I owe zucchini an apology.
I’ve always thought of it (and all of its summer squash kin) as ancillary to dinner’s main-dish event. Grilled or gratinéd, breaded or braised — heck, even scooped and stuffed — I put it firmly in the second-fiddle camp.
I’m sorry. Zucchini, it turns out, takes quite a star turn on dinner’s center stage.
I discovered my mistake this weekend. Staring down a huge zucchini lurking amongst the summer squash, I hit the books for inspiration. No doubt, this zuke could feed all four of us. But could I find a recipe that would satisfy?
Thanks to Gabrielle Hamilton and her luscious cookbook “Prune,” the answer was yes. Oven-dried, fried in oil, then tossed with mint, garlic and a cider-vinegar syrup, the zucchini was velvety, rich and piquant. It fed us fabulously, and no one wondered when the main dish would arrive.
I’m sorry, zucchini, for all my past slights. But I’ll make it up to you: We’re going to eat this main dish for the rest of the summer!
Fried Zucchini Agrodolce (Adapted from “Prune”)
In all honesty, Hamilton puts this recipe under “dinner vegetable sides.” I disagree. It makes a perfect main.
- Fresh zucchini
- Kosher salt
- Olive oil
- Mint leaves
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 garlic cloves, slivered
- Pine nuts
Cut the zucchini into 1/4-inch thick slices. Our humongous zuke yielded about 32 slices, so figure on buying 3 to 4 normal-size squashes.
Place a wire rack inside of a rimmed baking sheet, then place the rounds on that rack. Sprinkle liberally with kosher salt:
Place the baking sheet inside your oven. (Do not turn the oven on!!) Let it hang out for at least an hour. Mine lolled inside all day.
About 20 minutes before dinner, remove the baking sheet from the oven. Dry the zucchini and set it aside.
Heat about an inch of olive oil in a large saute pan. When it’s hot, add the zucchini, being careful not to crowd your pan. Fry, turning often, until the squash is blistered and golden:
Using a slotted spoon, remove the zucchini from the olive oil and place it in a serving bowl. Some cooking oil will get in your bowl … that’s just fine. Continue until all the zucchini has fried. (Save your oil. It will make a wonderfully flavored base for salad dressings.)
Roughly chop your mint leaves until you have about a quarter cup. Scatter them over the zucchini in the serving bowl.
Make the agrodolce: Place the cider vinegar and sugar in a microwave-safe measuring cup. Microwave for 2 minutes. Remove the cup and stir. Microwave for an additional 2 minutes. Remove the measuring cup and stir in the garlic, then pour the mixture over the zucchini and mint. (You can do this, as Hamilton instructs, on top of the stove for an authentic agrodolce. I was in a hurry, so I enlisted my microwave.)
Sprinkle pine nuts over the top for some crunch. Serve immediately.