Be warned: Besmirch zucchini’s good name in Wisconsin and be prepared to be overwhelmed with recipes to prove you wrong.
I challenged readers to change my mind that zucchini is gross and got more than 60 emails in response. Several included multiple recipes.
My zucchini rant arose after a roasting incident gone wrong. Something magical happens when roasting cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, yams, potatoes, onions and just most other vegetables. New flavors emerge. Crispy charred bits form at the edges. The flesh becomes tender. Little more is needed than olive oil, salt and heat.
Try that with zucchini and the reward is a mushy pile of blandness.
Perhaps lowered expectations are in order when it comes to zucchini.
“I think we are expecting way too much from zucchini,” wrote Lisa Schaetz of Maribel. “I like to think that its purpose in life is to have a supporting role. Like acting, you can still win an Oscar for it.”
Schaetz’s words proved prophetic of what I would discover during my ingestigative reporting.
The first step was to harvest reader-submitted tips, insights and recommendations.
Go small: Several readers advised using zucchini no larger than 10 inches, with the ideal size between 5 and 8 inches. If it’s no wider than 3 inches, so much the better.
Peel it: Stripping zucchini of its thin green membrane reduces bitterness.
Dip it: Of course dill and ranch dip made the list. Look, ranch dressing is a powerful cure-all for improving icky flavors, but Wisconsin’s unofficial official condiment has its limits. Zucchini is one of them. That goes double if you’ve openly admitted that you don’t like this squash’s flavor.
Noodle it: A few pushed for turning zucchini into noodles. “In full disclosure, I do not eat zucchini in any other way, shape or form,” wrote one reader. I’ve tried zucchini noodles and found them passable. However, it takes a lot more than passable to change my mind.
Boil it: Most commonly with onions before adding it to a casserole, quiche or other baked dish.
Fry it: I shouldn’t have needed a Twitter response to point out the most obvious solution — fried. Plus frying doesn’t necessarily overpower the essence of the food’s naturally given flavors. I’m looking at you, cauliflower, cheese curds and Snickers candy bars.
Casserole it: Readers sent a dozen casserole recipes — that includes “hot dish” submissions — with most including hamburger and cheese in the ingredient list. Add enough meat and cheese and most dishes become palatable.
Grill it: If I’ve grilled zucchini in the past, I don’t remember it. So at best, it was forgettable. Still, there were enough submissions for grilled zucchini to get me to give it another try.
Sweeten it: There were a half-dozen dessert recipes including brownies, chocolate cake and mock apple pie. Mary Poppins could have replaced medicine with zucchini while singing “A Spoonful of Sugar” and not been wrong. Like heaping on meat and cheese, spoonfuls of sugar and chocolate will bury zucchini’s texture and flavor.
Why bother adding zucchini if you don’t know it’s there? To be convinced zucchini isn’t gross, it needs to stand on its own merits. So, I tried recipes that I felt wouldn’t mask the zucchini, appealed to my taste biases and fit within my cooking skill set.
First up — grilled.
I was hopeful when given several grilled zucchini tips. One involved tossing thinly sliced zucchini medallions in olive oil and sea salt 15 minutes before grilling. Another encouraged thick slices slathered in olive oil and seasoned.
Neither approach produced anything I’d care to make again. The flavor was salty and the texture, again, soggy.
Perhaps fried would fare better.
One reader suggested pan frying shredded zucchini in olive oil. I botched that in spectacular fashion. Despite being warned to keep a close eye on the pan lest I burn the zucchini, I created a burnt and mushy mess. I’ll admit I struggle making potato hash browns, so perhaps this recipe landed outside my skill set.
Somewhere between the grill and the frying pan, I realized I’d been underestimating zucchini’s capacity to hoard water. Doomsday preppers have nothing on zucchini in this regard. After cutting the top off one zucchini, beads of water welled up like tears in the eyes of the cook assigned to dice a 5-pound bag of onions. In this regard, zucchini is a fruit by more than botanical name alone.
Fried, grilled or roasted, it’s an uphill battle to get zucchini to behave like its vegetable cousins.
With this bit of insight, I moved to recipes that leaned into zucchini’s strengths: mild flavors that play well with others and a fire hydrant’s worth of water.
Send in the casseroles.
I chose one recipe that was stuffing-like in nature and the other represented the meat-and-cheese contingent.
