Someone should make a horror movie about a society overtaken by uncontrollable hordes of summer zucchini. In peak season, this vegetable is everywhere and home gardeners struggle to give it away. Attack of the killer zucchini, indeed. I wanted to write a happier script for this handsome vegetable, set in my favorite place for summer cooking—on the grill.
My early experiments confirmed prior test kitchen findings: Large zucchini tasted dull and were much tougher and more fibrous than their smaller brethren. Medium zucchini (around 8 ounces each) were sweeter and more tender. TEST KITCHEN NOTE: A medium zucchini should be about as wide as a banana as shown in the image to the left.
Since I wanted to avoid having to move lots of small pieces around the grill grate, I cut the zucchini in half lengthwise (as opposed to into spears or medallions) and began by marinating them in olive oil, salt, and pepper. I hoped the salty marinade would add flavor and help pull out some of the extra moisture before the vegetable hit the cooking grate, thus reducing mushiness. And here was my first scary scene: The oil dripped off the grilling zucchini and caused flare-ups that resulted in a sooty taste. On top of that, the zucchini was bland and still mushy. Thumbs down.
An oily marinade was out. To encourage the zukes to give up their moisture on the grill, I tried cutting a shallow crosshatch pattern into the flesh side of each half. As long as I was gentle enough not to cut through the skin, this trick worked great and resulted in a firmer, nonmushy texture.
I now had perfectly cooked zucchini, but I still needed to jazz up the flavor. My mind immediately went to romesco sauce, a Spanish staple built on a puree of roasted red peppers, almonds, and olive oil. I threw a red bell pepper onto the grill with the zucchini and, once all the vegetables were cooked, headed inside to figure out the sauce.
After a bit of fiddling, I perfected my streamlined version of a romesco-style sauce. The grilled bell pepper provided a great foundation. Sliced almonds contributed a clean flavor and blended easily into the sauce. I added garlic for bite, red wine vinegar for tang, and basil for an intense herbal punch. The sauce came together in the blender in a flash.
Beautifully charred zucchini paired with a summery sauce makes zucchini a less scary presence during the summer months. Stay tuned for the sequel.