.
I understand. A lot of us, I think, have bad memories of the mushy zucchini we were forced to eat when we were too young to win such battles. But all sizes of zucchini are delicious if prepared in the right way.
Small zucchini, with a greater ratio of skin to flesh, are ideal for zucchini salsa, zucchini-polenta tarts and simple sautéed zucchini with black pepper. Medium zucchini work well for “noodles,” grated zucchini for pizza toppings, sandwiches and frittatas and ratatouille. Large zucchini are ideal for Moroccan and Algerian-style steamed zucchini and for stuffing.
There is an exception to all this — Romanesco zucchini, a variety that appeared on the local scene a few years ago. This zucchini is ridged and when it is cut into rounds, they look like gears. Romanesco zucchini retains its shape no matter how big it grows, and its flavor improves with its size. When the rounds are fried, they puff up like miniature soufflés. Large Romanesco can be used exactly as you use smaller ones, but the big ones are more versatile.
For zucchini recipes from the Seasonal Pantry archives and from my wine pairing column, visit “Eat This Now” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.
This simple dish of fried zucchini takes just minutes to prepare and is both delicious and beautiful, as welcome at a dinner party as it is on a weeknight.
Romanesco Zucchini ‘Soufflés’
Serves 4 to 6
3-4 tablespoons butter or clarified butter, plus more as needed
1 large (1 to ¼ pounds) Romanesco zucchini, trimmed and cut into 3/8-inch thick rounds
— Ground cumin
— Kosher salt
— Black pepper in a mill
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
— Lemon wedges
Put about 2 tablespoons of the butter into a heavy skillet set over medium heat. When the butter is melted and just beginning to take on a golden glow, add zucchini in a single layer. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until the zucchini are golden brown on the bottom side. Turn and cook until evenly browned and slightly puffed, about 2 to 3 minutes more.
Working quickly, transfer to a warmed plate and continue until all the zucchini are cooked.
Using your fingers, sprinkle each round of zucchini with a pinch of cumin. Season all over with salt and pepper, sprinkle with cilantro, garnish with lemon wedges and serve right away.
Variation: After the zucchini have been cooked, set them on a baking sheet instead of a plate. Top with grated cheese, sliced mozzarella or picadillo and cheese and set under a broiler until the cheese is melted.