Zucchini is well-loved by gardeners everywhere for its willingness to produce fresh squash in large quantities in almost any climate. Keeping up with their exuberant growth can be difficult for a few weeks each summer, but it's a good problem to have. Dredging the squash in cornmeal and flour and pan-frying it is one easy preparation method, and makes a good side dish for many summer meals. If you don't keep plain cornmeal on hand, a cornbread mix will also work.
Although zucchini is a versatile vegetable, it does present a few modest issues for the cook. One is its high moisture content, which can result in a wet texture that some diners find unpleasant. Zucchini also has a very mild flavor, which can be perceived as "watery" if it's simply pan-fried. A simple coating of breadcrumbs or cornmeal can overcome those problems. The outer coating quickly sets to a crisp texture, which provides a pleasant contrast with the soft flesh of the zucchini itself. It also develops a toasty, nutty flavor that complements the bland squash.
Scratch vs. Mix
A coating composed entirely of cornmeal, even finely-ground cornmeal, would be rather crunchy after cooking. Home recipes usually mix the cornmeal with flour when coating zucchini or other vegetables, which produces a lighter crust with a more delicate texture. Cornbread mixes follow a similar course, combining roughly equal amounts of cornmeal and wheat flour. They also add small amounts of salt, sugar and fat, which help the crust brown more effectively and provide the zucchini with additional flavor. Some brands are also vitamin-enriched, which can increase the zucchini's nutritional value.
Preparing the Zucchini
To prepare the zucchini, slice it crosswise into thin rounds or lengthwise into long strips. Fill a plate or shallow bowl with the cornbread mix, and dredge the slices in the mix. Shake off any excess, and fry them in a skillet until golden brown. The zucchini should have enough moisture of its own to hold the mix in place, but if you prefer you can dip the slices first in milk, buttermilk or a beaten egg. When you dredge the slices in the cornbread mix, the extra liquid will help form a thicker, crunchier crust.
The Batter Option
Dusting your slices of zucchini with the cornbread mix replicates the traditional style of fried zucchini, but it's not the only option. You can also prepare your cornbread mixture according to the instructions on the package, and dip your zucchini in the batter. Batter-fried zucchini are slightly heavier and more filling than the coated version, but have a sweeter and nuttier flavor. They also stay crisp longer than the coated version, which is quickly softened by the steam escaping from the zucchini.
- On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen; Harold McGee
- Mother Earth News: Summer Squash Time of Year
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