There is an endless crop of tender sweet zucchini right through from early summer until the first frosts in late autumn. The crisp, crunchy raw texture makes zucchini an excellent addition in salads and it’s indispensable in all those slow-cooked Mediterranean summer dishes such as ratatouille and tian. Its sweet, relatively bland flavour means you can also use it with equal success in a meat ragu, vegetable curry or stir fry as well as fritters, frittata, sweet and savoury muffins and other baking.

  1. Mediterranean vegetable tian This makes a delicious partner for a slow-cooked shoulder of lamb or a stand-alone vegetarian main. Sauté a couple of sliced onions and 2-3 sliced red peppers in a large ovenproof frying pan using a generous amount of olive oil. When they are nice and soft, take off the heat, season with salt and pepper and mix through a sprinkle of fresh thyme and rosemary leaves. Overlap slices of zucchini, eggplant and tomato alternately on top. Tuck a few basil leaves in between here and there. Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with more thyme and rosemary and drizzle over a generous lug of olive oil. Cover tightly and bake in a low oven (about 160 ̊C) for 2 hours then uncover and cook until all the juices have evaporated and the top is starting to caramelise, about 30 more minutes.
  2. This zucchini sugo has a creamy and meltingly tender texture which makes the most fabulous pasta sauce. Slice 4 or 5 zucchini and place in a pot with ⅓ cup olive oil, a few cloves of sliced garlic and a glug of water. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook over the lowest heat until zucchini are meltingly tender – they should literally be falling apart to mush. Toss through cooked pasta – no cheese required!
  3. Sicilian zucchini salad To make a dressing, soak 2 tablespoons currants in boiling water for 5 minutes then drain. Add 3 finely chopped anchovy fillets, a small clove crushed garlic, the finely zested rind and juice of a lemon and ½ teaspoon chilli flakes. Cut 4-5 zucchini lengthwise into ribbon slices using a mandolin. Season with salt, then grill or barbecue in batches on a lightly oiled hotplate until lightly charred on one side only, transferring them to a bowl as they are done. Mix through the dressing along with a handful of pistachio nuts and some chopped mint leaves.
  4. Baked ricotta-stuffed zucchini flowers Make a filling for your flowers with a pottle of ricotta, a couple of cloves of garlic, the finely zested rind of a lemon, some chopped fresh thyme or basil and enough grated parmesan to make the mixture tasty – about ½ cup. Season with salt and pepper. Carefully open the zucchini and remove the stamen (from male plants) and pistil (from female plants), stuff with the filling and twist the top to enclose. Drizzle with a little olive oil and bake for 15-20 minutes at 200 ̊C until lightly golden.
  5. Zucchini Tempura This produces a very light feathery batter which works so well on slices of zucchini. Make a tempura batter by whisking an egg with a cup of iced water, then add a cup of flour and a pinch of salt, loosely stirring it so it’s still lumpy. Dunk thin slices of zucchini into this lumpy batter and deep fry in hot oil until golden and crisp. Serve with a tempura dipping sauce made with equal parts soy sauce and mirin with a little fresh ginger and a pinch of instant dashi or some bonito flakes.

See also Annabel’s recipe for Fried Zucchini with Almonds & Mint on Avocado Tarragon Crema.

A celebrated Kiwi cook for the past 30 years, Annabel has published more than 30 cookbooks and co-produced three seasons of her award-winning TV series. She was welcomed into the Hall of Fame at the recent Women in Food & Drink Aotearoa New Zealand awards. See article for more.