Got a boatload of zucchini or summer squash? A couple of kitchen staples are just the ticket to making it into something you won’t grow tired of eating.
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When I was growing up in small-town Massachusetts, every summer brought neighbors to our door bearing baskets of zucchini. My mother was grateful for their kindness, of course, but she was also growing her own—and when it grows, it grows like mad. When friends showed up bearing it as a gift, she’d smile and accept it, but as the door closed behind her I would hear, “What on earth am I going to do with all this zucchini?”

She made zucchini bread (which we children accepted because it was a vegetable sibling to cake), but I loathed any other preparation of zucchini right into my 20s, when I smelled something delicious at the farmers’ market one day. A farmer was cooking it in butter with shallots, serving samples with chopped fresh tarragon. And as anyone who loves butter and shallots knows, that combo is killer. Sweet, salted, and caramelized, with a fresh kick from the tarragon, this zucchini was an eye-opener. I was smitten.

So sure, you can grill zucchini or other summer squash with salt, pepper, and olive oil, or roast it, or eat it raw, sliced thin on a mandolin. Or you could zoodle it up. There’s no wrong move here. But my go-to remains the stovetop.

I dry it, salt it, blot the water off of it, and slice it thinly. I’ll use butter or olive oil, depending on what I’m combining it with. Eggy strata or quiche? Butter. Pasta or cannellini beans? Olive oil.

As it cooks and steams, the zucchini will sweeten, picking up all the nuances shallots deliver. When it’s done after about 10 minutes, I’ll toss it with pasta, fresh summer tomatoes, and grated Parmesan, or plate it as a side dish next to rotisserie chicken. Or I’ll combine it with white beans and lemon zest, topping it with fresh sage. Or plate it next to polenta or Roman-style gnocchi. You could put it on top of cooked black beans with a dollop of crema and a flurry of cilantro leaves. Tonight I’ll probably add it to my go-to curry.

Cooked zucchini will keep in the fridge for a couple of days, so you can layer it into omelets and quiches, eat it as a snack, or dollop it out as a vegetable side to a hearty main. In terms of herbs, nearly anything soft and fresh works. I have thyme, sage, and basil growing in my garden, but tarragon and cilantro also work nicely.

Best of all, you can keep the actual oven off, because in the hot months, why bother?

Sautéed Zucchini with Shallots

Serves 2-4 as a side dish

  • 1 lb zucchini or summer squash, sliced into 1/8 inch rounds
  • Kosher salt
  • 11/2 Tbsp olive oil or butter
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • Mixed fresh soft herbs such as basil, tarragon or cilantro, to garnish

1. Layer zucchini in colander 10-30 minutes in advance, if possible, and salt generously. Just before cooking, blot with towels to remove water.

2. Place a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-low heat. Add olive oil. When oil is shimmering, add shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and light golden, 2-4 minutes.

3. Add zucchini and cook, covered, stirring occasionally to ensure shallots don’t burn, 8-10 minutes or until zucchini rounds are floppy and sweet. (I like to turn off the heat once they’re cooked and leave them steaming in the pan for several more minutes.)

4. Season to taste with salt and fresh pepper. Serve topped with chopped fresh herbs.

Alex Van Buren is a food and travel writer living in Brooklyn, New York whose work has appeared in, Bon Appétit, Travel + Leisure, New York Magazine, Martha Stewart Living, and Epicurious. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @alexvanburen.