Zucchini is affordable and almost comically abundant, especially if you have a garden or know somebody who does. Having worked for food websites for more than 20 years, I know the stuff is popular—based on the astronomical number of times readers click on zucchini recipes every summer.
Is zucchini really that beloved, or could it be that all of those internet searches mean that I’m not the only one who’s been looking for a magical way of making zucchini that’s not soggy, watery, mushy, bland, and just plain meh? Well, my search recently came to an end—I finally found the trick for turning these always-available vegetables into something I can’t wait to eat.
This Is the Perfect Way To Cook Zucchini
I’ve finally found the most magical way to cook zucchini: It’s as simple as cranking up your oven. The secret to zucchini with the best flavor and texture is roasting it in a 450°F oven.
Roasting zucchini at a high temperature instead of baking or sautéing helps develop browning and a slight char on the outside, which keeps it from getting soggy. It also concentrates the flavors, giving this subtle veg a little more oomph.
I tested batches of zucchini in an oven set to 350° F and at 450°F. The zucchini cooked at the higher temperature was juicy, not watery, and sweet and nutty. Bonus points for the fact that they cooked faster too!
“The texture you can achieve at a higher temperature is a lot less soggy, and the flavor is much more complex,” says Olivia Roszkowski, chef-instructor of Plant-Based Culinary Arts at the Institute of Culinary Education.
“Since zucchini contain a large amount of water content, utilizing a higher temperature allows the moisture to evaporate at a quicker rate, allowing the zucchini to brown. It also shortens the cooking time.”
Roszkowski explains that the nutty, sweet notes that the browned zucchini takes on are a result of the Maillard reaction, which creates many new flavor molecules.
How To Roast Zucchini
The 450°F roasting method works whether you are cooking zucchini spears, halved zucchini, zucchini rounds, or even whole zucchini.
All you have to do is slice the zucchini into your desired shape, drizzle with oil, season, place on a baking sheet cut-side down, and pop it in the oven until it’s nicely browned and tender. This can take 15 to 35 minutes, depending on the size of the zucchini.
If you want it browned on both sides—say, if you are cooking rounds—flip the pieces halfway through.
More Chef Tips for the Best Roasted Zucchini
For the best roasted zucchini, keep these tips from chef Roszkowski in mind:
- Preheat the baking sheet in the oven while the oven is preheating for a quicker, more even roast.
- Be mindful when cutting the zucchini up. “Smaller and uneven pieces can burn more easily.”
- Don’t overcrowd the pan, which can cause the zucchini to steam instead of roast.
- Unless you have time to salt and drain the zucchini, wait to salt it until after they’re cooked so the salt doesn’t draw out the moisture in the oven—this can lead to sogginess. You can add other seasonings, such as dried herbs and spices, before cooking.
- For extra crunchy zucchini, Roszkowski suggests tossing them with a teaspoon of cornstarch after you oil them.
20 Ways To Use Perfectly Roasted Zucchini
In the spirit of abundance, here are so many ideas for enjoying your roasted zucchini:
- Toss with chopped fresh herbs, such as basil, tarragon, parsley, or cilantro, plus some minced garlic.
- Toss with pasta, toasted pine nuts, fresh lemon juice, olive oil, and a generous amount of grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese.
- Season with za’atar, drizzle with tahini, and serve on a veggie plate with hummus, feta, tabouleh, and olives.
- Use as a panini filling with fresh mozzarella, tomato, and basil.
- Stir into cold sesame-peanut noodles.
- Use as one of the veggies in bibimbap.
- Add to succotash.
- Serve with an egg fried in chili crisp—a brilliant idea I borrowed from senior editor Myo Quinn.
- Chop and add to grain bowls or salads.
- Top pizzas, flatbreads, or tarts.
- Dress with your favorite vinaigrette.
- Use as a filling for empanadas or calzones.
- Make a tasty low-carb lasagna.
- Blend into the patty mixture for homemade veggie burgers.
- Use as a taco filling with seasoned black beans, queso fresco or cotija, and fresh cilantro.
- Make a quesadilla with corn, peppers, and melty cheese.
- Toss with your favorite store-bought sauce and serve over noodles or pasta—some of my personal faves are Rao’s marinara, Maya Kaimal’s madras curry, and Lahtt Sauce’s chili oil sauce.
- Add to an omelet or frittata.
- Toss with chickpeas roasted with curry powder and serve with rice or naan and a dollop of yogurt.
- Top toasted bread smeared with chèvre for a simple open-faced sandwich.