Sauteed zucchini seems hardly a dish to excite the palate–unless the clever cook deploys a bit of acid (tomatoes), a hit of garlic, and an herbal surprise (mint). Mint and its cousins, pennyroyal and calamint (mentuccia or nepitella in Italian), pop up in vegetable dishes all around the Mediterranean. Commonly paired with artichokes, mushrooms, and onions, herbs in the menta family are ideal partners to mildly flavored squashes.
I grow several varieties of peppermint and spearmint, and the tall-growing, thick-leaved variety called “wooly mint” (Mentha suaveolens, also known locally as “Spanish spearmint”, related to the hierbabuena of Spain) is especially suited to cooked vegetable dishes. Its leaves aren’t as tender as typical spearmint (Mentha spicata) or peppermint (Mentha piperita), so it should be finely chopped before it is added to food. Mint varieties are easy to grow as perennials; most are a bit shade-tolerant, spread rapidly, and can survive in the coastal South without supplemental watering, fertilizer, or attention.
This slightly moist vegetable dish pairs nicely with grilled meats. Adding a little extra tomato puree and a sprinkling of grated pecorino turns it into a lovely, light pasta sauce.
Zucchini with tomato and mint
- 3 T olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced into 1″ chunks
- 4 T tomato puree (canned is fine)
- 1/4-1/2 tsp salt, to taste
- 1-3 T mint, finely shredded (taste mint prior to using to determine its strength)
Heat olive oil in a deep skillet; add garlic and saute over medium heat until fragrant. Increase heat and add zucchini; cook until zucchini softens slightly. Some browning is desirable. Add tomato puree, salt, and mint, stirring to coat all zucchini chunks. Cook until tomato puree thickens slightly and zucchini reaches the desired texture. (I prefer it slightly firm, which takes less than 15 minutes. Longer cooking will release significant liquid and soften the squash into a near puree.) Serves 4-6 as a side dish or pasta topping.