Chef Thomas Keller's recipe got me to embrace this everyday vegetable.
My family has a precarious relationship with zucchini. I want to love it so much, but I’ve had my share of mushy, flavorless zucchini, and some with rubbery, bitter skin. My four-year-old once said, “I guess I’m just not a joogeeneh kind of guy. Joogeeneh isn’t in my dictionary!” I can’t argue with the little guy—something about the texture and lack of flavor just doesn’t work. So I thought, maybe we’re not a zucchini family.
That changed recently when I saw chef Thomas Keller make the most delicious-looking zucchini on MasterClass. He browns the zucchini on the stovetop, then roasts them in the oven. That’s it? Yes, this simple one-two punch cajoles zucchini into something I may actually look forward to eating all summer long.
I was intrigued, so took a mental note to pick up zucchini on my next grocery run. Oh, am I glad I finally tried this last week—it’s so good I made it six days in a row.
What’s Genius About Chef Thomas Keller’s Roasted Zucchini Recipe
Zucchini is mostly water—about 95% water—which is why they will turn into mush if not cooked properly. Chef Keller’s approach to cooking zucchini with lots of heat—a quick sear on the stovetop followed by roasting them in a 450°F oven—is so smart.
It gives the zucchini a chance to brown or char before water starts seeping out. Then as they continue cooking in the high heat, they’ll get tender and soft, not mushy and squishy.
“It’s a really simple preparation using a vegetable that’s readily available. You really can’t beat it,” says chef Keller. And he is right—this has changed the way I cook zucchini and it’s converted me into a fan.
How To Make the Creamiest Roasted Zucchini
The method outlined below follows chef Keller's techniques for cooking the zucchini. He recommends adding garlic, herbs, and a vierge sauce (a French chopped tomato sauce)—it sounds delicious but fussy to me, so I skipped them. Instead, I topped my roasted zucchini with store-bought chili crisp.
2 or 3 medium zucchini
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons neutral oil, like canola, vegetable, or avocado oil
Chili crisp, for serving (optional)
Preheat the oven to 450°F with the rack set in the center.
Cut the zucchini in half lengthwise and use the tip of your knife to score the cut side in a cross-hatch pattern. Lay the zucchini cut-side up on your cutting board and sprinkle salt over them.
Let them sit for 10 minutes. Then use paper towels or a clean kitchen towel to pat as much liquid off as possible.
Set a large oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat and add the oil. Carefully tilt the skillet so that the bottom is evenly covered with oil.
When the oil starts to ripple, carefully add the zucchini cut side down, and let them get some color for 5 minutes. You don’t have to flip them. Use a fork or spatula to peak under one. You’re looking for just a little light brown as you can see in the image below.
Transfer the whole skillet (without flipping the zucchini—they should still be cut-side down) into the oven for 25 minutes. They'll come out deeply brown and sooo creamy.
How I Topped My Roasted Zucchini For Six Days in a Row
I’ve never eaten the same vegetable—cooked the same way!—for six days in a row. But these oven-roasted zucchini aren’t boring. Here’s how I ate them each day:
Day 1: Topped with my favorite chili crisp and rice on the side
Day 2: With two fried eggs on top and lots of cracked black pepper
Day 3: A generous drizzle of soy sauce, sesame oil, tahini, and furikake
Day 5: As a side for grilled chicken—you don't need any additional salt or seasoning
Day 6: With a fried egg cooked in chili crisp and way too many sesame seeds—I wouldn’t want it any other way