I did it again: In the spring, blinded by dreams of zucchini and their golden blossoms, I planted two seedlings in my raised bed (the land of experiments, I call it). As I write, I have harvested two small zucchini from one plant. And my dream is destined to end there. Fortunately, the zucchini harvest is plentiful elsewhere and there is a steady supply at the farmers market, so I am not devastated. And I don't despair completely about my ability to grow food — my lettuce plants are doing well and provide me with plenty of leaves for dinner salads.
My indoor basil plant is also doing well. Planted last year, it overwintered and keeps offering me aromatic leaves to pick. A few lettuce plants and a pot of basil don't make me a gardener, but the more I experiment, the more I realize it all comes down to finding the right spot, which is true for plants as well as humans.
Every year, as zucchini season gets under way, I think about my mother's top recipes: zucchini frittata and zucchini with tomato sauce and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. As children, neither my brother nor I liked the vegetable. In time, my taste changed and as an adult, for years I gave my mother satisfaction when she brought a zucchini dish to the table. In fact, she had to factor in my eating at least two portions when she cooked.
Given my Italian roots, I use the word zucchini loosely. To be precise, the term refers to some varieties of summer squash: green zucchini, yellow zucchini and Costata Romanesco. Other varieties of summer squash are yellow, zephyr and pattypan squash. Nearly all summer squashes belong to the species Cucurbita pepo, though not all Cucurbita pepo are considered summer squashes (for example, pumpkins).
Plentiful as summer squash may be, the season does not officially begin for me until tomatoes ripen. I happily eat old favorites and try new-to-me varieties I encounter at the farmers market. A bowl of bite-sized tomatoes sits on the kitchen counter during the season, ready to answer mid-morning or mid-afternoon snacking needs.
The dish on this page is rather quick to prepare and satisfies the palate with its blend of summer flavors. To the usual base of onion and garlic, I add carrot, zucchini and small tomatoes (grape, cherry or cherry plums). The harissa spice mix provides a bit of heat and grated cheese crowns the dish.
P.S. If you've still got plenty of zucchini, visit the North Coast Journal's online archive for my recipe for zucchini tart, which requires more time investment but offers an excellent return ("Zucchini Days of Summer," July 18, 2019).
Zucchini, Carrot and Tomato Side Dish
I particularly like the Costata Romanesco variety of zucchini, which works well in this recipe. Serves 2-3.
3 ounces carrot, peeled
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 ounces red onion, diced small
1/8-¼ teaspoon harissa spice mix (depending on brand and personal preference)
8-9 ounces zucchini or other summer squash
3 garlic cloves, minced
5 ounces cherry, cherry plum or grape tomatoes
3-4 basil leaves, rolled and sliced into a fine chiffonade
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt, or to taste
¾ ounce grated cheese of choice (for example, Parmigiano-Reggiano, sweet cheddar, gouda)
Grate the carrot using the largest holes on a hand grater.
Warm the olive oil in 10-inch skillet on medium heat.
Add the onion, lower the heat to medium-low and stir. After 1 minute, add the grated carrot and stir. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring often. Then sprinkle in the harissa spice mix, stir well and cover. Cook covered on low heat for 6 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft.
While the onion and carrot are cooking, trim the ends from the zucchini and grate it using the same large hole on your grater.
Uncover the skillet, add the garlic, stir and cook for 1 minute. Add the zucchini, turn the heat up to medium, stir well and cook for 1 minute. Cover and cook over low heat for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, quarter the tomatoes (halve the truly small ones).
Uncover the skillet, add the tomatoes and stir. Cover and cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender. Sprinkle in the basil and the sea salt, and stir well. Turn off the heat, sprinkle the cheese on the vegetables and cover.
Let sit for a 2-3 minutes until the cheese is softened, then serve.