Grilled Zucchini Rolls

Zucchini, with its high water content, isn’t usually suitable for quick cooking items such as this appetizer. With a short, intense application of heat, the zucchini quickly releases much of its stored water, directly into the food next to it. This uniformly results in soggy, bland, unappetizing food. Does that mean zucchini must be relegated to soups, stews, or raw dishes?

No it doesn’t. Like its cousins, the cucumber and eggplant, we can pull some of the water out of these slices before we cook them by salting them and allowing them to sit for a short time. While we could grill the zucchini and let it rest to help release most of its water, this unfortunately acts like a rinse taking much of the grill flavor and seasoning with it on the paper towel. That flavor is important for these appetizers since zucchini doesn’t have much flavor on its own. It’s also why this is the perfect use for these summertime staples.

Aside from the grill, most of the flavor is packed in the filling. Tangy cream cheese, funky feta and the tart finish of fresh squeezed lemon juice combine with savory fresh herbs. Zucchini couldn’t ask for a more delectable partner. Because these rolls need to be tight, we’ll barely use a tablespoon of the filling per zucchini strip, the feta needs to be very finely crumbled and the cream cheese very soft. Once the zucchini has been grilled, it’s going to be easily torn, so the filling needs to be smooth and creamy.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. Most important is the zucchini itself. Afterall, it’s going to hold everything and give it form. Let’s start with the size of the vegetable. We’ll need medium-sized zucchini, not bigger than two inches in diameter, and around ten inches long. We’ll trim the zucchini to about eight inches after removing the stem and blossom ends. The zucchini needs to be evenly sliced into ¼-inch thick planks. A mandoline is the perfect tool for this. Discard the first and last slices, and any that are narrower than an inch-and-a-half. One medium zucchini should yield between five and six usable slices.

After they are sliced they should be placed on a cooling rack in a single layer and seasoned with both salt and pepper on both sides. With such thin slices, they only need to sit long enough for the grill to heat. Blot the tops dry with paper towels. You’ll be surprised just how much water has been pulled out. The water on the bottom will drip off and doesn’t need to be blotted. Give the tops a quick spritz with non-stick cooking spray and place that side down on the grill first.

After grilling, the zucchinis should rest on paper towels to absorb any remaining liquid. These single-serving treats are best served at room temperature with guests and good times.

Grilled Zucchini Rolls

  • 2, 10-inch long, medium zucchinis, sliced into ¼-inch thick planks
  • salt and fresh ground black pepper

For the filling

  • ¼ cup finely crumbled feta
  • 3 ounces cream cheese, very soft
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano
  • 1 tablespoon fresh squeeze lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil 

Lemon zest and fresh herbs for garnish

Wash and slice the zucchinis. Place them on a rack and season both sides with salt and pepper. Allow them to sit for several minutes. Combine all the ingredients for the filling until it is smooth and creamy. Set aside. Preheat the grill on high. Blot the tops of the zucchini dry with paper towels and brush with olive oil just before grilling. Grill 2 minutes a side on medium. Remove to a paper towel-lined tray and allow to cool to room temperature. Blot any remaining liquid.

Spread about one tablespoon of the filling evenly over each slice. Starting at the wide end, roll the zucchini tightly. The filling mixture will hold the end closed. Garnish each roll with lemon zest and a small sprig of fresh thyme.