Those darn zucchini! There's an army of them occupying your garden right now, and each one is as big as a blimp.
What if I told you there's a way to transform the whole lot of them into a delicious dish resembling french fries, but without all the calories? The secret involves cutting your zucchini into frylike sticks, then cooking them in a way that delivers that signature crunch, but without the deep-frying.
To start, you toast up some panko bread crumbs in a dry skillet, which ensures that the finished product — the breaded zucchini — has the toasted taste and color that everyone loves. Then you mix them with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, which not only contributes to that golden hue, it also makes everything taste better.
By the way, the amount of cheese you'll end up with depends on which tool you use to grate it. Cheese grated on a fine wand-style grater has two-thirds more volume than cheese grated on the fine side of a box grater. I used a wand grater, which is how I came up with the 5 tablespoons of grated cheese used in this recipe. Using a box grater, you'll only need 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons.
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The crumb mixture is glued to the zucchini sticks using a basic breading technique. You dip them first in flour, then egg, then the bread crumbs. If you skip the flour, the crumbs have a tendency to fall off. Happily, you can do the breading an hour ahead of time, then park the breaded zucchini on a cooling rack until just before dinner. This keeps the air circulating around the sticks so that they don't get soggy. Then just transfer them to a rimmed baking sheet and pop them into the oven for eight minutes.
The dipping sauce is gussied-up aioli. In truth, even basic aioli — or garlic mayonnaise — is just fine. But here I've added some lemon juice to cut the sweetness of the commercial mayonnaise, as well as some smoked paprika, one my favorite cupboard ingredients.
Paprika of all kinds is widely available. You'll likely be able to find excellent Hungarian and Spanish versions, both in varying degrees of heat, at your local supermarket. Undoubtedly, that ready availability explains why it's not unusual to find paprika gracing our french fries these days. Believe me, it's just as wonderful here.