To start, toast up some panko breadcrumbs 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 but 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 11/2 to 2 tablespoons.
The crumb mixture is glued to the zucchini sticks using a basic breading technique. You dip them first in flour, then egg, then the breadcrumbs. If you skip the flour, the crumbs have a tendency to fall off. Then put them on a rimmed baking sheet and pop them into the oven for 8 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.
CHEESY ZUCCHINI FRIES WITH SMOKED PAPRIKA DIPPING SAUCE
Start to finish: 35 minutes
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
5 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and ground black pepper
1 large egg, beaten lightly with 1 tablespoon water
3/4 pound zucchini, peeled and cut into 16 equal sticks
1/4 cup light mayonnaise
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon hot smoked paprika
Heat oven to 450 degrees. Coat rimmed baking sheet with olive oil cooking spray.
In large skillet over medium heat, cook panko, stirring frequently, until toasted, about 3 minutes. Transfer to shallow bowl and stir in Parmigiano-Reggiano and oil.
In another shallow bowl, combine flour with garlic powder, then season with salt and pepper. In a third shallow bowl place egg mixture.
Working with several zucchini sticks at a time, toss them in flour, shaking off excess. Add flour-coated zucchini to egg mixture and toss to coat well, letting excess egg drip off. Finally, place them in panko mixture, tossing to make sure they are coated well on all sides. Arrange fully coated zucchini sticks in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Bake, turning once, until golden and tender, about 8 minutes.
While zucchini is baking, in small bowl stir together mayonnaise, lemon juice, garlic and paprika. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle cooked zucchini lightly with salt and pepper, then transfer to latter and serve immediately with sauce.
Nutrition information per serving: 290 calories; 120 calories from fat (41 percent of total calories); 14 g fat (3 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 55 mg cholesterol; 34 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 10 g protein; 500 mg sodium.