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An Impressive-Looking, Incredibly Forgiving Way to Cook Zucchini

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After five years of following to the letter Chad Robertson’s recipe for eggplant involtini, an endeavor that requires salting, draining, and deep-frying, I branched out—first dipping in a toe (opting to roast instead of fry) then jumping into the deep end: Zucchini replaced the eggplant, and the filling materialized from a sweep of the fridge, a mix of fresh corn polenta, mozzarella, cilantro, and Swiss chard (which had to be revived from near-death in cold water first).

Zucchini Involtini with Swiss Chard & Ricotta
Zucchini Involtini with Swiss Chard & Ricotta

This haphazard assembly ultimately baked beautifully, the coils emerging from the oven with surfaces bronzed, creamy filling spilling into a bubbling tomato sauce.

While I likely will never recreate this version, I learned a lesson: The involtini format is a forgiving one. I’ve since made several variations, some more successful than others. These are my observations:

• A creamy-textured base like ricotta (or polenta) is essential, but the additions can vary endlessly: herbs (parsley, cilantro, chives), vegetables (sautéed mushrooms or greens, roasted red peppers), cheese (cubed mozzarella or fontina, grated Parmesan), and nuts (toasted pignoli or walnuts) will all provide depth of flavor and a welcome textural contrast. An eggplant caponata or a roasted eggplant "caviar" might work, too, though I haven't tried (and something like this might need to be mixed with some breadcrumbs to give it a little more body).

Homemade ricotta is a treat but is by no means necessary—store-bought, whole milk varieties work fine. And though I haven’t tried this using jarred tomato sauce here, I feel homemade sauce is important: Fresh sauce keeps this dish tasting bright and summery, despite its homey nature.

Left, long slices of zucchini are roasted until flexible enough to roll. Right, the zucchini rolled around a creamy filling and nestled in sauce, ready for the oven. Photos by Alexandra Stafford

When selecting your zucchini, look for long ones, which will allow you to create long slices, which help keep the coils sealed during the rolling process.

Don’t be tempted to overfill. Two heaping teaspoons seems to strike the right filling-to-wrapper ratio. Too much filling, moreover, makes the assembly difficult, and it ultimately can’t be contained by the narrow strip of zucchini. If you find yourself with extra filling on hand, save it, and on a subsequent evening, spoon it into halved bell peppers, and roast them in the same manner (in a dish slicked with sauce) until bubbling.

Zucchini Involtini with Swiss Chard & Ricotta

Zucchini Involtini with Swiss Chard & Ricotta

Alexandra Stafford Alexandra Stafford
Serves 3 to 4
  • 1 pound zucchini, about 2 large
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly cracked pepper
  • 10 ounces Swiss chard, leaves removed and finely chopped, stems reserved for another use
  • 1 1/2 cups high-quality whole milk ricotta
  • Zest from one lemon
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups favorite fresh tomato sauce
  • Parmigiano Reggiano, for serving, optional
Go to Recipe

Alexandra Stafford is a writer, photographer, and occasional stationery designer based in upstate New York, where she is writing a cookbook. You can read more of her work on her blog.

What is your garden loading you down with these days? (Zucchini, perhaps?) How are you cooking it all? Tell us in the comments.

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Automagic Spring Menu Maker!

Tags: Vegetable, Fall, Summer, Vegetarian