Ah, zucchini. The vegetable that gets no respect. It’s said that neighbors dump bags of them on other neighbors’ doorsteps under cover of darkness. Alas, this has never happened to me. And I like zucchini.
In fact, I love zucchini at this time of year, when they are locally grown, young, small and tender. At the Napa Farmers Market, The Patch has the most pristine zucchini you can imagine. The littlest ones are the perfect size for one of my favorite zucchini dishes, which is so simple, you can make it without a recipe. Just boil the zucchini whole in salted water. (Or steam them if you prefer.) They should be just barely tender, not crunchy, not soggy. Test them with a sharp paring knife, and remember that they will continue to cook as they cool.
When they’re cool and dry, toss them (still whole) with a whisked dressing of extra virgin olive oil, fresh lemon juice, a little finely minced garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. I also put a splash of fish sauce in there, but that’s optional. Crumble some good Greek or French feta over the zucchini and scatter fresh mint or dill leaves all around. Ta da. You can tell zucchini are fresh-picked when the stem end is moist and tender. I look for unblemished ones no more than an inch in diameter. If they’re a little bigger (but not much), try this easy side dish: Grate the zucchini on the large holes of a box grater, then sauté in olive oil in a very hot skillet for just a minute or so, until the zucchini loses its raw taste. Cool slightly, then fold into plain whole-milk yogurt seasoned with finely minced garlic, salt and toasted cumin or fresh chopped dill. Serve warm or cool, not chilled, as a side dish for grilled lamb, fish or chicken.
Later in the season, when the zucchini are larger and seedier, I’ll cut them in half lengthwise and scoop out the pulp with a melon baller. I chop the pulp and mix it with breadcrumbs, ricotta, a beaten egg and some sautéed onion and stuff that mixture back in the hollowed, salted shells. The stuffed zucchini “boats” go into a moderate oven until the zucchini are tender and the filling is firm. Delicious.
For the next few weeks, while it is peak zucchini season, make this beautiful vegetable carpaccio with green and yellow zucchini. You can find just about all the ingredients, including the extra virgin olive oil, at the Napa Farmers Market.
Summer Squash Carpaccio with Arugula, Pecorino and Almonds
From “Eating Local: The Cookbook Inspired by America’s Farmers” by Janet Fletcher (Andrews McMeel).
When shaved thinly with a vegetable peeler or other manual slicer, vegetables that you might not normally eat raw present new possibilities. Long, straight-sided summer squashes like green and gold zucchini look like wide ribbons when shaved for this salad. A brief rest in a garlicky vinaigrette renders them supple, so they can be tossed with arugula and shavings of salty cheese.
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1 pound small zucchini, preferably green and yellow varieties, no more than 5 inches long
2-1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1-1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 small clove garlic, minced to a paste
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Kosher or sea salt
2 large handfuls of arugula or other tender greens (about 3 ounces)
Chunk of pecorino toscano, ricotta salata, Bellwether Farms San Andreas or other medium-aged sheep’s milk cheese, for shaving
Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Toast the almonds on a baking sheet until golden brown and fragrant, 10 to 15 minutes. Let cool.
Remove the ends of the zucchini. With a mandoline, V-slicer, or vegetable peeler, shave the zucchini thinly lengthwise. Discard the first and last slices, which are mostly skin. Put the zucchini in a large bowl.
In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and salt to taste. Add the dressing to the shaved zucchini and toss with your hands to coat it evenly. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Let stand 5 minutes to allow the zucchini to soften.
Add the arugula to the zucchini. With a cheese plane or vegetable peeler, shave about 3 ounces of cheese, or as much as you like, into the bowl. Add several grinds of black pepper, then toss gently with your hands. Transfer the salad to a serving platter, leaving any watery juices behind. Top with the toasted almonds. Serve immediately.
Kids’ activities at the Napa Farmers Market: Bring your youngsters to the market’s Education Station on Tuesdays and Saturdays for Story Time at 9:30 and 10:30 a.m.
On the KVYN Music Stage: Darleen Gardner will perform at the Napa Farmers Market on Saturday, June 8, and Scott Pullman will perform at the market on Tuesday, June 11.
Harvest of the Month: Through June, enjoy comparative tastings of apricots and raspberries at the market’s Education Station at 11 a.m.