Zucchini has a problem: Too few like it. Well, I do, but I often feel like I'm the only one. Whenever I make it for dinner, my entire family looks at me like I've just asked them to eat a worm. If their friends are invited for dinner, they find a way to politely hide it under something else on the plate.
I was beginning to take it personally, assuming I just hadn't mastered cooking this summer squash, but over the years, I've come to understand that my family's bad opinion of zucchini is shared by a shocking percentage of the population.
Maybe we just take it for granted, as most of us have at least one friend who shows up every summer with a box chock-full of this prolific vegetable.
I think the problem is deeper, though. The fact is, zucchini can be bland and watery, which most of us try to avoid in our cooking.
Fortunately for those at my table, I've finally figured out a way to work around those issues: The solution lies in sodium.
Whenever possible, I try to slice my zucchini thinly, salt it and let it stand in a colander for a while. The salt draws out the excess liquid. You often see this same technique when cooking with eggplant. Once the zucchini has had a chance to shed most of the liquid, the thin slices become pliable and you can squeeze out the rest with your hands.
In doing this, two things happen. Much of the water in the vegetable is eliminated and the flavor is heightened, both by concentrating the density of the flesh and by adding salt, which brings out the flavor of any ingredient (although most of the salt is washed away with the liquid).
I used this technique in this week's recipe for Four Cheese Zucchini Tart. Few dishes are this easy to put together, while looking so, and I say this humbly, stunningly beautiful.
A puff pastry base is topped with a quick and easy filling of cream cheese, mozzarella, Parmesan and feta cheese. The zucchini slices are lined up over the top in overlapping rows and the tart is baked until the crust is browned, the cheese is melted, and the zucchini is tender and not at all watery.
It's a gorgeous dish, so full of flavor that even the most zucchini-averse eaters at your dinner table will relish every bite.
Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at email@example.com.
Four Cheese Zucchini Tart
Note: Salting the zucchini before it gets laid out on top of the tart draws out excess liquid and intensifies this summer vegetable's typically mild flavor. This tart makes a lovely light lunch or dinner. It can also be cut into smaller squares and served as an appetizer. From Meredith Deeds.
• 1 1/2 lb. zucchini, cut into 1/8-in. thick slices
• 3/4 tsp. salt
• 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
• 4 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
• 1/2 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
• 1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese
• 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
• 1/2 tsp. grated lemon zest
• 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, divided
• 1 tbsp. olive oil
• 1 sheet frozen puff pastry (about 1/2 lb.), thawed
In a colander, toss the zucchini with salt and drain for 30 minutes. Gently squeeze the slices with your hands to release excess water and transfer to a medium bowl.
Meanwhile, position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 400 degrees.
In a small bowl, mix together the cheeses with the garlic, lemon zest and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
In a separate bowl, toss the zucchini with the oil and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
Roll out the puff pastry into a 10-by-16-inch rectangle on a floured surface. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Spread the cheese mixture over the dough, leaving a 1-inch border. Arrange the squash rounds in tightly overlapping rows, over the cheese filling. Fold edge of puff pastry over filling all around, leaving zucchini uncovered.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the crust is golden brown, both on the bottom on the sides. Let stand for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.
Nutrition information per serving:
Calories 370 Fat 30 g
Sodium 470 mg Carbohydrates 16 g
Saturated fat 14 g Added sugars 0 g
Protein 9 g Cholesterol 56 mg
Dietary fiber 1 g
Exchanges per serving: 1 starch, 1 high-fat protein, 4 fat.