Itsy bitsy, teeny weeny, raw and lightly tossed zucchini
Size is everything when it comes to zucchinis, and for once the smaller the better.
Large zucchinis, while good for pickles or chutneys, just don’t cut it for me. The small finger-width zucchinis available at this time of year are what I’m after. Larger zucchinis become flaccid when cooked, and release too much water. The small, sweet and tender zucchinis retain their crunch and fine texture when just cooked.
A number of heirloom varieties are also available at some farmers’ markets or good fruit and vegetable stores. These varieties hold up beautifully when cooked and marinated. In the restaurant we grill these over hot coals and marinate them with anchovy, lemon zest and plenty of olive oil. After an hour at room temperature, they are transformed into a benchmark side. When grilling or pan-frying a zucchini in any shape, however, make sure to slightly undercook it, leaving it with a little crunch.
Growing zucchinis at home is a cinch, once the plants have taken. Pick them when they are about the length of your finger. Miss one and in a few days you will have a monster.
The best thing about growing a zucchini plant, though, is the abundance of zucchini flowers. Picked fresh, they are a joy. Usually found on restaurant menus stuffed and fried, I like to take the flowers when raw, tear them into pieces, and add them to a salad or pasta. I find that when eaten raw the true flavour sings.
The best zucchini preparation I have eaten was a pizza simply dressed with a little cooked onion, plenty of olive oil and zucchini flowers. The flowers opened up, stamen removed, and ended up blanketing the whole pizza. A few anchovies were strewn across the top.
I also really enjoy a pasta of zucchini and pine nuts. Coarsely grate a zucchini and sauté with butter, cooked onion and toasted pine nuts before tossing the lot through cooked pasta. It’s so fresh and light. Finish with fresh basil, parmesan and black pepper. If you have access to zucchini flowers, tear these over the finished dish.
Raw zucchini salad with pine nuts and ricotta
– 2 tbsp pine nuts
– 800g heirloom zucchini
– sea salt
– black pepper
– 1 lemon, zested
– 1⁄2 cup fresh ricotta
– 1 handful basil leaves
– 2-3 tbsp robust-flavoured extra virgin olive oil
Place the pine nuts on a small tray and toast in a medium oven, stirring occasionally, until they are pale gold.
Slice the zucchini two millimetres thick on a mandolin, or as thin as you can with a knife.
Spread the slices on your chopping board, or a tray, and season them with a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Leave the zucchini to wilt for five minutes before tossing it gently with the basil, lemon zest and half the olive oil.
Place the salad on a serving plate, crumble the ricotta over the top and sprinkle with pine nuts and the remaining olive oil.
Wine pairing: 2014 Bobar chardonnay, Yarra Valley, Victoria ($30) – Campbell Burton, sommelier, Builders Arms Hotel
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 7, 2015 as "Itsy bitsy, teeny weeny, raw and lightly tossed zucchini". Subscribe here.