Summer is here! And we all know what that means: zucchini, zucchini, and more zucchini. With some summer squash added for good measure. Here at Scratchin’ It central, we feel your pain, and we’re going to try to do something about it. As we get zucchini throughout the summer, we’ll be trying new ways to use those pesky cucurbits — oh sure, almost everyone can suggest using them as projectiles or to decorate your neighbor’s porch, but we’ll focus our attention on ways you might actually like eating them.
Yes, they are food. Good food, too. After all, they’re low in calories and high in vitamin C, plus a bunch of trace minerals. On top of all that, for good or for bad, they are part of the summer trio — tomatoes, corn, and zucchini — that most people would prefer as just a duo.
This idea came to us the other day when we were making the Green Tomato Relish, exactly as we tasted the vegetables as they were draining. That combination of tomato, onion, zucchini, and salt was so good, we had to restrain ourselves from eating the mix before it became relish. Which is a good thing, since we really wanted to make this salad using the same combination.
Ah, the flavors of summer. Use fresh and ripe tomatoes. We doubt that you’ll be able to find such a thing at a store; we know we can’t, so head out to your local farmers’ market, or if you’re lucky enough, your tomato patch out back, and get some that are perfectly ripe. Fresh mozzarella is quite different from that rubbery ball you sometimes see in the cheese aisle. It’s quite soft to begin with, and a lot milder in flavor. A lot of times it’ll be packed in a little tub of water, and there are some fresh versions that are in packages similar to the rubber-ball-like mozzarella that are pretty good — the fresh mozzarella definitely won’t bounce if you dropped it on the floor, making it easy to tell from its rubbery kin. For the bread, we use pieces of our homemade bread, which is chewy and crusty. Wonder Bread is not suitable for this, or any, purpose. Either make it yourself, or see if you can find a version that you like. For the balsamic vinegar and olive oil, use something that is nice-flavored, and that you like. The quality of these two ingredients are all over the map, from downright terrible, to too expensive to be worth it, so be careful. We use Queen Creek olive oil, since it’s milled fairly close by, and Trader Joe’s Gold Quality Balsamic. It’s a pretty good vinegar for the price.
Procedure in detail:
Soak onions. We think that the reason that many people, one of us included, don’t like raw onions on their salads is that they’re too onion-y. Yes, we know they’re onions, but they can make the salad seem like an onion fest. So, what we did was simply to soak the onion slices in cold water for about 15 minutes. It’ll leach out some of that harsh onion flavor, making for a better pairing with the other ingredients found in salads. Once soaked, rinse and drain the onions.
Salt. In a medium bowl, toss the zucchini pieces and onions with the salt, trying to get them evenly coated, then cover and let stand for about 1 hour. This will draw out some of the moisture, plus it’ll eliminate the corky texture that zucchini has when it’s first cut. If you want, you can stir the mixture from time to time, but it’s not really necessary.
Drain. Drain the zucchini and onion mixture in a colander. If you want, you can give it a quick rinse to eliminate some of the salt. (Hint: taste the vegetables now; if they taste salty, rinse, otherwise just let them drain.)
Layer bread. Place a layer of bread pieces on the bottom of salad bowls. Tear the pieces so they look kind of rustic, and it’s okay if they’re a bit dry, or even just a bit stale (not too stale, mind you). If you want, you could even lightly toast the bread pieces. A few minutes under the broiler should do it.
Build salad. Once the bread is down, top with the zucchini onion mixture, the tomato wedges, and the mozzarella pieces.
Drizzle. Finally, drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil and serve immediately with salt and pepper for seasoning.
This turned out better than we expected. Salting the zucchini and onion changed the taste and texture, making for a better-tasting squash. In fact, it was hard to tell that it was really zucchini at all. Soaking the onions, followed by salting, makes them nice and mild; plus, they lose some of the crunch, giving them the texture (but not taste) of a lightly-pickled onion. Much nicer than just plain raw slices of onion. Bread might be the most surprising ingredient, and we wouldn’t have thought of it ourselves, except that we had a bread salad once at a restaurant — it was surprisingly good — and have waited for the proper time to try our hand at making one. Between the bread, mozzarella, and zucchini, this is a salad that will function nicely as a main when you want something light. Perhaps to save room for dessert; don’t worry, we won’t tell a soul. Five stars.