09 June 2009

Grilled Zucchini

For years I labored under the mistaken impression that I didn't like zucchini. I can't say for sure where this prejudice originated. If I forced at gunpoint to guess though, I'd say it was the result of a long standing disagreement I had with most, if not all, members of the squash family. This was a long standing conflict that only reached a period of truce when I stopped residing in my parents home.

This period of my life was known as The Decade Of Freedom From Vegetables And Experimentation With Scurvy. Most people call it bachelorhood. It was marked by dramatic increases in cheeseburgers and rib eyes, and a violent avoidance of most flora as a culinary option. This was an exciting period of my life that featured vitamin C deficiency and flirtation with gum disease. I don't really recommend it.

Over the last several years, as my quest to not die at an early age from nutritional deficiencies has really picked up steam, I've been reintroducing a variety of plants back into my life. I've yet to give okra another shot at the pennant, but several other previously vilified representatives of the plant world have been called up from the minor leagues. Among those was zucchini, and what I've come to realize is that zucchini is not bad, but it can be made badly. As it turns out, this is true of all food.

The following preparation was improvised for a cook out with friends several weeks ago. There were people in attendance who were not interested in eating meat, so I elected to prepare a meat free alternative. I'm a nice guy like that.

  • dried or fresh herbs (see below)
  • olive oil
  • lemons
  • white wine
  • salt
  • zucchini

Dried or fresh herbs? Man, that's a debate. I'm not going to get into it now. Just use whichever you like the most, or have available. For this particular batch I used thyme and oregano. In previous batches I used rosemary, savory, and thyme. Dill would probably be good too, but only if you liked dill. How much should you use? I'd say a tablespoon probably of each. Again, it depends on what you like, and keep in mind we're making a marinade here, not baking a cake. Is that vague enough?

User your microplane to get the zest o... What? You don't have a microplane? Go buy one. Right now. I'll wait.

Got it? Good. Now use your microplane to remove the zest from two lemons. Wait, you still don't have a microplane? Fine, if you really must, you can carefully slice off the zest with a sharp knife or vegetable peeler. Be careful about getting too much of the pith, the white rind, it's bitter. Seriously though, get a microplane, they're awesome and versatile.

Juice both of your naked lemons and add the zest to the lemon juice in a mixing bowl. Toss in the herbs with two generous pinches of salt. Now for the wine. You'll note that I've selected a Yellow Tail Pinot Grigio. I've selected this wine because that's what was in my pantry. Feel free to use a chardonnay, riesling, or really any other white wine. My only caution here would be to avoid the old wives tale about not cooking with wine you would drink. It's silly. You want to cook with wine that tastes good, but balance that with some sense. You don't want to use a Joseph Drouhin Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche 2006 in a clam sauce. So, I tend to keep some value wines around for cooking.

Whatever wine you choose, add about 1/2 a cup to the mixing bowl. Whisk to combine, and then whisk in several healthy tablespoons of good olive oil. I'm using a Sicilian Val Di Mazara, just because that's the way I roll. Whisk everything in the mixing bowl real good. Don't kill yourself, you could mix this with a boat motor and wouldn't integrate, we haven't included anything that will work as an emulsifier, so that lemon juice and wine will never combine with the oil totally.

Wash your zucchini up, and trim off the ends, but don't peel it. We need that green skin left on to give it some structure and prevent it from falling apart when we get to the grilling. Cut the zucchini lengthwise in slices that are about 1/4 inch thick. If you cut them too thin, then they'll go all floppy when they cook and turn to mush. I'm only using two zucchini here, because there's only two people in my house. We've made enough marinade for 4-6 zucchini depending on how big they are and how thick you decide to slice them. 4 zucchini is enough to feed 8 people if this is going to be a side dish, 4 if it's an entree.

Once your zucchini is all sliced up, toss them into a gallon sized ziplock bag and then pour in your marinade. If you had to, you could do this in a glass or plastic tray or bowl, but I wouldn't recommend it. The bags are the best way to marinade anything in my opinion. If you use a bag, that's one more dish you don't have to wash. Just be sure not to use an aluminium pan for the marinading. There's a lot of acid in this marinade, and it will react with the aluminium and make everything taste funny as well as maybe ruin your pan if you leave the marinade in long enough. Once the bag is sealed, slosh everything around and try to separate the zucchini slices, they'll try their darndest to stick together.

Now's the easy part. Wait.

Just let that bag sit on the counter for a while. Anywhere from 1/2 an hour up to a few hours. I wouldn't leave it in there for much more than 2 hours though. While you're waiting, you can heat up your grill. You want those grates nice and hot to leave some pleasant looking, and tasting, grill marks. Once your grill is hot and you're done waiting on your marinade, pull the slices out of your bag with some tongs and lay them on the grill. Turn them over after a few minutes, they won't take long.

What? You don't have a grill either? Good gravy. Alright. You can do it in your broiler. After all, a broiler is just an upside down grill, right? It won't be as nice and you won't get those tasty grill marks though. Lay the slices out on in a single layer on a baking sheet and place them on the highest rack in your oven under the broiler set to high. Keep an eye on them, and in a minute or two, turn them over and repeat. Do us both a favor though, and get a grill.

Voila! All done. These make a great side dish for a cookout. They are also a fantastic condiment for a grilled sausage or a bratwurst on a bun. Let em cool, and you can make a tasty vegetarian sandwich with them. Or, you can just take a fork and dig in.