Lifestyle & Culture

Kitchen Detail: Zucchini Relief

September 14, 2023

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Nancy has a thing for cross-hatched grill marks. (They do look great.) / Photo by Nancy Pollard.

By Nancy Pollard

After owning one of the best cooking stores in the US for 47 years—La Cuisine: the Cook’s Resource, in Alexandria, Virginia—Nancy Pollard now writes Kitchen Detail, a blog about food in all its aspects—

recipes, film, books, travel, superior sources and food-related issues. She and her husband, the Wine Maniac, have recently moved to Italy.

hilarious zucchini joke photo from freakingnews.comIT IS THAT time of year for the Annual Oversized Zucchini Jokes. The string of jokes and memes about the overly abundant bloated zucchini of summer that are abandoned anonymously on one’s doorstep seems to be a purely American tradition. There exists even a Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Day. The official date this year was August 8, which has mercifully passed without piles of zucchini mixed in with our FedEx and UPS deliveries.

I wondered if perhaps this holiday had any international flair. Having dutifully searched the web for the English or French courgette festival equivalent, only tepid jokes appeared. The Dutch jokes, however, were downright bawdy.

I think one of the reasons that this squash which, indeed, originated in Italy during the 19thzucchini poster joke century, gets so out of control here but not in its mother country, is that we don’t take advantage of its  blossoms. And we should. Stuffed and fried, they are my favorite summer treat, rivaled by another Italian summer staple, Insalata Caprese, the classic combo of tomato and buffalo mozzarella. Take a look at this earlier post for some inspiration.

Even if you leave the blossoms behind, Italian ingenuity for all things vegetable will save your September day. Looking through Kitchen Detail’s Google searches, one of the most downloaded recipes (more than 2,000 times) is the one for the Zucchini Sformato. Yes, another Italian standard, with just about any vegetable. And last year, I made several times a wonderful  Zucchini Cake with apricot glaze and chocolate ganache from Cafe Dommayer in Vienna, Austria, which I found to be a big improvement over our customary zucchini bread.

Sformati (literally, shapeless) are the saving grace for all sorts of  vegetables, not just this green one on your doorstep. They are sort of a cross between a flan and a soufflé.  They hold up well for reheating the next day, but do not try to freeze them for later reheating. Also, regardless of the grated or puréed vegetable you are using, always put your molds filled with the sformato mixture in a water bath. This guarantees you a nice soft exterior rather than a crust. I used the ramekins or individual soufflé molds from Pillivuyt, which from my observation bake out better than their competitors’. Make a thin contrasting vegetable sauce, such as tomato, or a corn ragout with herbs as a ring around each unmolded zucchini sformato and it will make a lovely end-of-summer presentation.

On the Lighter Side

Grilled zucchini with pestro dressing in KD kitchenThis year, I am offering something a bit lighter and simpler: thin slices of grilled zucchini (or raw as in the original version) with a light pesto dressing from the Gourmet’s Fresh cookbook, which made the summer bearable with the Raspberry Limeade (MyLittleBird will run that recipe next week) and my summer dinner-party main course, Lobster and Corn Salad.

The editors used thin slices of raw zucchini, but sometimes I  grill mine first. If I do this with raw zucchini, I make the slices thinner than for the grilled ones. I now have a cross-hatch grill-mark fetish, which I learned from author Bill Buford. After brushing the slices lightly with olive oil, line up the meat or vegetable angled to the right, first on one side and then the other.  After they are grilled to the right, you angle them to the left and grill both sides. It’s a little thing, but it makes me unreasonably happy when I present them.

Make the dressing, from the original recipe below. Or, if you have some pre-made pesto, measure 1/3 of a cup of the pesto—this recipe from Giordano Baudoni is my favorite, whether made in a mortar or a food processor. Add fresh lemon juice and olive oil to taste, and mix until you achieve a looser texture for spooning onto the slices. End-of-summer on a platter, and it puts a delicious dent in the zucchini collection.

Zucchini and Yellow Squash With Pesto Dressing

Number of servings varies.
A light first course when temps are oppressive.
Recipe by the Editors of Gourmet Magazine.
Adapted from Gourmet Fresh.
  1. ¼ cup (60ml) packed fresh basil leaves
  2. 1/3 cup (1 ounce or 30gr) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  3. 1 tablespoon (15ml) pine nuts
  4. ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  5. 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  6. ½ cup (120ml) best-quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  7. Freshly ground pepper to taste
  8. 2 medium-size zucchini
  9. 1 medium-size yellow squash
  1. In a food processor, purée together the basil, Parmesan, pine nuts, salt, lemon juice, and oil.
  2. Taste and season with some freshly ground pepper.
  3. Using a sharp knife or on a mandoline, thinly slice the squash and zucchini lengthwise.
  4. Arrange the slices in a single layer, overlapping slightly on a platter and garnish with the pesto dressing.
  1. Make thinner slices if using the zucchini raw.
  2. The Spanish or Italian pine nuts are much preferable to the Chinese versions.


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