When my grandmother made her fried zucchini salad, we were usually spending the summer at our Brookfield, CT vacation house that we all called “the farm” because it had 72 rolling acres, orchards, a cornfield and a huge vegetable garden. As the zucchini came in, she and my mother made stuffed, fried, or baked zucchini dishes in an attempt to use up this overly bountiful garden vegetable. One of my favorites was fried zucchini salad, a marinated zucchini dish that called for mounds of fried zucchini rounds steeped in a vinegar, basil, garlic, parsley, mint marinade. It tasted wonderful, but let’s face it, everything drowning in olive oil tastes delicious. But could I lighten up this dish and have it still keep the original flavor. Hmmm. We will see.
Today no one wants to fry anything, so I decided to try and make this dish using zucchini rounds baked in a hot oven until they became crisp and golden. Did it work? YES IT DID. I feel proud for changing a favorite traditional dish into a lighter version that everyone can enjoy without guilt. I can honestly say that the baked version tastes exactly like the fried version that I remember from summertime on our farm.
3 medium zucchini (you can increase this if making for a crowd)
1 large clove of garlic, pressed
1 handful of fresh mint, chopped
1 handful of fresh basil, shredded
2 tbsp of Italian parsley, finely chopped (optional)
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup to 1 cup of wine vinegar
2 or 3 tsp of olive oil
Olive oil spray
Preheat the oven to 425º. Line two or three baking sheets with foil. Spray foil with olive oil spray and rub sheets all over with 1 tsp each of olive oil. Set aside.
Wash and dry each zucchini. On a large vegetable chopping board, slice the ends off each zucchini and slice into 1/4 inch rounds. When all the zucchini is sliced up, remove it to a large bowl. Dry the chopping board with a paper towel. Lay three sheets of paper towels over the board and lay out zucchini rounds until the entire surface of the paper towels is covered.
Dry the rounds with paper towels. Salt the rounds. Lay fresh paper towels over the rounds. Lay another layer of zucchini rounds over the paper towels and then dry them with more paper towels. Salt them. Continue with paper towel layers until done with all the slices. Place fresh paper towels on the top of the last layer. Place a big wooden chopping board or baking sheet on top and weight it down with heavy cans as in the picture. Let the zucchini rest and give out its water for 30 minutes.
Then remove all the paper towels and dry the rounds one more time. This helps to keep the zucchini from becoming so watery that it will not brown as it bakes. As I was doing it, I wondered if this paper towel method would work, but it did seem to dry out the rounds when I took off the towels and dried the rounds one last time.
Lay the rounds in a single layer on the oil sprayed baking sheets. Spray the tops of the rounds with more olive oil spray. (I use a special sprayer that I fill with my own extra virgin olive oil.). Place them on the bottom rack of the preheated oven and bake for 10 minutes. After ten minutes I checked them. They did not seem at all brown on top, so I set the timer again and checked again after 5 minutes.
If they look too wet and underdone, try not to panic or ask yourself “what ever possessed me to bake enough zucchini rounds to kill an army and now they are not getting brown?” No, instead take deep breaths, put the baking sheet back in the oven, set the timer for 10 more minutes and check it in five. I did check and the bottoms were now golden brown. The tops were not, but I took them out anyway. The tops were slightly brown, but the bottoms were gorgeous and looked as if I had fried them. I was thrilled.
You may have to do this in several batches because you can only bake your rounds on the bottom rack and not bake them with one sheet on the bottom and the other on the top rack; otherwise, neither sheet will bake properly. This sounds annoying, but honestly it works and you will be so happy once it works.
While the zucchini rounds are baking, chop the mint, parsley and basil. Press the garlic. Mix herbs and garlic together, place in a small bowl and set aside. Boil the vinegar for 5 minutes and set aside.
When the rounds are golden brown on the bottoms, remove the baking sheets from the oven and slip the rounds off the sheet using a spatula. Place them in a baking dish. If you look at the picture you can see that they are golden brown and look almost fried, but they aren’t. How great is that?
In the baking dish, sprinkle each layer with some of the pressed garlic and herbs that you set aside earlier and spray each layer with more olive oil spray. With three medium zucchini, I ended up with enough for three layers, so I divided the herb garlic mix into threes. When all the herbs have been sprinkled on and each layer has been sprayed with the olive oil spray, pour the boiled vinegar over the top. Gently toss the zucchini rounds in the marinade mixture. Place in a glass bowl or plastic tupperware and cover tightly. Chill in the refrigerator. This marinated zucchini salad will last for two weeks in the fridge.