Baked, not Fried

Nutrition for foodservice professionals was one of my first 2 classes when I started culinary school.  I was fascinated by the many ways chefs are able to reduce fat and sodium and add flavor to dishes in healthful ways (and then I took Intro to Baking, where it all went out the window).  My dad had a mini-stroke about 5 years ago and has been on a low sodium diet ever since, so my mom and I have had many discussions about ways to not only reduce salt on a daily basis, but also foods that actually pull salt out of your body.

With my focus on healthy cooking, I almost threw this recipe into the recycling bin.  It was on the back of 1 or 2 recipes I did try, but since this one called for deep frying, I pretty much ignored it.  It’s from All You, and many of their recipes are submitted for publication by home cooks, so they aren’t always particularly healthy.

http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/zucchini-fries-chipotle-mayonnaise

But then there was a zucchini leftover from Spaghetti Minestrone just languishing on my counter, and a giant tub of Costco Mayo sitting in the basement fridge (I will use it up before it expires!).  I looked at that recipe again and again while deciding what recipe to blog next, and I finally said to myself, Why don’t I just bake them?

Ingredients

1 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon minced canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce, plus 1 tsp. sauce
2 teaspoons lime juice
2 large zucchini (about 1 lb.)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
2 large eggs, beaten
1 cup panko
1/3 cup grated Parmesan
Vegetable oil, for cooking

Preparation

1. In a bowl, mix mayonnaise, chipotle, adobo sauce and lime juice. Cover and chill.

2. Trim ends from zucchini. Cut in half crosswise, then in half lengthwise. Cut each piece lengthwise into 4 sticks; trim away seeds. In a large ziploc bag, mix flour, 1 tsp. salt, pepper and Italian seasoning; seal bag and shake to mix. Add zucchini sticks and shake until zucchini is coated.

3. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Put eggs in a shallow bowl; mix panko and Parmesan in a separate bowl. Working with a few at a time, shake excess flour mixture off zucchini. Dip zucchini into eggs, then into panko mixture, pressing to adhere. Lay pieces on lined sheet. Continue until all zucchini pieces are coated.

4. Preheat oven to 250ºF; line a baking sheet with paper towels. Fill a large straight-sided skillet with oil to a depth of 1/2 inch. Warm over medium-high heat until a candy or deep-fry thermometer reads 350ºF. Working with a few pieces at a time, fry zucchini for 2 to 3 minutes, turning often with tongs, until golden and crispy. Do not crowd skillet. Transfer to baking sheet; sprinkle with additional salt, if desired. Keep warm in oven while you cook remaining zucchini. (Be sure to bring oil back to 350ºF before adding a new batch.) Serve with chipotle mayonnaise.

I started the mayo dipping sauce as written here (half recipe, though, because I only had 1 zucchini), and it tasted like mayo.   I added the juice of 1/2 a decent sized lime and an entire chipotle chile, and it needed something more.  I added some of my cilantro salt (about 1/4 t) and another 1/2 teaspoon of the chipotle adobo sauce.  Jackpot! The sauce was creamy and zesty, and no longer tasted like jarred mayo.

On to the zucchini!  This I pretty much prepared as written, with the exception of using a Parm-Reggiano blend for the cheese.  After the standard breading procedure, I arranged the zucchini fries on the parchment-lined baking sheet and baked them at 400° F for 25 minutes (start checking them after 15 minutes depending on your oven and color of your pan– the darker the pan, the less time they take).

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Verdict:  I will make these again and again (I already bought 3 more zucchini yesterday)!  Crisp, golden texture and color.  The crunch of the coating with the pop of flavor from the cheese was delightful!  The mayo dipping sauce added a little heat and a yummy creamy element.  There was a little leftover sauce, which will keep fine in the fridge until the next time I make these (this weekend!). The only downside is that you’ll want to reheat any leftovers in the oven or a toaster oven to avoid soggy fries.  That wasn’t a problem for us.  We ate every last one!

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