I am legitimately excited about National Zucchini Day. I know, a savory national food holiday isn’t all that special–and to have it be a vegetable! But I really love zucchini. It sounds weird, I know! But their mild flavor is perfect for stir-fry dishes and I’ve found a lot of great ways to use them in other meals, as well. (I once made a stuffed zucchini–it was so delicious!) When I was a teenager my parents were told by their doctor to start a lower fat and sodium diet to battle high blood pressure, and one of the foods he recommended they incorporate into their diet was zucchini. I took to it way better than they did, and now a Chinese stir-fry doesn’t feel complete if I don’t have a few half-moons of zucchini in the mix.
Although you can find the squash vegetable in grocery stores throughout the year, it’s best to get zucchini during the summer months when it’s in season. The general rule is, the smaller the veggie, the bigger the flavor: farmers will harvest the little ones for stir-fries and salads while letting big ones grow bigger to be shredded and used in zucchini bread and casseroles. You can eat both the fruit of the plant and the blossom, which is commonly stuffed, breaded, and fried for a mildly sweet appetizer. And it’s eaten all over the world, from Mexico–where the flowers are used as a filling for quesadillas–and Italy (where the zucchini gets its name) to Turkey, Egypt, and Greece, where they are used much like eggplants. Zucchini is also super easy to grow in temperate climates, so if you’ve got a balcony or backyard garden, these are great for urban farming!
But let’s get back to what we’re really here for: eating. Zucchini is used in culinary cultures all over the world, in some of the most ingenious ways. Celebrity chef Jehangir Mehta (I still remember his loss in the Next Iron Chef finals!) has made an incredibly unique dish involving the veggie, mixing a very familiar New York food staple with his own nouveau-Indian style. The result is a zucchini hummus pizza, topped with crushed wasabi peas. Instead of regular pizza dough, Mehta uses phyllo type bread, and creamy hummus replaces the typical tomato sauce. It’s not like anything you’ll get at a regular pizzeria, but that’s what makes it special: the smoky, spicy flavors of the hummus and the wasabi peas work so well on this piece. The zucchini may not be the star here, but with the light char on the grilled medallions, it definitely brings another layer of flavor to the dish. Just don’t ask for the waiter to give you a shaker of Parmesan cheese for the pie!
Graffiti Food & Wine Bar
224 E 10th St (between 1st Ave & 2nd Ave)
“Another highlight is the zucchini pizza topped with crushed wasabi peas. See my homage to this dish in my zucchini roll recipe. This is not one’s ordinary vegetable pizza. I’m a believer of using a pizza as a vehicle for other cultural foods. The pizza dough is a flaky and crunchy puff pastry of sorts. On it is spread homemade hummus, sliced cooked zucchini, and crushed wasabi peas. The silkiness of the hummus provided a velvety lushness to the dish and textural contrast was exhibited from the wasabi peas.”–Peck The Beak
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“zucchini hummus pizza: this was probably the highlight of the meal. pizza in the most unique form. using phyllo pastry sheets instead of pizza dough, smeared with hummus, topped with zucchini & crushed wasabi peas. it was delicious and fun with a perfect balance in flavor and texture!”–Diana Y.
“This might be my favorite restaurant in the city. Everything is lovingly prepared and wonderful in a surprising way. Take the zucchini-hummus pizza: doesn’t sound like much at all, yet it is one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten. The menu is small but everything on there is absolutely amazing. Also don’t miss their lychee prosecco cocktail.”–Magnus V.
Another, more popular reimagining of familiar American foods to accommodate the mighty zucchini is zucchini fries. These are SO good! I love making them myself, with a little assembly line of flour, egg, and breadcrumbs, then dropping the little zuke sticks in my pan of oil (I don’t deep fry) and waiting till they’re crispy and golden, but still have a slightly undercooked snap to the middle. Many restaurants in New York make zucchini fries, but none are so acclaimed as the fries at Moo Burger in Cobble Hill. These little zukes are harvested fresh and local, deep-fried to perfection, and served with a cool tzatziki sauce (my favorite!) Any place that serves me tzatziki with my zucchini fries is high on the list of “best places ever!” The burgers here are nothing to sneeze at, either: they use all organic ingredients here, with a wide range of burger meat (you can try ostrich or elk!) and freshly baked brioche buns. This is definitely a higher level of burger here in Brooklyn, and it’s worth checking out, even for a day.
240 Court St (between Baltic St & Kane St), Cobble Hill
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Moo Burger was the BEST burger I’ve ever had. Oh my gosh I couldn’t stop eating it! I got a burger with provolone, mushrooms, caramelized onions and arugula. It was cooked perfectly and all the flavors blended together so well. I love that they have a large array of different meats–lamb, beef, salmon, bison, etc. etc. I know that when I go back, I won’t be just trying the same old burger with different toppings. In addition to the burger, I got zucchini fries, which came with a tzatziki dipping sauce. They were delicious as well. I had to battle my boyfriend for the last one :)”–Mariana R.
“I’ve never been one to like burgers or fries but thanks to Moo Burger I’ve been converted! All organic ingredients, a brioche bun and the juiciest burgers around. I never feel guilty after eating here, even after inhaling a basket of crispy zucchini or sweet potato fries along with my meal. (Bonus: the zucchini fries come with a creamy yogurt cucumber sauce and the sweet potato ones hot maple syrup!!)”–Lauren B.
As I said before, not only is the fruit of the zucchini plant edible (and delicious), but so are their flowers. Squash blossoms are a big thing in Italian and Mexican cuisine, especially when stuffed and fried. They give a milder zucchini flavor to dishes with an unmistakable floral taste. And of course, the best way to make anything taste good is to deep fry it! That’s just what the chefs at Crispo do to their zucchini flowers. The blossoms are stuffed with cheese and lightly breaded before being sent into the fryer, making them crispy, yet still maintaining their fresh flavor. If you think you’ve had zucchini every which way you could imagine (and are still bored!), you have to try the zucchini flower.
240 W 14th St (between 7th Ave & 8th Ave)
“I started the meal sharing an order of zucchini flowers which were stuffed with ricotta and mozzarella and lightly fried. They were served with a little tomato salsa. I always love seeing zucchini flowers on the menu. For me, they are like soft-shell crabs–a sign of spring/summer–and I always feel the need to order them when I see them on the menu. These were very well-prepared, though I kind of wanted the filling to be a little lighter. Maybe just a little less of it would have been fine. But they did a good job with the frying. The flowers were still very light and they were crisp on the outside and tender on the inside.”–New York Eater
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Despite some poor reviews here on Yelp, both my friend and I were very happy with our meal. We started off with some zucchini flower which was lightly battered and fried and stuffed with cheese. I’ve never had zucchini flower before but I will definitely order it again, especially if it’s prepared this way.”–John D.
“We had: gorgonzola stuffed olives, zucchini flowers, beet salad with cheese fritter, and the risotto balls before dinner. Was surprised the zucchini flowers were battered and fried, but the batter was very light (consistency of tempura) and it did not have a particularly fried taste.”–Cherie M.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!