A few years ago, I wrote a cookbook on air frying. I vowed from the beginning to only develop recipes that benefited from being cooked in a special gadget by at least one of two metrics: The food is cooked dramatically faster than traditional methods — good for time-crunched cooks, or anyone who doesn’t want their oven on for hours in the middle of summer — or it drastically improves the quality or texture of the dish over other methods such as oven-roasting or actual deep-frying.
I was surprised to learn that all vegetables score high on both scales. In the air fryer, they cook faster and the high, dry heat circulating around them gets them golden brown to a degree that I’ve never achieved in a conventional oven alone.
I found squishy, spongy and sometimes slimy vegetables including eggplant, okra and, particularly, summer squash and zucchini are transformed completely in the air fryer, a vast improvement over their oven-roasted counterparts.
In an air fryer, they get blistered and caramelized and partially dehydrate — an effect of the fan in air fryers that blasts heat around them like a jet turbine. In the air fryer, more water inside the vegetables is removed, concentrating their flavor. Ever since, I have been air frying summer squash because its oft-maligned wateriness and lack of flavor is no longer an issue — and it takes half the time to cook.
This recipe can be made both in the oven and in the air fryer, but know that the oven method will take twice as long to cook the squash, and it will heat up your kitchen, unlike the air fryer. Either way, salt the chopped squash first to help draw out some of its moisture and season it to the core, ensuring it has maximum flavor. After squeezing and drying it, toss it with a little oil and roast or air-fry it until it’s golden brown and caramelized outside and creamy inside.
Growing up in the South, I ate more cream-soaked squash casseroles than I care to remember (Why soak something already so watery with more liquid?) so instead, I opt to balance the squash’s milky richness with a showering of extra-crunchy toasted breadcrumbs brightened with lemon zest and lots of fresh chives. It’s a treatment that — like air frying — improves the squishy lot in life that summer squash is given.
Air Fried Summer Squash With Chive Breadcrumbs
Time: 55 minutes. Yields: Serves 2
Zucchini, which is slightly hardier, will take a little longer to cook than softer yellow summer squash, so be prepared if you go that route. And although it seems like a lot of salt for the squash, it’s needed to coat it well and give it flavor — besides most of it will fall off once you squeeze and dry the squash. If you don’t have an air fryer or want to make this recipe in a conventional oven, see the Variation, below.
1 pound summer squash and/or zucchini, rinsed and trimmed
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons everyday olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
Freshly ground black pepper
Finely grated zest of 1 small or 1/2 large lemon
1/4 cup finely chopped chives
If using summer squash, cut the crooked neck section in half lengthwise, then crosswise into 11/2- to 2-inch pieces. For the larger bulb section, halve it lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1-inch chunks. If using zucchini, quarter large ones or halve smaller ones lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1- to 11/2-inch pieces. Place all the squash pieces in a colander set in your sink or over a bowl, sprinkle with the 2 teaspoons salt, then toss to evenly coat. Let the squash stand for at least 15 minutes or up to 2 hours.
Meanwhile, make the breadcrumbs: In a medium nonstick skillet, combine the breadcrumbs, 2 tablespoons olive oil and the garlic, then place over medium-high heat. Season the crumbs with salt and pepper and cook, tossing often, until golden brown and toasted, 4 to 5 minutes. Scrape the crumbs into a bowl, then stir in the zest while warm. Let the crumbs cool to room temperature, then stir in the chives.
Pick up handfuls of the squash and squeeze them with your hands to remove as much moisture as possible without completely smashing the squash before transferring them to a bed of paper towels or a kitchen towel. Once all the squash is on the towel, lightly press with more paper towels or another kitchen towel to dry off the outside of the squash.
Transfer the squash to a large bowl, drizzle with 2 teaspoons olive oil and season with pepper. Toss to coat the squash in the oil, then transfer the squash to the basket of a 3- to 6-quart air fryer, spreading them out in as even a layer as possible. Set the temperature to 425 degrees and the timer for 20 minutes. Cook, tossing the squash in the basket once halfway through cooking, until blistered and caramelized all over.
Once cooked, transfer all the squash to a serving platter or individual plates and top with the breadcrumbs. Serve while hot.
Conventional Oven Method: Use 2 pounds squash and toss it with 2 teaspoons kosher salt in Step 1. Heat the oven to 475 degrees. Transfer the squeezed and dried squash to a large, rimmed baking sheet and toss with 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil. Season with pepper, then arrange skin side down on the sheet; this is admittedly tedious, but it helps to remove as much moisture as possible from the squash so its flavor is more concentrated. Roast, without disturbing, until deep golden brown on the bottom and caramelized on top, 35 to 40 minutes.