Seasonal Pantry: Versatile Romanesco zucchini

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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.

The secret to a good frittata — other than using good ingredients, of course — is to make sure there’s not too much moisture. With zucchini, it is best to slice or grate it and toss it with salt, which will draw out a lot of the zucchini’s liquid.

Zucchini Frittata with Avocado-Cherry Tomato Salad

Serves 4 to 6

1¼ pound zucchini, trimmed and grated on the large blade of a box grater

— Kosher salt

2 tablespoons butter

1 serrano pepper, trimmed and minced

3 fresh (not cured) garlic cloves, minced

7 farm eggs from backyard or pastured chickens

2 tablespoons Green Valley Organics sour cream or Bellwether creme fraiche

— Black pepper in a mill

3 ounces St. George or similar cheese, grated

1 large, firm-ripe avocado

— Handful of cherry tomatoes, quartered

1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

— Juice, of ½ lime

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Put the grated zucchini into a colander or strainer, add 2 teaspoons kosher salt and toss gently. Set over a bowl or the sink and let drain for at least 45 minutes and as long as 2 hours, tossing now and then. Rinse under cool water, transfer to a clean tea towel and pat dry.

Put the butter into a cast-iron or similar skillet set over medium-low head, add all but a pinch of the serrano, cook for 30 seconds, add zucchini and cook gently until it loses its raw look, 4 to 5 minutes. Add half the garlic and toss gently.

While the zucchini cooks, break the farm eggs into a mixing bowl, add the sour cream or cream fraiche and season with salt and pepper. Fold in the cheese.

Increase the heat to high and preheat the oven broiler.

Pour the egg mixture into the skillet with the zucchini, agitate the pan gently and cook for about 3 minutes, until the eggs have formed a bit of a crust on the outer edge. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for about 6 minutes, until the eggs are nearly set.

Working quickly, cut the avocado in half lengthwise, remove the pit, score the flesh in ½-inch, diagonal slices and use a large spoon to scoop it out into a small bowl. Add the tomatoes, the remaining serrano, the remaining garlic and the cilantro. Toss gently, add lime juice, season with salt, stir and add the olive oil. Taste, correct for acid and salt and set aside.

When the eggs are almost set, transfer the pan to the oven, under the broiler. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until the top of the frittata is golden brown. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes.

Use a very thin sharp blade to separate the frittata from the edge of the pan. Set a flat plate on top and, carefully, invert the plate and the pan, so that the frittata drops perfectly onto the plate. Alternately, cut the frittata into wedges and serve it directly from the pan.

Top each portion with a generous spoonful of the salad and serve right away.

This salad is bright and delicate, perfect on a hot night or alongside summer pasta.

Fresh Zucchini Salad

Serves 3 to 4

1 pound small (5-inches maximum length) zucchini, ends trimmed

— Kosher salt

1 lemon

1 fresh (not cured) garlic clove

— Best-quality extra virgin olive oil, preferably a late-harvest oil

1 tablespoon very fresh basil, spearmint or Italian parsley, sliced into very thin ribbons

Using a mandoline, food processor or very sharp, thin knife, cut the zucchini into very thin rounds. Put the cut zucchini into a colander or large strainer, sprinkle generously with salt and set over a bowl or the sink for 45 minutes, tossing now and then and pressing out the liquid that gathers.

Rinse the zucchini under cool water, transfer to a clean tea towel and pat dry.

Put the zucchini into a wide, shallow bowl and drizzle the lemon juice over it. Mince the garlic and scatter it on top.

Toss very gently.

Add a tablespoon or two of olive oil, toss gently and taste. Correct for acid balance and for salt.

Sprinkle with herbs, cover and enjoy within 30 minutes or refrigerate, covered, until ready to serve.

Michele Anna Jordan has written 21 books to date, including the new “Good Cook’s” series. Email Jordan at michele@saladdresser.com. You’ll find her blog, “Eat This Now,” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

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