Last week, I was foraging in my fridge, hunting for dinner ideas and grumbling about it. It was one of those sticky July weeknights when the idea of real cooking sounds awful. I opened the vegetable drawer to find the farm-fresh summer produce I’d giddily hauled home days ago, while envisioning all sorts of elegant dishes. In the face of those neglected veggies, my dinner grump instantly lifted, and I knew just what to make: The Amazing Zucchini-Tomato Thing.
I call it The Amazing Zucchini-Tomato Thing, because frankly, I think “recipe” feels a bit grand here. I first tried the dish in my early 20s, when I worked for a fancy movie director, who used to make it for us in her apartment at 11 p.m., after we’d both had way too much rosé (which is to say, it’s very easy). It works as a sauce for pasta or leftover chicken, or you can put it in a bowl with a fried egg on top, but usually, I just dump it on a plate and that’s that. I’ll then eat the leftovers cold from the fridge all week. It’s just that good. And unlike everything else I did as a twenty-something, I still enjoy it just as much today, as a frazzled parent. The only difference now is I make it at 5 p.m.
The Amazing Zucchini-Tomato Thing
Serves 4-5 (as a sauce or side) or 2-3 (on its own)
Is it elegant? No. But what The Thing lacks in Instagrammability, it more than makes up for in ease and yumminess. All that, plus it clears out your vegetable drawer. What more could you ask for?
1 pile o’ zucchini (approximately 1-2 if they’re biggies, or 3-5 if they’re smaller)
2-3 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup olive oil, or more, as needed
A pinch of salt
1 28-ounce can/box of tomatoes (diced, crushed or whole peeled is fine)
Wash zucchinis, and slice them into rounds roughly 1/4-1/2-inch thick. Don’t worry about uniformity. This is an unapologetically lazy dish, and the variety of sizes only benefits it.
Rough chop your garlic. (Chopped or sliced is ideal, but honestly, go ahead and use the garlic press if you want — this isn’t The Bear.)
Grab your widest saucepan, and add the olive oil. You want a good amount here — enough to cover the bottom of the pan and then some.
Put the oiled pan over a medium heat, and when it’s good and hot, add the zucchini slices. I like to start by making a layer of them in the bottom of the pan, overlapping if necessary, so the oil is mostly covered, and then scattering the rest on top along with the garlic and a sprinkle of salt. This makes it easier to avoid burning the garlic, without having to watch it super closely.
After a few minutes, grab a spatula and start scooping and flipping the zucchini in sections. Some should be starting to brown, while others might look soft for now. That’s okay — we’re cool with unevenness here! — but if any bits look scorched, dial down the heat. Wait another few minutes, then repeat. From here on out, all you’re doing is flipping those zooks until most of them are mostly browned. The thickest slices might still look a little pale and juicy and “undercooked,” while the thinnest ones will have fallen apart into darker, stringy, mushy bits — which is good! Your pan should look like a hot mess right now. If so, you’re ready for the final step.
Raise the heat to medium/medium-high and dump in your tomatoes. (If you’re using whole-peeled, you might squish them with your hands a bit first, but you can also smoosh them in the pan with the spatula. Just don’t forget to dump in the juice, too!). Let the zucchini-tomato mixture get sizzly, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes until it reduces a tiny bit to enrich the flavor. If you want to use this as a sauce or sauce-y topping, you can take it off now. If you want a thicker, more scoop-able side-dish (or main dish) then sizzle and stir on medium heat for another minute or two, just until it starts sticking to the pan slightly.
And that’s that! Take that baby off the heat and do with it as you like. On this particular night, I plopped it on top of rotini for an early family dinner with my husband and toddler. But later that night (not 11 p.m., but late enough) I came down to the kitchen for another helping. No pasta this time — just a nice, heaping scoop of The Amazing Zucchini-Tomato Thing in a cereal bowl, still cold from the fridge. Some things just taste better that way, right?
(Photos by Kelsey Miller.)