Ways You Never Thought Of Using All That Zucchini

If you know anyone with a vegetable garden, it's probably happened to you: There you are, minding your business as you walk unsuspectingly to pick up your mail when — out of nowhere — your neighbor appears with what appears to be a bushel of the long green veggie. "Just thought I'd bring these over," they say, smiling, even though you have barely exchanged words since you moved in over a decade ago. Or maybe you yourself are the one with the garden and have already given away everything you can, but it just keeps coming.

Fear not! Mashed can support you in your zero food waste, good-eating mission — there's so much that zucchini can do (via LNP). It's mild-mannered enough that you can use it up in creative ways without getting sick of it. We're not here to preach about the greatness of zoodles (been there, done that) or matchstick zucchini as part of your crudité platter. This is next-level zucchini usage we're talking about. Inspired by some of the great cooks out there — from Ina Garten to Giada de Laurentiis — who have been building up a zucchini repertoire for our benefit (per Food Network), we want to focus on all the things you can do with zucchini tonight that will make you still like this versatile vegetable tomorrow morning.

Zucchini with (not instead of!) pasta

If you really want to make the most of your summer squash it helps to learn some recipes or techniques that aren't as zucchini-forward as your usual suspects. Coupling the vegetable with people's favorite foods makes it that much easier to love.

Let's start with the low-hanging fruit: zucchini with pasta. Zucchini is really very mild and so it can be added to pasta dishes without a major transformation in flavor. One excellent way of doing this is in a gratin recipe, as Jacques Pépin advocates in "Fast Food My Way." You cube your zucchini and add it to a bowl to which you add small pieces of chopped meat and any other small vegetables of your choosing. You add cooked pasta, shredded cheese (Pépin likes Gruyère, Irish cheddar is also great), and basic béchamel sauce to the mix, then top with Parmesan and bake in the oven. This is a dish that both adults and children enjoy and can be easily adjusted for whatever meats and vegetables you have on hand.

Another easy way of pairing zucchini with pasta is an ultra-simple recipe pioneered by Smitten Kitchen: sauté shredded zucchini in butter, cooking it down until it gets almost a bit caramelized. In the meantime, you cook spaghetti in boiling water. You then add your pasta to the sauce, add a bit of Parmesan and some basil leaves, and voilà: jammy "zoodles" with noodles.

Zucchini on pizza

Much has been made of using vegetables for pizza crust or as a swap for the usual starches in recipes (like cauliflower rice). But what about zucchini as an actual topping for regular pizza crust? This may sound counterintuitive since zucchini doesn't pack the flavor punch of something like pepperoni or peppers, but according to T Magazine, in New York City, famed dough deity Jim Lahey's Sullivan Street Bakery is known for its zucchini 'za.

It works particularly well on white pizza since tomatoes can overwhelm the less-assertive flavor of zucchini (via Smitten Kitchen). Like with Smitten Kitchen's buttered zucchini pasta, think of the zucchini as a type of texture-enhancer — it kind of melts into the crust and cheese — rather than a major contender in the taste department. To make the zucchini pizza, you roll out some pizza dough (store-bought is fine), top with a mixture of shredded zucchini and shredded Gruyère cheese (making sure to wring out as much moisture from the zucchini before adding it), then dust with panko breadcrumbs and pop it in the oven. And this is just the tip of the iceberg: there are plenty of options for integrating zucchini onto your favorite crust, like pairing it with goat cheese (per Kitchen Konfidence). Pizza Friday Project: check. Daily Veggies: check, check, check.

Zucchini is for meat lovers

If you're trying to convince the non-vegans in your life to get on board with eating more vegetables, you may want to give stuffed summer squash a try. Hollowed-out zucchini becomes a container for the rest of your dinner, and when it's full of seasoned meat and cheese, it's pretty hard to resist. You can make Mexican-style zucchini enchilada boats with jack cheese, onion, and cumin; or you can go Italian (via Dinner at the Zoo), and blend your diced zucchini with sausage, garlic, and parsley, finishing them off with mozzarella or Parmesan cheese. If stuffing zucchini boats is too much trouble for you, zucchini also makes a great barely-there addition to ground beef casseroles (per Food.com). 

Before waxing eloquent about the amazing things you can do with shredded zucchini, we need to issue a word of caution: like its fraternal twin, the cucumber, zucchini is a very watery vegetable. Unlike cucumber, however, most people don't eat it raw, so it's best to get some of that water out before cooking it. The best way to do so is by shredding the zucchini and letting it sit in a colander with a pinch or two of salt to help move things along. Before using, press on the zucchini with a paper towel to squeeze most of the moisture out before proceeding with your recipe.

Yes you can (eat all that zucchini)

So what can you do with shredded zucchini? First of all, it makes a great addition to turkey burgers (via Skinny Chef). Turkey makes notoriously dry burgers, a fate everyone tries to avoid when grilling. Incorporating shredded zucchini into your meat keeps the burgers moist without adding additional fat or calories (per Skinnytaste). This trick also works very well for turkey meatballs, keeping them juicy and satisfying but still healthy (via Veronika's Kitchen).

How'd you like pancakes for dinner? Fritters are pretty much the same thing, savory-style, and shredded zucchini is the perfect foil for a basic batter. All it takes is some flour, onion, egg, and salt, and they're pretty much good to go in your frying pan (via Damn Delicious).

As Damn Delicious also notes, if you want to take advantage of all the seasonal produce you have around, zucchini works very well in fritters with corn, too. The corn provides a little texture contrast and some additional sweetness that sets off the delicate zucchini flavor, while the batter gives them some extra heft. The only thing possibly missing is a little bacon on the side to round things out for a perfectly seasoned breakfast for dinner. And isn't that what summer food is all about — getting so lost in the beauty of the season's bounty that you forget what time or day it is?