Friday, December 14, 2012

My New Favorite Method to Preserve Zucchini

It's the annual dilemma for vegetable gardeners who grow zucchini - what do you do with all of them? I have a bunch of favorite zucchini dishes that we look forward to indulging in when the zucchini start rolling in. And then we eat those dishes again, and perhaps yet again, and then I start looking for new ways to prepare zucchini. And then the zucchini start piling up in the refrigerator. And then I get a bit tired of finding yet more zucchini in the garden when the fridge is already full of them. But I have to harvest them, you know what will happen if you leave them on the vines. And yet, I don't want to alienate friends and neighbors by offing the excess zukes on them. I don't want to give them all to the chickens or toss them in the compost. What to do?

I usually make a batch of Preserved Zucchini which turns a lot of zucchini into a little bit of zucchini and keeps forever (seemingly) in the refrigerator. It's a delicious way to preserve zucchini, but I can only make and eat so much of it. Once upon a time I used to eat Zucchini Bread and I would make extra loaves to freeze and also grate extra zucchini to freeze to make more bread. But I don't eat zucchini bread any more so that option is gone. I've made bread and butter pickles with them, but again, those aren't part of the current diet plan so I didn't use up any of the zucchini that way this year. Then I stumbled upon the idea of sun-dried zucchini.

Now, sun-drying anything isn't going to happen in my climate. Things might eventually dry if left out in the sun when it shines, but make the mistake of leaving something out overnight which I inevitably do and the fog rehydrates it. I do have an electric dehydrator, but the sound of that fan going day and night and day and night - nope! But... I did a lot of experimenting with oven-drying tomatoes and peppers this year, with very satisfying results. Why not try it on zucchini too?

My first attempt at the process was to slice the zucchini on an angle in 1/4-inch thick pieces. That's super easy if you have a mandolin. I lightly salted both sides of the zucchini with kosher salt to draw out some of the water, laid the slices out on parchment paper on a baking sheet and popped them in a 200ºF oven. Things went along well, the top sides of the zucchini dried quite nicely, but then I had to turn them all over and dry the other sides. The end product was great but the process, um, too fussy.

Round 2. Sliced and salted in the same way and laid out on a cooling rack set on a baking sheet and popped into a 200ºF oven.

And they dried in half the time without needing a turn. Doh! If I remember correctly, the drying time was just a couple of hours or so. When done some of the slices may be dried to a state of crunchiness and others more leathery. Don't fret about the differences. First pop one of those crunchy slices in your mouth and have a taste. Surprisingly yummy! It might be tempting, but you don't have to eat all the crunchies. Just toss the crunchies and the leatheries together, seal them into a jar and let them be. After a few days the more moist slices will have given up some of their moisture to the crunchy slices and in time they all get to the same state of leatheriness.

So, here's a pint jar filled with what started out as a few pounds of fresh zucchini.

I've got another 2 1-quart jars filled with more dried zucchini.

So what do you do with all that dried zucchini? My first experiment was to make a small saucepan of fresh tomato sauce and toss in some dried zucchini slices and stew it all together. As the sauce cooked down the zucchini absorbed some of the moisture and plumped up a bit, it became more tender but remained chewy. After a while I cracked an egg into the middle of the pan, covered it up and let it simmer until the egg had set. Voila, Eggs in Purgatory with dried zucchini. The zucchini was a delicious addition to one of my favorite dishes for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The next experiment was to rehydrate the zucchini in hot water while I put together a fresh tomato sauce. This time I added other vegetables to the mix to make a vegetable stew. Rehydrating the zucchini a bit first allowed it to cook more quickly, and again, it was a delicious addition to the stew. I really like the texture and flavor of the dried zucchini when it is cooked in a sauce, whether it is rehydrated first or not. It is nothing like fresh zucchini, the flavor is more concentrated and it has very pleasing chewiness that fresh zucchini can never have.

I've read about another preparation that I want to try, first the zucchini is rehydrated and then it is sauteed with seasonings until it is browned a bit. And I have no doubt that the zucchini would be a great addition to a pot of soup. And I saw another use for dried zucchini as a substitute for noodles in lasagna. I think I'm going to have to try something like that, pasta is also not part of the current eating plan and I do miss it. Cooked dried zucchini has a texture very similar to al dente pasta so it could be a good substitute. Oh my, I don't think I dried enough zucchini to get me through all these experiments.

How about you, have you tried or do you think you want to try dried zucchini? Do you have any more ideas for using it?


  1. I wonder if you could make a vegetable chip out of them by slicing them micro thin and dehydrating until crunchy. I like crunch salty snacks, but most of them are bad for you.

    1. I think that would probably be a great way to make zucchini chips, the thick crisp slices are good, I'm pretty sure the thin sliced zucchini would be even better. I'll have to remember that for next year.

  2. The last time I dried zucchini I thought it was bitter. Perhaps it was the variety that was to blame. I have had good luck with dehydrating most everything else, including eggplant. I may have to give it another try next year.

  3. Just when I was worried that my zucchini's were becoming rampant you post this - very timely - thankyou!


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