The stuffing casserole consisted of parboiled zucchini and onions added to a mixture that was equal parts sour cream and cream of chicken soup, then sandwiched between crouton layers.
Everything but the zucchini flavor came through. I liked it well enough, but without zucchini flavor, it didn’t change my mind.
The second casserole called for a pound of cheese. And hamburger meat. I crammed it all into a small baking dish instead of a full roasting pan that limited space for zucchini. Perhaps in a larger pan that allowed for more zucchini, it would have come closer to changing my mind.
Pressing on, I made a trio of dishes that moved my zucchini meter needle off “it’s gross.” Mind you, there’s still a long way between there and “love it and I don’t care who knows.”
1 pie crust, unbaked (Note from submitter: I don’t make pie crusts so I bought a frozen one and thawed it on the kitchen counter before baking it.)
2 cups zucchini, finely chopped (I chopped up two medium-sized zucchini, which probably measured about 2½ cups. No problem.)
1 medium onion, chopped
¼ cup water (Nope, I used a cup of water because you’re going to drain it anyway after everything has simmered.)
3 eggs, beaten
8 ounces yogurt (I used non-fat Greek yogurt because that’s what I had)
1½ cups (6 ounces) Swiss cheese, shredded
2 tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon dill weed
½ teaspoon salt
Pepper, dash to taste
Heat oven to 450 F.
Line pastry shell with double-thickness, heavy-duty foil, bake five minutes. Remove foil and bake five to seven minutes. Remove from oven and reduce heat to 350 F.
In two-quart saucepan, combine zucchini, onion and water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, simmer covered for three minutes. Drain.
In medium mixing bowl, combine eggs, yogurt, cheese, flour, dill weed, salt and pepper. Stir in zucchini mixture.
Pour into hot pastry shell.
Bake uncovered 25 to 30 minutes.
Remove from oven and let stand 10 minutes before serving.
(Recipe from Chris Church, Appleton)
I’ve never met Church, but the notes in the ingredient list make me think we’re kindred kitchen spirits.
“I’m with you. I can’t stand zucchinis,” wrote Church in an email. “I try to make two vegetarian recipes each week so this one is on my ‘worth doing again’ list.”
It’s on my “worth doing again” list too, Chris.
Tangy yogurt mixed with earthy Swiss cheese provide a big flavor punch. The onion-zucchini combination is noticeable. The dill provides the right accent.
Two adjustments I thought of making were to add pepper — I missed it in the ingredient list — and trying sour cream in place of the yogurt.
Finally, I made a pie crust instead of purchasing one and it worked great with the crust parbaking method in the instructions.
1 cup zucchini, diced, large seeds removed
1 cup celery, diced
1 cup Roma tomatoes, diced
1 tablespoon capers, chopped
1 tablespoon shallots, chopped
¼ cup basil, chopped
¼ cup olive oil
1 lemon, juiced
½ lemon, zested
1 tablespoon salt
Mix all in a bowl and refrigerate for one hour before serving.
(Recipe from Wayne Harrig, New Franken)
This salsa opened my taste buds to the appeal of zucchini. Basil and lemon boost the summery nature and add a good balance to the tomatoes. Zucchini’s mild bitterness and sweetness round out the flavors. The next time I have the gumption to make salsa, which will by my second time making salsa, I’d reach for this recipe.
1 to 2 pounds sweet Italian sausage
2 cups celery, chopped
4 cups zucchini, chopped or sliced
1 cup onion, chopped
2 green peppers, chopped
4 cups tomatoes, diced (1-2 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes)
3 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon oregano
3 teaspoons basil, chopped
1 tablespoon sugar
1 garlic clove, chopped (substitute ½ teaspoon garlic powder)
Brown sausage in large pot and drain off fat. Add rest of ingredients; simmer until done.
At least 30 minutes. May have to add water if too thick.
(Recipe from Joanne Schwobe, Appleton)
Schwobe wrote that she’s had this recipe for several years and is frequently asked for it.
Zucchini gets pushed around by more aggressive sausage and tomato flavors, but this soup would fall flat without the zucchini’s bulk and water reserves. Call me crazy, but I think the mild zucchini flavor rounds out the soup in a way that couldn’t be duplicated by another squash or potatoes.
Until further ingestigative reporting is completed, move me from full hater to full skeptic when it comes to zucchini.
Zucchini is no bacon when it comes to making everything better, but in the right recipe, it’s not such a bad little (or overgrown) squash after all.