Quick and Easy

The Most Flavorful Zucchini is Also the Simplest Make-Ahead Side

July 29, 2015

Every week, Food52's Executive Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: The genius summer side you can make whenever you have 15 minutes, and then completely forget about.

Maybe you have an avowed zucchini hater on your hands and you are determined to prove him wrong. Or your garden is exploding. Or your neighbor's garden (or C.S.A. or farmers market)—they too are probably exploding.

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There are so many reasons to want the squash in your life to deliver more—more flavor, texture, excitement—and this is a much simpler request than you realize.

To get more flavor out of zucchini, you might have tried letting it soak in a marinade for hours before throwing it on the grill (you're not alone) or drumming up a distracting sauce. Or my time-tested technique, called: Adding more butter.

There's a much better way that you probably haven't thought about, because people won't usually tell you to serve zucchini long after it's been cooked. It's time for that to change.


People who tell us what to eat seem to think we have an aversion to letting cooked food sit around. If we are to believe TV commercials, Americans want their meals flash-fried, crisp-tender, fresh-cut. In one wing of my family, restaurants are judged by how steamy the bread basket is when it's set on the table. For some reason, fajitas are served to us still-sizzling, even though this defies all rules of resting sizzled meat.

As many of us have realized, however, a lot of food tastes better after it sits a bit, letting time finish the job we started. (For an entire cookbook on the subject, check out Cucina Fresca by Viana La Place and Evan Kleiman.) Flavors develop with time, and all their nuances come out when they're no longer steaming like a lobster topper.

This marinated zucchini from Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton at Canal House is a star example: Cook split zucchini briefly in a hot frying pan till just tender, then douse it in red wine vinegar, olive oil, garlic, basil, salt, pepper. Then go on about your business.

The extra advantage to strategically letting cooked food (like this zucchini) sit is that you no longer have to be cooking 'til the last minute. This also means you'll have more chances to sneak a taste and know what you're getting—and tweak as you see fit.

Because the zucchini is already cooked through and relaxed, the marinade seeps in more quickly and thoroughly than had the order of operations been reversed. The zucchini boats become bright and aromatic, but hang onto their fresh structure and sweetness. It's pretty much the simplest, best summer side, whether you're serving it to a dinner party, your family, or just you.

And despite everything I just said about eating them room temperature, they taste pretty fantastic cold the next morning for breakfast, too.

Canal House's Marinated Zucchini

Slightly adapted from Canal House Cooking Volume No. 8: Pronto! (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2013)

Serves 2 to 4

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 pound small zucchini, trimmed and halved lengthwise
1/2 clove garlic
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
A small handful fresh basil leaves, sliced

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

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thanks to our Design & Home Editor Amanda Sims for this one!


Photos by Mark Weinberg

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Susan CItron
    Susan CItron
  • MM
  • Susan W
    Susan W
  • Shelley Sorani
    Shelley Sorani
  • Two Trays Kitchen
    Two Trays Kitchen
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Susan C. August 19, 2016
Terrific, simple recipe to do ahead but pulled back a bit on the vinegar..although the brightness it provides is refreshing, some in our house just don't like it! maybe should boil it down as suggested in more traditional variations? thought the basil was perfect herb accompaniment.
MM August 12, 2016
Yes! I made a variation of this in a cooking class in Piedmont, Italy this summer. As another poster said, it is a classic Italian dish, and as I was taught, the marinade (white wine vinegar, white wine, TONS of fresh sage, garlic, etc) is first boiled. I believe it's traditionally made with either sage or mint. This variation looks great too, but I definitely prefer the tang and slightly ascerbic quality of the fresh sage or mint, as opposed to the milder basil. If you thinly slice your zucc, you can then pile em on crostini with some fresh ricotta ... But this is sooo delicious, it really doesn't need any more gilding!
Susan W. August 12, 2016
This looks great. I sigh every time I have zucchini in the house. I think I'll grill it with eggplant. Yum!!
Shelley S. September 7, 2015
I'm sorry, guys. I love Food 52 -- have three of their cookbooks -- but my husband's grandmother made Zucchine Marinate for years and years (and she passed away almost 45 years ago. It's an old Roman Jewish recipe and the thing that really makes it is that you must saute the zucchine with garlic (it's Italian!!) and boil down the red vinegar to get rid of that harsh, acidy taste before you marinate the zucchine with it. Try it! É molto meglio!! Squisito!
Two T. August 17, 2015
Loved it!
Jeff August 2, 2015
Works with eggplant too. Do zucchini, eggplant, onion, pepper on the grill, then douse with marinade off choice, and let sit until ready to eat!
Franca August 2, 2015
My mother always did her zucchini this way in the summer as a side to roasted meat. Although my mom replaced the basil with mint.
Sunnycovechef August 2, 2015
I'm going to try it with some fatter , bigger zucchinis I got from my friend's garden. I'm going to slice them into rounds.
Gal July 31, 2015
Fresh, modern and very Italian. I prepared this last nigh. And let me tell you, when I was done, this dish looked like it came out of a magazine cover. That’s how beautiful it was! The dish came out wonderful,
so fragrant and flavorful! It was VERY delicious. It was so simple to make. The only difficult part was to wait 1 hour to let the zucchini marinate.
A true genius recipe and absolutely a keeper!!!
AntoniaJames July 30, 2015
We liked this a lot! Perfect for serving with a pasta main dish. The perfect springboard for variations, e.g., subbing for the basil some fresh oregano + mint along with a touch of lemon zest and tiny bits of feta, using cilantro + lime vinaigrette with a hint of cumin and coriander, going Cuban with lime/orange vinaigrette + fresh oregano and cumin, etc. ;o)
Fairmount_market July 29, 2015
Looks wonderful. Thanks for helping with the zucchini glut.
mbobden July 29, 2015
Has anyone tried grilling them instead of pan cooking. Wonder if the grill flavor will overwhelm the dish.
Love2Cook August 13, 2015
Brush the vegetables (zucchini, eggplant, onion, peppers, and mushrooms) with a bit of olive oil, then grill them till tender. Douse with marinade/dressing and let them sit (if you can wait).
Smaug July 29, 2015
The whole "serve it right away" is one of the many problems of letting restaurants tell you how to eat. Time is money in a restaurant; it's just time at home, and cooking is a pretty good way to spend it.
AntoniaJames July 29, 2015
Seriously, yes. I have been trying to decide what to serve with the Genius Nigel Slater Bolognese this evening. Problem solved! Thank you. ;o)
Jane K. July 29, 2015
Thanks for sharing this Kristen! I can't wait to make it this weekend.
jenniebgood July 29, 2015
Yum! Kristen - any chance you can share where the plate and serving platter are from in the pic above? Thanks - Jennie
Kristen M. July 29, 2015
The serving dish is Mud, the salad plates are mix and matched from Crate and Barrel, and the cute little stamped plate that has the candle on it is Art et Manufacture from our Shop: https://food52.com/shop/products/2201-porcelain-dessert-plates-set-of-4
em-i-lis July 29, 2015
I am SO excited to see this. I recently had a dish very much like this (but with mint instead of basil) at an incredible restaurant here in DC. Have been meaning to try and recreate but here you are with this beauty. Thank you!!
Kristen M. July 29, 2015
Oh good! There are other variations out there, but this is the simplest I've found and so good.