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Food for Thought
Zucchini . . . Lots of Zucchini
It's August, and the hum of food processors is heard throughout the land as billions of quarts of grated squash are laid to rest in the freezer with good intentions of baking zucchini bread for the holidays.
I was a bit hesitant to introduce a column on zucchini because anyone can go online and find articles like "8,542 Favorite Zucchini Recipes," but it seemed appropriate since mid-summer is that time of year when co-workers get out of their cars brandishing big paper bags and everyone scatters in a panic. The squash that were gratefully (or at least politely) accepted a month ago are now emphatically rejected.
And since we gardeners tire of picking them, the zucchini grow to monstrous sizes and are even more difficult to pass off. There are never enough ideas for using up these bad boys, so for those of you who have green monsters stacked on your kitchen table, I'll add a few of my favorite recipes to try.
We can't claim to have a monopoly on zucchini production here in the Pacific Northwest, but our climate does seem to help us grow copious quantities of these beautiful squash. A member of the cucurbit family, zucchini is actually a fruit! Well . . . that may be technically true, but it's green, it isn't sweet, and most people try to disguise its flavor, so that makes it a vegetable in my book.
A medium zucchini has only about 33 calories and provides a significant amount of Vitamin C, potassium, Vitamin A, magnesium, and Vitamin B6. Small and medium-sized zucchini are the tastiest, and are best for grilling, frying, or steaming. Larger ones are fine for grating and using in breads, cakes, and soupsjust make sure you remove those tough seeds first.
Store them in the refrigerator in plastic bags. I'm snickering as I write this, because there wouldn't be room for anything else if I put the squash in the refrigerator during my high-production times. I leave them on my counters and try to use them as quickly as possibleand admit that the compost heap and the local deer benefit from some of them.
Since one of my favorite ways to use zucchini is in muffins and quick breads, I haul out the food processor and grate and freeze vast quantities. For later. Much later. I froze so much last year that the chickens are cooling off in this heat wave with piles of frozen zucchini, and grateful for the treat. Here's the link to an impressive blog that shows in detail the perfect way to grate and freeze zucchini: A Garden for the House: How I Freeze Zucchini. He really has it down to a science!
My mother did awful things to zucchini. She sliced them and then boiled them until all that was left was a tough outer peel and a little bit of mush in the middle. Yuck. I couldn't stand zucchini! Then I went with my father on a trip where we visited a friend who lived on a little island in British Columbia. He was going to serve us lunch, and I was famished. To my utter horror, lunch was zucchini. Just . . . zucchini. Refusing it wasn't an option; my father would have been mortified. This man fried thin slices in butter until it was golden brown, and then tossed a little cheese over it. Maybe it was because I was so hungry, but it was one of the best things I'd ever eaten. I don't think I need to give you a recipe for this. Just fry it on medium-high in a little butter, slide it onto a plate, and sprinkle it with cheese. Yum.
My absolute favorite way to use zucchini is in fritters. These crispy little potato pancakes with zucchini, cheese, and onions (and a dollop of sour cream) are great for breakfast or as a side dish for any meal.
Zucchini boats are great fun to put together. You can fill them with anything your heart desires. Rice, ground meat, cheese . . . seriously, just use your imagination! I made a savory Italian version and a sweeter bacon and pecan version. You could also put out bowls of fillings and let everyone make their own customized zucchini boat.
Here's a zucchini bread recipe that uses whatever fresh berries you have. I love it with strawberries, but this time I had blueberries and raspberries on hand, and the combination was wonderful. I usually put a simple powdered-sugar-and-water glaze over the bread, but I tried something different and brushed the hot bread with butter, sprinkled it heavily with cinnamon sugar, and then turned the oven to broil and put the bread back under there for a minute or two until it browned a little and got crunchy. It was delicious, but (I can't believe I'm saying this) it may have been too sweet. Next time I would cut back a little of the sugar in the batter to compensate.
Shred some zucchini and raw beets, add dried cranberries and walnuts, toss with a sweet honey mustard dressing, and what do you have? An unusual purple slaw that is healthy and delicious. You will probably also have purple fingers. I love beets, but the only way I can get my husband to eat them is shredded raw in a salad. The slaw keeps well in the refrigerator too, if you have any leftovers.
For an appetizer or meal, these little zucchini treats are all over the Internet under various names, but the recipes are very similar. I slightly adapted the recipe from Naptime Chef: Summer Zucchini Bites. I didn't quite get 24 appetizers, but maybe that's because I squeezed so much of the juice out of the grated zucchini! These remind me a little of quiche, and would be perfect for a tea or luncheon.
I saved dessert for last. Don't crinkle up your nose; you'll love this! It's a mock apple pie made from (you see what's coming, don't you?) zucchini! I'm not all that fond of regular apple pie, but I really liked this. The texture is a little different, but it really tasted like apple pie. Served warm with a little vanilla ice cream on the top? Yes, please.
Don't forget soups, muffins, lasagna (thin strips of zucchini take the place of pasta), and most importantly, chocolate zucchini cake. And when you get tired of experimenting, just grate it and freeze it for later. Much later.
Contact Lorinda at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lorinda resides in Eastern Washington, where she joyously combines her love of cooking and gardening. Baking is her passion, and licking the batter off the spoon after making a cake is her reward. When she's not in the kitchen, she's out in the garden pulling weeds and snacking on young peas. Also enjoy Lorinda's blog, The Rowdy Baker.
Food for Thought copyright 2013.