Our Super Simple Sides takeover week is almost over, so before we wrap, get the last of your summer squash on deck for some simple Sautéed Zucchini. Basil, garlic, and just a bit of char from the skillet add depth to the veggie’s buttery, rich flavor. So good! And even better? Depending on how fast you can cut a zucchini, this easy side is ready in as little as 15 minutes.
We’re going to end this week on a high note, because I just had a neighbor bring me some of her final crop of zucchini. Not to suggest I don’t love all the cozy seasonal sides we’ve served up this week to help transition to fall but having one final burst of summer is always nice.
I know I spent all week highlighting how simple and versatile these easy sides are – and that they could literally be served with just about anything – but sometimes it’s nice to plan a menu in reverse and think about what main dish goes with your sides instead. Zucchini just happens to be one of my favorite veggie sides to do this with. Why? Well, I have a tiny confession…
Normally, usually, most days, I am striving for harmony in the recipes I create and the meals I eat. Making sure that tastes and textures don’t work against each other is one of several golden rules in my kitchen. Take this particular recipe. I help balance the soft texture and mild flavor of zucchini by searing it, then pairing it with complementary, fresh leafy herbs.
One might assume that because zucchini is, in general, a super mellow veggie, that I’d be keen on pairing it with something on the other side of the culinary spectrum…but one would be incorrect.
This may just be me (give it a try if you haven’t and see if you don’t agree), but I like pairing zucchini with other mild, almost buttery foods. Including – and primarily, as fate would have it – those with similar textures. This is why recipes like Ratatouille work as a whole meal. Perhaps some will think this a cardinal sin, but if this is my worst culinary sin, then I’d rather go to my grave with this over gas station sushi any day.
My go-to’s for sautéed zucchini: eggs (they’re not just for breakfast!), fish, and eggplant. And if done right, it’s like eating haute cuisine without 6 lbs. of butter and cream in each dish. Try it on the side of a fresh herb omelet with Boursin, or pan-seared scallops and a touch of pesto, or a breaded eggplant cutlet with tapenade and tell me they don’t go together.
My point in sharing all this (aside from putting scandalous, mouth-watering thoughts in your head) is that just because you’ve got fast, easy side dishes in your arsenal now, doesn’t mean you only use them when you’re short on time. And it certainly doesn’t mean you always have to look for balance in opposites. The existence of yin and yang as a concept doesn’t presuppose the existence of harmony in a yin and yin scenario.
Got that nugget of wisdom from a fortune cookie.
Sautéed Zucchini Ingredients
- Zucchini: cut into wedges, then into ½″ wide bite-sized pieces. Keep the skins on for flavor, texture, and nutrients (and because zucchini tends to fall apart without the skin holding it together).
- Olive Oil: use high quality olive or avocado oil.
- Garlic: fresh or jarred, as long as it’s minced.
- Fresh Basil: coarsely chop, but not too much – bigger pieces yield bigger flavor.
- Salt and Pepper
How to Make Sautéed Zucchini
In less time than it even takes to get your grill fired up, Sautéed Zucchini – with the perfect amount of seared crust – can be on your plate. Mild-mannered squash transforms into a super easy side with help from sidekicks like fresh basil and garlic in just about 15 minutes! Heck, if you’re using minced garlic instead of cloves, it might even take you less time to cook than it does to prep. Just don’t forget to put down your spatulas and let that char build while sautéing.
- Heat a 12″ skillet over high heat. The skillet is hot enough when you sprinkle a bit of water and it immediately evaporates.
- Add the oil and heat until it shimmers.
- Add the zucchini to the skillet, toss once to coat in the fat, then distribute into an even layer. Sauté undisturbed for 3 minutes.
- Toss once more, then sauté an additional 3 minutes undisturbed. At the end of 6 minutes, the zucchini should be charred in spots, but still quite firm and shouldn’t be releasing water content.
- Make a well in the center of the pan. Add the garlic and sauté, stirring continuously, for 1 minute.
- Stir the garlic into the zucchini and sauté 2 minutes more, then remove from heat.
- Season with salt, pepper, and fresh basil.
Tips for Making This Recipe Perfectly
- Size matters. Bigger isn’t always better. Smaller zucchini have less water content – they’ll brown better and have more flavor.
- Shape matters. Sautéed zucchini is often sliced into whole coins. It’s very delicious cooked this way, but you have to sauté them in a single layer for best browning. By slicing into bite-sized triangles, you can sauté an entire batch of zucchini in one pan, all at once, with the same buttery charred flavor.
- High heat. This means both cooking over high heat and giving the pan (and oil) ample time to heat as well.
- Don’t stir too much. Zucchini is 95% water, and largely flavorless without help. The help here? CHAR! The natural sugars in zucchini will char over high heat and create delicious flavor. That char only comes from sustained contact with high heat.
- Use a large skillet. More surface area = more char = better flavor. Sauté your zucchini in a 12″ skillet for best results.
- Season with salt at the end. Salt draws out moisture, which isn’t a benefit in this recipe. Wait to season until the zucchini is cooked.
Make It Your Way
- Add grated parmesan cheese just before serving.
- Don’t have basil? It’s okay to skip it or substitute with another soft, mild herb like parsley or dill.
- A splash of lemon juice. Sautéed zucchini is rich and surprisingly buttery. A splash of acid stirred in at the end can offset that richness if desired.
- Sprinkle with toasted pine nuts.
Other Simple Sides You’ll Love
- Maple Cinnamon Roasted Sweet Potatoes
- Garlic Green Beans
- Extra Crispy Rosemary Potatoes
- Honey Roasted Carrots
- Sautéed Zucchini and Corn
Did you make this Sautéed Zucchini? I’d love to know how it turned out! Leave a comment and a rating below.
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- 3 small to medium zucchini, diced (about 1 lb)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- Sea or kosher salt, to taste
- Freshly ground pepper, to taste
- Chopped fresh basil, to taste
- Heat a 12” skillet over high heat. Add the oil and heat until it shimmers.
- Add the zucchini to the hot skillet, toss once to coat in the fat, then cook undisturbed for 3 minutes. Toss once more, and again saute undisturbed for an additional 3 minutes.
- Make a well in the center of the pan. Add a tiny splash of olive oil if the pan is dry, then add the garlic. Sautee, stirring constantly, for 1 minute or until very fragrant. Stir the garlic into the zucchini, saute 2 minutes more, then remove from heat.
- Season with salt, pepper, and fresh basil. Serve immediately.
- High heat is the key to charred, not watery, zucchini. The pan is hot enough when a sprinkle of water immediately sizzles and evaporates. Give the oil at least 30 seconds to a minute to heat up.
- Storage: we find that pan sautéed zucchini doesn’t store well, and only recommend making what you’ll eat in a single meal.