Put zucchini to good use in this summery side dish

You’ll hardly recognize the vegetable.
Marinated zucchini Michelle Stark  |  Tampa Bay Times
Marinated zucchini Michelle Stark | Tampa Bay Times
Published September 3

When friends who had just bought a new smoker invited my husband and I over for a Labor Day dinner, I knew they’d have the meats covered. Our job? Sides.

It’s about that time of year when the hunt for good sides ramps up. From football parties all the way to holiday potlucks, it’s important to have a couple dishes in your back pocket.

I struggle with sides that are tasty without being super heavy. The urge to lean on carbs is strong, but I find that a fresh vegetable side is often welcome among the spread.

Hearty salads are a strong option, but they can be fussy — hard to prep in advance and prone to going lifeless with too much downtime.

My go-to side options usually involve a green-less salad like a caprese, which is a bit more sturdy, or roasted vegetables. A big pile of carrots, Brussels, radishes, red onion and the like hold up well no matter the temperature they’re served at.

This recipe follows a similar path, but calls for cooking a vegetable in a skillet first then marinating in it a mixture of fresh herbs and bright lemon. The result is a dish that slowly builds layers of flavors to create something simple yet complex. It makes even bland zucchini taste really good.

The method could work on a number of veggies, but I like the versatility of zucchini — and the fact that it’s available most of the year in the grocery store.

The bed of ricotta cheese on which this zucchini is served certainly helps makes this recipe what it is (delicious), but the marinated zucchini itself would be good served as part of a cold noodle salad or heaped over a bowl of rice and a protein. I’d also highly recommend toasting a couple pieces of thick bread and serving them alongside the platter, little vessels for that exquisite ricotta-marinated zucchini combo.

Marinated Zucchini with Fresh Herbs

Marinated zucchini Michelle Stark  |  Tampa Bay Times
Marinated zucchini Michelle Stark | Tampa Bay Times

3 medium yellow squash or zucchini, cut in half lengthwise

1½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for serving

¼ cup blanched hazelnuts or almonds

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for drizzling

1 small bunch mint, divided

1 small garlic clove, finely grated

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

¾ teaspoon sugar

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Freshly ground black pepper

½ lemon

½ cup ricotta cheese

Flaky sea salt

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Toss squash and 1½ teaspoon kosher salt in a colander; set over a bowl. Let sit 10 minutes, then pat dry with paper towels.

Toss hazelnuts and 1 tablespoon oil on a rimmed baking sheet and roast, shaking occasionally, until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool; crush into large pieces with a measuring cup or glass.

Smack 3 mint sprigs against your cutting board a few times to release their flavor; mix in a large bowl with garlic, vinegar, sugar, red pepper flakes, and 2 tablespoons oil; set dressing aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium-high until shimmering. Arrange squash cut side down in skillet, breaking into smaller pieces if needed in order to fit in a single layer, and cook, moving around in pan to ensure even browning, until golden brown on cut side, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and continue to cook until very tender, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and let cool slightly.

Cut squash into 2-inch pieces and toss in reserved dressing to coat; season with kosher salt and black pepper. Let sit at room temperature, tossing occasionally, 15 minutes. Pluck out mint sprigs; discard.

Meanwhile, zest lemon half into a small bowl, mix in ricotta and remaining 1 tablespoon oil; season with kosher salt.

Spread lemon ricotta over platter. Top with squash and their juices. Squeeze reserved lemon over. Pull leaves from remaining mint sprigs (you want about ¼ cup). Scatter mint and hazelnuts over squash. Drizzle generously with oil and sprinkle with sea salt.

Source: Adapted from Bon Appetit

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