Well, if it’s summer, it is zucchini time. Backyard gardeners everywhere are sneaking around, laying baseball-bat-sized zukes on people’s doorsteps, ringing the doorbell and dashing off into the night. OK, maybe not. But this is my favorite way to deal with a huge surplus of zucchini. Originally posted on July 2, 2009.
It’s zucchini time in California. The annual Overrunning of the Squash has arrived. Yes, fresh zucchini are good — excellent, if you get them before they’re as big as truncheons — but anyone who grows zukes always has too many. And don’t get me started on zucchini bread. Not a fan.
I pickled some zucchini last year and they were good, but not as good as cucumber pickles. How else could I preserve them? Drying.
I’d read somewhere that the Southern Italians sun-dried their zucchini to keep them through the year. I’ve even seen a web page offering dried zukes from Sicily jarred in olive oil — at $10 plus shipping. Seriously?
But, try as I might, I could find no recipe or method for sun-drying zucchini anywhere on the web, or in my not insubstantial cookbook library. So I improvised.
I began by slicing the squash into disks. I then sprinkled salt on a large cookie sheet and set the disks down on them, and when the cookie sheet was filled I sprinkled the tops with salt.
I let this sit an hour. Now zucchini are basically squash-flavored water, so I was pretty sure an hour would draw out a lot of moisture and get the salt all the way into the slice — to preserve it from mold. It worked. Too well, in fact. In my next batch I’ll only “cure” them for 40 minutes if I am not going to put them up in jars. After an hour, the zucchini is borderline too salty to eat fresh, but would work well as a preserved product.
How to dry them? This took some thinking. I’d heard that the French string-dry their zucchini like apple rings, so I tried doing that. Not so good. The string will sag and the zucchini will all touch each other, slowing drying and trapping moisture — promoting mold.
Better was a metal or wooden skewer. At first I hung these in an ingenious ghetto fashion: I attached the skewer to the clips on the kind of coat hanger designed to hold skirts or pants. Nice, but then Holly couldn’t dry her clothes. I then switched to using our sausage/pasta drying rack.
These zukes above had been drying for a day in our very hot, very dry garage. I guess it was about 110 degrees in there at its peak, “cooling” to 70 at night. At that rate, the zucchini only took 36 hours to get to the soft, quasi-dried apple texture I wanted.
Could I have dried them all the way? Sure, but then I’d need to reconstitute them, and why bother? I might have dried them another 12 hours if I wanted to preserve them in oil. When they’re done, they look like this:
Kept like this in the fridge, I bet they’d last months. In this state, zucchini are still pliable and soft, but feel more like soft leather than watery squash disks. Chewy instead of crunchy. Savory instead of thirst-quenching, as a raw zuke can be on a hot day.
I plan to make more of these to preserve in olive oil later. But to start I wanted to cook these as I’d heard the Sicilians do: In olive oil, with mint and chiles. Holly thought I should add garlic, and I might do that next.
The dish couldn’t be easier, although there is one tip I can offer: Dried zucchini lack the water that normally causes that pleasing sizzle in a hot pan, so you might think you’re not heating the squash enough at first. Trust yourself, they will brown nicely. Keep turning them over until you get the look you want. I like a combination of well-browned bits with those just kissed by flame.
Make more of these than you think you need — Holly and I ate four zucchinis’ worth at one sitting with no trouble.
SICILIAN SUN-DRIED ZUCCHINI
I had heard that the Southern Italians sun-dried their zucchini, and then either put them up in jars covered in olive oil, or sauteed them as a side dish. I never did find an Italian recipe, so this one is entirely mine. I think it works pretty well, and will be making this all summer long — it’s a textural thing: The dried zucchini concentrate what flavor they have, and with less water, become meatier — if I had to serve a vegan, this would be on the menu.
Use a dehydrator if you are in a moist climate, but here in Sacramento I just strung these on skewers and let them dry in our blazing hot garage for 36 hours.
Serves 4 as a main course, or 6 as a side dish.
Prep Time: 36 hours
Cook Time: 5 minutes
- 4 zucchini
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne or espellette pepper
- 2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
- Juice of half a lemon
- Slice zucchini into disks about 1/4 inch thick. Sprinkle salt on a large cookie sheet or two, then lay the zucchini on them. Sprinkle more salt on top. Leave at room temperature for no more than an hour — the longer you go, the saltier the zucchini will be. If you plan on preserving these in jars, go the full hour.
- Pat dry with a towel and skewer. Hang the zucchini in a hot dry place for 24-48 hours, depending on the temperature. You want them to be dry, but not hard. Think soft dried apricots…
- Once dried like this, they can be stored in jars, covered in olive oil, for months in the fridge.
- When ready to cook, heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over high heat until almost smoking. Add the zucchini rounds and toss to coat with oil. Turn the heat down to medium-high and cook until browned, about 3-4 minutes.
- In the final minute, add the cayenne and toss to combine, then do the same with the mint. Turn off the heat.
- Squeeze the lemon juice on the zucchini when you are ready to serve.