The side I originally served with Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic was shredded sautéed zucchini with tomatoes and basil. While it’s a very good dish, in retrospect, I don’t think the Italian bent in the zucchini matched the flavors and French feel of the chicken. My goal for the vegetable served alongside this flavorful garlicky chicken was something that would play backup well while offering a bit of contrast in flavors. While any simply prepared vegetable would work nicely, I also wanted something that my guests probably hadn’t made for themselves.
I do like the shredded sautéed zucchini, so I didn’t want to completely alter my original meal plan. I love when vegetables get just a little crispy and browned, and something about shredded zucchini instead of slices makes me happy. All of the prep work for this dish can be completed a few hours before dinner, which means the vegetables just need a quick stay on a hot burner and a few turns before they’re ready to be served.
The problem is that it’s not a simple task getting something as watery as zucchini to caramelize. Just like cabbage, the best way to get water out of zucchini is to sprinkle some salt on it and set it aside in a strainer. Then squeeze the hell out of it. I made only two servings of this recently, and squeezed out almost half a cup of (vividly green) water.
The original recipe makes this a bit more work than I like to put into a side dish. For one, it gives instructions for shredding the zucchini by hand. That isn’t happening; that is why I have a food processor with a shredding disk. You’re also supposed to discard the watery middle of the zucchini where the seeds are, but I disregard that too, so that I can just throw the whole vegetable through the feed tube of the food processor.
Once the zucchini are shredded and squeezed, you can mix them with your flavorings and some oil and set them aside until you’re ready to cook them. For serving with the chicken, I like to use just olive oil and minced shallots with a bit of lemon juice squeezed on at the end. It’s the perfect side dish – interesting and flavorful on its own right without overpowering the star of this show, which is the chicken.
Zucchini with Shallots and Lemon (adapted from Cooks Illustrated)
Bridget note: Five zucchini for four servings sounds like a lot, but you lose a lot of volume with the water, so it really is the right amount. I’ve added all of the oil to the zucchini mixture and added all of that to a preheated, non-oiled pan, and that works too.
5 medium zucchini (about 8 ounces each), ends trimmed
2 shallots, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1-2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice from 1 lemon
Ground black pepper
1. Shred zucchini with shredding disk of food processor or large holes of a box grater. Toss zucchini with 1½ teaspoons salt and place in colander set in medium bowl; let drain 5 to 10 minutes. Wrap zucchini in kitchen towel, in batches if necessary, and wring out excess moisture.
2. Place zucchini in medium bowl and break up any large clumps. Add shallots and 2 teaspoons oil to zucchini and toss to combine thoroughly.
3. Heat remaining 1 teaspoon oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat. Add zucchini mixture and spread evenly in pan with tongs; cook without stirring until bottom layer browns, about 2 minutes; stir well, breaking up any clumps with tongs, then cook until “new” bottom layer browns, about 2 minutes more. Off heat, stir in lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.
For the tomato-basil variation: Combine 3 cored, seeded and diced plum tomatoes, 1 clove of minced garlic, 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar, 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, ¼ teaspoon salt, and 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves in small bowl and set aside. When the zucchini has finished cooking, remove it from the heat and stir in tomato mixture and salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to serving platter, sprinkle with ¼ cup finely grated Parmesan, and serve immediately, drizzling with additional olive oil, if desired.
Just about any dessert works well with this meal.
Many wines work well with this meal, but I especially like full-flavored whites such as Chardonnay, and medium-bodied reds such as Pinot Noir.