It's right around this time of year when I start making one of my favorite salads with my farmers market's harvest of young zucchini and squash. But there's one vital ingredient that really makes it sing. The secret to eating zucchini raw: mix it with cheese.
Feta cheese isn't typically the kind of cheese that can transport you to a deep palatal place, but there's something terribly effective about the simple combination of that vegetal, green quality of zucchini and such creamy, briny cheese.
In winter months, when seeds in the center are fully-developed and the thought of eating zucchini raw is as appealing as eating raw eggplant, I roast zucchini with olive oil until charred and sweet. While still hot, I toss it with feta, just barely crumbled, and fresh mint, which nearly sizzles when it hits the oil. This is the summer version, only applicable in this season because the squash is so young and sweet, resembling an entirely different vegetable from what you find in the winter,
This summer version is superb because of the produce, but what blows it out of the water is the feta. Go heavy on the cheese, and toss thoroughly to encourage the cheese to break down a bit and meld into a coating for the zucchini. And as always, high-quality feta is a must. I love a Bulgarian feta from my local market that tastes more creamy than salty. Go for a more mild feta, which will let the lemony flavors sing more brightly.
The trick to making the zuchinni so carpaccio-worthy is to turn it into shoe strings. It's easiest to do this with a mandoline, but careful knifework can do the trick as well.
Use this recipe as a quickie template for other summer produce—subbing out the zucchini for grilled eggplant, peppers, okra, or sweet onions, halved cherry tomatoes, fresh corn off the cob, or even watermelon, peaches, or summer berries. There's something totally delicious about the way the feta combines with the lemon juice and olive oil that makes for an insta-creamy dressing, and its versatility is endless.
You can amp up this salad with more herbs—the basil, parsley, and mint trifecta is excellent—or by piling it onto an olive oil-soaked crostini. Toasted nuts would be nice, too, but this carpaccio is great on its own, with a mere handful of ingredients. Just don't forget the feta.
Crostini with Zucchini Squash and Feta
5 very small zucchini or squash
Zest and juice of one lemon, plus more juice to taste
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3/4 cup crumbled feta
1/2 cup packed parsley leaves, or 1/4 cup thinly sliced mint or basil
1 baguette, sliced into thin rounds and toasted
Thinly slice zucchini or squash lengthwise into 1/8" slabs. Lay 4-6 slabs on top of one another at a time and then slice lengthwise in 1/8" intervals to yield thin strings. Transfer to a bowl and reserve. Dress just before serving to retain a bit of crunch.
Add lemon zest and juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Toss to combine. Gently fold in feta and herbs and taste for seasoning, adding additional lemon juice, salt, or pepper if necessary.
Pile atop baguette slices to make crostini or serve as a side salad on its own.
Nora Singley used to be a cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray's Cheese Shop in New York City. She is currently a TV Chef on The Martha Stewart Show.
Related: Zuchinni, Five Ways
(Images: Nora Singley)