I bet I'm not the only one who's missed a perfectly tender small zucchini at it's best in the garden, only to discover a monstrous beast that is nowhere near small enough to fit into the crisper drawer in the fridge. Seriously, how do zucchini get so big so fast? In the past I've always banished the monsters to be shred and used for baking, but I read a recipe recently that recommended them for baked zucchini fries. Now, I have made a few versions of baked 'fried' zucchini, and they just aren't good enough. I grew up enjoying some real pan fried zucchini as a treat in the summer, so my standards are pretty high. But given my new trust in the Southern Vegetarian, I figured if any baked fries are to be good, it's those created by these authors. And not only were they good, they were incredible. The zucchini almost melted inside the crunchy coating, and seriously had the texture of a french fry. I couldn't believe it. I have never been successful at hiding vegetables in things, but my 2 year old totally bought that these were french fries. She ate no less than 10 of these (dipped in ketchup of course), and was begging for more. My husband went on and on about how amazing these tasted. My view of monster zucchini has forever been changed, and I had a new found happiness when I discovered another big one in the garden last night. Guess what'll be on our table tonight???
Baked Zucchini Fries
-adapted from the Southern Vegetarian
- 1 monster or 2 largish zucchini, peeled and cut into french-fry sized pieces, or 3 ish cups (about 3-4" long by 1/2" thick)
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1/2 c. flour
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1 t. kosher salt
- 1 t. Italian seasoning
-1 1/2-2 cups panko breadcrumbs (these are really crispy large Japanese breadcrumbs, found right with the other breadcrumbs in the store. Totally awesome, and they will ratchet up any breaded thing you make about 10 notches. I keep 'em in the freezer, as I do all dried goods after I open them and use them straight from there. They last a lot longer, and will keep you from the disappointment of tasting staleness).
-Parmesan cheese for garnish (allow me to request that you buy a block of parmesan and get out your Microplane or fine cheese grater for this. It will make a ton of difference in flavor and texture. You can wrap that block in waxed paper and stick in a baggie in the fridge when you are done and it will stay fresh for a long time, so don't use the excuse that it's "too much" cheese to buy. Sometimes it's better to do things the old fashioned way. This is one of those times. End of rant.)
Grab yourself a large (gallon sized) ziploc bag, or a large bowl (but the ziploc will be less mess, more fun, and a kid can help.) and mix together the flour, salt, and Italian seasoning. Add the zucchini sticks, seal the bag, and shake away to coat the zucchini evenly. In one shallow dish (I use a pie plate for this), beat the egg and milk together, and in another dish right next door, add the panko. Get out a baking sheet and line it with parchment paper. Now it's time to set up a little breading station for yourself. Line up your ziploc of zucchini, followed by the egg/milk, then the crumbs, and finally, the baking sheet. The next 5 minutes will require use of both your hands, so get your kids occupied/distracted before you start. I, for one, am not super nice when I get interrupted in a task like this...have to wash my hands, intervene, wash my hands again, blah blah (Being a food safety freak is exhausting, people). I digress. Dip each piece of zucchini in the egg wash and then coat completely in the panko, and place on the lined baking sheet. You are going to do this lovingly with every single piece of zucchini in that bag, or until you run out of room on your sheet. Make sure the zucchini stays in a single layer on your baking sheet. They can be crowded, but you don't want them touching--kind of like when you are in an elevator with a bunch of strangers. If you run out of room and still have zucchini, get another sheet (why don't people do this with clearly over-crowded elevators? Just wait for the next one!). I learned a little tip from my years of Food Network watching that makes this whole breading process easier, and that is to have one hand as the 'wet hand' (gets zucchini out of bag, plops in egg to coat, drops into the panko without touching said panko), and the other as the 'dry hand' (rolls in the panko and places on sheet). This prevents you from breading your hands. Once you have all the 'fries' on the sheet, drizzle evenly with the olive oil. I personally use 1 T. at a time (so you need 4 to make 1/4 c.) to ensure more even drizzling and reduce the possibility that I will actually dump the entire 1/4 c. on one row. Pop 'em in a 415 degree oven for 15 minutes, flip them over, and cook 5-10 minutes more, or until they are golden, crisp, and lovely. Sprinkle immediately with Parmesan (bust out that block, hold it over the pan while you grate away your desired amount) and serve with your choice of dipping sauce. I was in the mood for a tomato sauce, had no time or plan, so I just opened a jar of my current favorite pasta sauce (Trader Joe's Creamy Tomato Basil), warmed it up, and called it good. Ranch would be an excellent choice, or better yet, both of them. Options are good. OK, now that I'm done typing this out I'll say what you are thinking: "That sounds like a lot of work". It's not as bad as it sounds, I promise. I had the zucchini in the oven 10 minutes after I peeled it, but it is a lot of steps and you can't really do this ahead. So, I understand your dilemma. There is much to be done, especially at this time of day. You will just have to decide if it's worth it for you. It definitely was for me.