For those of you who can’t keep up with your summer zucchini bumper crop, there are a couple of things you can do besides baking your umpteenth loaf of zucchini bread. One? Give your zucchini to me! I will make it into zucchini butter, the savory, five-ingredient spread I can’t get enough of.
The other option is to make your own zucchini butter. You kinda have to, because I’m horrible and won’t share mine. It’s that good. I smear it on toast or sandwiches for easy lunches on hot days; sometimes I toss it with pasta, parm, and olive oil for a quick dinner. It keeps for about a week in the fridge and freezes well. And it’s a whole lot better for you than zucchini bread.
The Low-Effort Solution to Zucchini Overload
“It’s bigger than my femur.” That’s the caption my friend texted when she shared a photo of the giantest zucchini from her garden harvest. There is a way to prevent this sort of thing: harvest your zucchini earlier. But the best of intentions don’t always translate to garden activity.
Besides their daunting heft, giant zucchini present issues. Their insides can be mealy; their exteriors can be tough. Zucchini butter is the one preparation you can always count on to wrangle an overwhelming zucchini situation. You’ll be grating the zucchini and cooking it down, so any tough skins soften to a jammy paste. As for the mealy centers, I cut the sides off of large zucchini and discard the core, especially if it contains seeds that are large and developed (those won’t soften as they cook).
This idea came from a recipe in Marisa McClellan’s blog Food in Jars. She dices her zucchini, but I grate it because I find it cooks down faster. The concept of long-cooked summer vegetables is global, though. A similar recipe is the zucchini caviar in Olia Hercules’ “Summer Kitchens.” She adds carrot and tomato to hers. I pivot between variations, as zucchini butter is amenable like that.
Prep While You Cook
This recipe is especially fabulous because you can break all the supposed rules of good cooking and wind up with a superior result. Sure, you can grate all of the zucchini first and add it to the pan in one whole lot, but that mound of veg means the stuff on top won’t cook down until the stuff on the bottom does first.
Here’s what I do: I put olive oil in a cold skillet, turn on the heat, and then start grating my zukes. I add to the skillet as I grate, thereby overlapping cook time with prep time. Throw in a few sprigs of thyme and a few garlic cloves and all that’s left is to scrape the bottom of the pan from time to time to keep it from burning as it turns from grated vegetables to a mushy sludge. But don’t let its homely appearance fool you! The deep flavor and subtle sweetness of zucchini butter won’t win you over because of looks.
Swaps and Variations
This recipe is a template, a sliding scale depending on the amount of zucchini you have and the aromatics on hand.
- The fat: I use olive oil for its flavor, but you could use butter or a neutral oil instead.
- Herbs: In the summer I grow fresh thyme and grab a few sprigs. You can skip that or pivot to other woody fresh herbs like rosemary. If you’re adding chopped tender herbs like basil or parsley, add those at the end.
- Veg: You can grate fresh tomato into the pan for a little color and another layer of flavor. Or swap the zucchini for yellow squash.
- Bonus: Diced sundried tomatoes pretty this up if you feel it needs it.
- Spices: I often skip the black pepper for seasoning and instead add a few hefty pinches of crushed red pepper flakes.
Using Your Zucchini Butter
Good bread and zucchini butter are a match made in heaven. I like it on nearly any kind of toast. It adds a new dimension to sandwiches (an egg sandwich in particular) or avocado toast. Between that and the aforementioned “toss it into pasta”, what more do you need? If you dream up different uses, please share.
More Zucchini Recipes
- Cream Cheese Zucchini Muffins
- Air Fryer Zucchini
- Zucchini Walnut Pancakes
- Zucchini Fritters
Get the pan going:
Set a large skillet (a 12-inch diameter cast iron skillet is preferable) on a big burner and add 2 tablespoons of the oil. Turn the heat to medium.
Prep the zucchini:
Trim off any gnarly or dried-out parts from the stem end of the zucchini, then trim off the dots on the blossom ends.
If your zucchini is giant and has cavernous or mealy centers, cut off as much of the sides as you can and discard the center cores.
Grate your zucchini using the large holes of a box grater or a food processor. I got 12 cups grated zucchini total, but some variance is totally fine. Add the grated zucchini to your skillet as you go. Eventually you’ll see it wilting and hear it sizzling faintly in the pan.
Add the aromatics and season:
Bury the garlic cloves and thyme sprigs in the skillet of grated zucchini. Sprinkle the whole works generously with salt, and give it a stir.
Cook it down:
Stir the zucchini every few minutes as it cooks. You don’t want the bottom to burn. If it browns too much, reduce the heat; I reduce the heat incrementally the more the zucchini reduces. If it really sticks to the bottom of the pan, add a splash of water.
It can take anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes to get this zucchini butter to the jammy sludge you’re aiming for. The grated zucchini will more or less melt into oblivion. (I use this time to wash dishes and work on other recipes.) Your finished zucchini butter will be a dull green, greatly reduced in volume, and cohesive enough to be spreadable.
Finish and season:
Once it looks right to you, pull your skillet off the heat. Fish out the stems of thyme (the leaves will have long since fallen off). If you find the garlic cloves, mash them with a wooden spoon; they should be soft enough.
Add a good glug of fresh olive oil, perhaps a few more tablespoons. Then season with many grinds of pepper and a squirt of fresh lemon juice. Taste and adjust the seasoning with more salt as needed.
Your zucchini butter is now ready to use. I like it at room temp.
Once it’s cooled, transfer the zucchini butter to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 1 week. You can also freeze it for up to 6 months.
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