Friday, September 16, 2011

One Last Zucchini Salad For Summer (Or, How I Learned to Love Zucchini)

I am not what you might call a zucchini girl. It's one vegetable I've never really understood. I kinda looks like a cucumber, but it's not. It's kinda watery like a cucumber, but it's not. It's also kinda mild-flavored like a cucumber, but its not. And I'm not really a cucumber girl, either, so the whole concept of the zucchini was pretty much doomed from the start for me.

And then there's summer squash. Of which zucchini is one. And of which That Yellow One is another. Why doesn't The Yellow One get a name? That seems unfair and makes me feel rather sympathetic toward The Yellow One, despite the fact that it basically tastes the same as a zucchini. (Also, can summer squashes really be its own category if it really only contains two examples? I mean look at winter squashes. Now those squashes have their act together, hoo boy! But I digress.)

But despite having all the cards stacked against them from the start, I have finally discovered the one application of summer squash(es) that is totally and completely worth it. My friends, it is this: squash ribbons.

Perhaps you are already familiar with squash ribbons, a.k.a. squash fettuccine, a.k.a. squash noodles. I had never tried them before this summer on the vague principle that a dish of noodles should contain actual noodles and not vegetables disguised as noodles. The event that brought them to my attention was dinner at the house of some new friends. I am a sucker for any food someone else makes for me, and the fact that this was a dish of cleverly-disguised zucchini was no exception. Also, my momma raised me polite.

You see where this is going. The squash ribbons were delicious. The lemon and mint in the dressing was the perfect companion to the slightly sweet flavor of the summer squash. Their spongy texture, often so troubling in vegetarian menu options, was completely transformed by the simple shift from wedge-shape to ribbon-shape. The chewy bits of parmesan on top added that final touch of salty richness. The whole dish was just so clean-tasting and refreshing. Yum.

Back home, I looked for the recipe, but couldn't find the exact one my friend said she had been using for years. The internets were eager to provide me with other recipe suggestions, but none of them seemed quite what I was looking for. No choice but to make up my own recipe!

In truth, this is more of a template than a recipe. The key players are your summer squashes, some kind of vinaigrette, some kind of herb-alicious enhancement, and a sprinkle of cheese. Within these categories, feel free to go crazy. 

This here's the version my taste buds have craved this summer. It makes an excellent side dish to grilled fish or roasted chicken. Plus a glass of pinot grigio if you're feeling classy. (And when are you not?)

Cheers, Summer! Until next year!

Squash Ribbons with Lemon and Mint
Serves 4

This recipe is built for four people, but you can scale it up or down as you so desire. Shoot for one squash per person and adapt the vinaigrette to match.

4 summer squashes - a mix of zucchinis and yellow squashes are nice for the colors
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced mint leaves
2 tablespoons Parmesan, plus extra for sprinkling on top

To make the ribbons, run a vegetable peeler down the entire length of the squash. Rotate the squash between each cut, going around and around until the squash becomes too thin to peel. Aim for thick ribbons of even width, but no need to get fussy. (P.S. The stumpy middle pieces that you're left with after ribboning are an excellent meal-prep snack if dipped in a little salt.)

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, mint leaves, and parmesan, along with a healthy three-fingered pinch of salt. Give the vinaigrette a taste and adjust any of the components as needed. Pour the vinaigrette over the ribbons and toss to coat. Let the salad stand about 10 minutes before serving.

Serve on individual plates with a second sprinkling of parmesan on top. Leftovers will keep for a few days in the fridge.

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