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Sautéed Zucchini with Basil, Mint, and Capers

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If you're like us, you look to the seasons for what to cook. Get to the market, and we'll show you what to do with your haul.

Today: Associate Editor Marian Bull redeems her past zucchini failures with a dish that won't turn to mush -- and you'll want to keep making all summer.

Sautéed Zucchini on Food52

One time I was 22 and standing over a hacked pile of summer squash and a rickety stove, in a ‘70s green-and-red kitchen in North Carolina. Likely sweating.

Picture me taking forty minutes to cook myself a dinner that should have taken ten, picture pounds of zucchini refusing to brown, picture my roommate coming in, inquiring kindly about all of the fuss I was making.

Picture acute shame, the sort of shame that arrives when you’re caught indulging in an obsession -- like a tween boy caught with his dad’s Playboys, only instead of centerfolds your red hands are holding a dull knife and a pan full of mush.


I ate the mush unceremoniously, very unlike those women in movies who delight in eating alone, each bite considered, eyes closing with joy every now and again. These women are usually French. My mush and I hated these women. I did the dishes and wondered what it was all for.

More: If mush is your thing, that's cool. Here's some zucchini butter for you.

Every time I cook zucchini now I think of this, of the awkward pubescent stage in my struggle towards competent food preparation. The feelings of: Why am I spending so much time on so little? Why can’t I simply boil some pasta and then go out and have a life? I didn’t have a handle on cooking but I couldn’t let go of it; it felt like more of a bad habit than a hobby. 

Somehow I kept at it and ended up here, here being a place where I sometimes feel competent in the kitchen, and sometimes make things that I like. 


So just as you might, say, reintroduce jelly sandals into your wardrobe as an adult to give a gentle hug to the awkward young middle school you that wore them once -- I have reclaimed sautéed zucchini. 

This Deborah Madison recipe does all of the things I had wanted to do to my cucurbits on that night of frustration: It browns them with ease (by holding back the salt until the last minute, keeping floodgates of water at bay). It does not turn to mush. It employs something that Kenzi has come to call a knife pesto, and I have come to shower over all of my vegetables: a few handfuls of herbs, chopped and strung together with capers, garlic, and oil, stirred into the pan at the last minute. 

Like any good summer vegetable, a plate of this is best enjoyed with your favorite bread, torn by hungry hands, and a glump of pillowy ricotta. Don't be stingy with your olive oil.

Sauteed Zucchini with Basil and Mint

This summer, with my zucchini game on lock, I have more time to focus on other efforts, like drinking spritzes and eating ice cream and laying in the park near my house, grass flush against my back. I'll walk home and eat zucchini alone, not romanitcally or gallically, but with the smug satisfaction that I've one-upped my past self. I'll finish the whole thing with no shame.

Sautéed Zucchini with Mint, Basil, and Walnuts

Adapted very lightly from Deborah Madison's Vegetable Literacy

Serves 2

1 pound zucchini (or any summer squash), sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 small cloves garlic
10 mint leaves
5 basil leaves
1 heaping tablespoon capers, rinsed
2 tablespoons walnuts or pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 to 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Additional mint and basil, torn, to garnish 
Ricotta and your favorite bread (optional)

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Eric Moran

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Automagic Spring Menu Maker!

Tags: Zucchini, Summer, Weeknight Cooking, Vegetarian, Long Reads, Editors' Picks, Ingredients