Friday, April 03, 2009

More zucchini

My sister highlighted a common problem when working with zucchini. It gives up a lot of moisture when using it in cooking and baking dishes.

"I tried the idea of using long slices of zucchini (in lasagna)," said Elizabeth in her email Wednesday. "Just remember that it will weep out a lot of water. I actually had to tip the dish out and drain a lot of liquid out before we could eat it."

She's right. Zucchini will leach as much as 20 percent of its weight in water when salted, according to the editors of Cook's Illustrated. That's about three tablespoons of water per pound of zucchini.

As Elizabeth noted, no one wants to eat a water-logged lasagna. Although her lasagna "tasted fine," it was a "hassle" draining the liquid from the pan.

My Monday blog, "Ideas for stuffed zucchini," suggested several ways to use up a bumper crop of zucchini this summer.

Since zucchini is about 95 percent water, the cook must find a way to leach out excess moisture for some zucchini dishes. Moist dishes, like muffins or zucchini and tomatoes, don't require any additional processing.

Although the baker can adjust the amount of water or milk in a muffin or bread recipe to compensate, most baking recipes should be okay.

In sauteed zucchini, the summer squash becomes soggy as it steams in its own water. Water dilutes the oil in the skillet and cools the dish. The sauteed dish overcooks before excess moisture evaporates and the pan has a chance to heat up again.

Properly leached, the zucchini will brown, a process that adds much-needed flavor. The zucchini quickly cooks while the natural sugars caramelize. Any water that hits the pan evaporates quickly.

I can think of two ways to drive moisture from zucchini, eggplant and similar vegetables -- salting and roasting. Both methods leach excess moisture from the squash, just in different ways.

Use the salting technique when preparing the vegetable for further cooking, especially for quick cooking methods like sauteing for stir frying. Roasting is best used when the zucchini will be used as an ingredient in a casserole or layered dish, like a lasagna.

Salting zucchini
After slicing the zucchini as desired, lay it in a colander, sprinkling kosher salt between the layers. Set the colander over a bowl to catch the water. Use 1 tablespoon kosher salt for each 1-1/2 pounds sliced zucchini (about 4 medium zucchinis).

Set aside for 30 minutes. Remove zucchini from colander and brush salt off. Cook as desired.

I favor kosher over table salt because the large grains are easily brushed off the zucchini. Don't salt the finished dish until you taste it.

Roasting zucchini
This technique does two things: It drives excess moisture out and adds flavor to an otherwise bland vegetable. Slice or dice zucchini as desired, toss with olive oil, salt, ground black pepper and minced garlic.

Spread in one layer on one or more oiled sheet pans and bake in a pre-heated 450-degree oven for about 35 minutes, or until golden. Adjust color by removing the zucchini sooner or leaving it in the oven a bit longer.

I plan to test one or two zucchini recipes in the next week. I'll post recipes and photographs for vegetable lasagna and sauteed zucchini.

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