Three key ingredients take zucchini to new heights in this convenient and economical side dish that is destined to become a seasonal standout.
When it comes to delicious, healthy recipes, my friend Justine has a few up her sleeve. From the time I went out on a limb and made her Cauliflower Fried Rice, I was confident that her recipes could be trusted.
The following recipe is another example of how Justine lets vegetables be the star in a filling and flavorful way.
Grilling is an ideal way to add sweetness to vegetables that tend to be bitter and adds extra flavor to veggies that tend to be bland. Zucchini falls into the latter category, and it’s this lack of strong flavor that makes the summer staple so versatile.
Topped with tangy cheese and syrupy balsamic, this seasonal side dish was a hit with my family from the first time I served it. That was back in 2014, and I’ve been making it ever since.
Since that first time, I’ve taken to slicing the zucchini in different ways and often using pure maple syrup instead of honey in the balsamic syrup. Both work well, although I gravitate slightly towards the former for the way its caramel-like undertones add nuanced flavor to the tangy balsamic.
Either way, when reduced, the result is a drizzle-able sauce that adds tangy-sweet excitement to the blander zucchini. With a light tang of its own, creamy goat cheese, is the crowning touch. Feta cheese will accomplish a similar result. (For locals, we are big fans of Linden Dale Farm’s goat cheese feta, which is available at Lancaster Central Market and Lemon Street Market.)
Conveniently, the balsamic syrup may be prepared in advance, making a last-minute assembly of this dish quite easy. You may also find yourself drizzling leftover syrup on sliced tomatoes (or a Caprese platter with tomatoes, sliced mozzarella, and basil), chicken, pork, fish, roasted vegetables like Brussels sprouts, a variety of salads – even juicy strawberries and vanilla ice cream. Recently, we’ve enjoyed the balsamic syrup over Lemon Herb Chicken and Grilled Flank Steak.
For a light but satisfying and super speedy meal, top a bed of arugula or mixed greens with leftover sliced steak, chicken, salmon, or shrimp. Add a few quartered cherry tomatoes, a couple tablespoons of crumbled feta or goat cheese, and toasted walnuts or nuts/seeds of choice. Then use the balsamic syrup as a vinaigrette. If you have leftover grilled zucchini, chop it and add some of that too.
For a meatless meal, use the zucchini as the centerpiece of that salad, adding cannellini beans or chickpeas for a protein source. If you’re inclined, roasting the beans will provide an extra element of flavor and crunch.
If you make this salad, please comment and give it a 5-star review if you enjoy. (You will!) Your feedback is always appreciated! 💚
- ⅓ cup (80ml) balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoons (40) pure maple syrup or honey
- 3 medium zucchini (about 1¼ pounds)*
- ½ teaspoon each kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon (14ml) olive oil
- ⅛ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
- 2 ounces (½ cup) crumbled goat cheese or feta, more or less to taste
- Optional garnish: a sprinkle of chopped, fresh basil
Prepare the balsamic syrup: (Prep ahead tip: the syrup may be prepared well in advance and stored in a jar in a cupboard. It will keep for several months, so feel free to make a larger batch.) Place the balsamic vinegar and maple syrup or honey in a small pot. Bring to a boil over medium heat, and then reduce to a gentle simmer, stirring often. (See notes.) Simmer until the mixture is reduced by approximately half, stirring occasionally. The balsamic mixture should be slightly thick and coat the back of a spoon. It will thicken a little more as it cools. (Tip: If using a kitchen scale, you can weigh the pot before simmering and stop simmering when the weight of the pot has reduced by about 50 grams, or just under half the initial amount of ingredients.)
Prepare the zucchini: Slice the zucchini lengthwise, about ½-inch thick. Toss the zucchini with the salt and let it drain in a colander for 15-20 minutes. Pat the zucchini dry (this will help it sear better on the grill), and then in a large bowl, toss with the oil, black pepper, and red pepper, if using. (I like to mix with my hands to make sure that the oil is evenly dispersed among the slices. If in a hurry, you may skip the draining step, although removing excess moisture enhances the texture of the grilled zucchini.)
Cook the zucchini: Heat the grill (or grill pan) to medium-high. Cook the zucchini for 5-6 minutes on the first side before flipping, and then cook for another 3-5 minutes on the second side. The zucchini should have nice grill marks on each side and be tender but not mushy. Tip: Leaving the slices undisturbed while cooking will produce nice grill marks.
Serve and enjoy: Arrange the zucchini slices on a large plate or platter. While the slices are hot, sprinkle with the crumbled goat cheese, and then drizzle with a few tablespoons of the balsamic syrup, reserving any leftover syrup for future use. Finish with a sprinkle of chopped, fresh basil, if desired.
* For colorful appeal, I often use two zucchini and one summer squash.
When simmering the balsamic syrup, err on the side of thinner than you think, as the mixture will thicken slightly upon cooling, and you can always put it back on the stove or simply enjoy a thinner syrup. If you reduce it too much, it will become too sticky to drizzle.
Helpful hints: A very gentle simmer over medium-low heat (or whatever heat will achieve this on your stove) minimizes vinegar fumes and possible scorching of the pan. To easily clean your pan if it becomes scorched (the vinegar mixture can leave a burned residue around the edges, although this is a good anytime tip), cover the affected areas with a paste of baking soda and water and let sit for an hour or more. If the residue doesn’t scrub off easily at this point, scrub with a crumpled piece of aluminum foil, adding a bit more baking soda, which acts as a gentle abrasive, as needed. (For nonstick or ceramic pots, use a scrubber that is appropriate for those pans, as the crumpled foil will scratch them.)
Recipe first posted July 22, 2014; original photo below.