Every year, at about this time, you can expect the inevitable zucchini column.
For reasons unclear to me,
I always feel compelled to write about the many possible uses for the excess zucchini that is typically part of the bounty of late summer/early fall.
This year, however, is different. As noted not only in previous columns but by many participants in various farmers markets, everything was late this summer, both fruits and vegetables, and even summer, for that matter. Zucchini is no exception, at least in our garden.
I’ve never had trouble growing zucchini, and usually have excess even when we keep our plantings down to two, which is why I have a rather fat file entitled “What To Do With Too Much Zucchini.” This year, I’ll be lucky if I have enough zucchini to come up with even four or five of our favorite dishes, let alone sufficient to make zucchini cakes or bread.
Part of this unusual situation was due to an early deer invasion. They pushed down the wire protective barrier we’d put over the plants and feasted on the bright yellow buds. But even after we finished cursing the ever-present deer scourge and started over, the almost non-existent summer weather slowed the replacement plants down and we are, just now, plucking a few, too few, small zucchini.
Sure, I can go out and buy zucchini; I’m very aware of that and may well end up doing so. But, the very idea of a zucchini shortage at this time of the year is shocking. How can we play the “Who Left The Monster Zucchini In My Mailbox” game without the main participant, that giant zuke that went unnoticed under the leaves until it became almost the size of Rhode Island.
And what about the neighbors, who’ll be opening their back doors expecting to find stealth zucchini left by we who always have too much. Will they, too, find themselves forced to pay for that which is usually not only free, but a surfeit?
Saddest of all, however, this is the first year in the past decade there is not enough surplus of the green gourd to leave the annual “Big Z Strikes Again” pile in the back of a couple of friends’ pickup trucks.
Zucchini itself is a pretty boring vegetable, but not when you can have so much fun passing them around, foisting them off on unsuspecting newbies in the neighborhood, having zucchini cook-offs with overloaded neighbors and, of course, finding some crazy new way to turn zucchini into something exciting.
Half the fun of growing them in the first place is planning what you’ll do with the excess, especially those that get away from you and look like they’ve been on steroids.
It just occurred to me, as I’m writing this, that it may be time for me to take up some sort of new hobby or sport. When it gets to the point where I’m whining because I don’t have enough zucchini to play jokes with, it’s time to tell myself, “Come on, Margaret, get a life.”
Some of you may not be in the same egregious, too-little-zucchini state I’m experiencing; in fact, you may be, as usual, wallowing in excess zucchini and looking for ways to make it disappear.
While I can’t pass along any extra zucchini this year, I can pass on some excellent zucchini recipes. Ah, where to begin; so many recipes, so little zucchini.
First, two versions of zucchini cakes; either of these would be excellent as a main dish (especially for vegetarians), accompanied by a salad and/or steamed vegetables, or as a side dish with lamb, veal, fish or chicken.
ZUCCHINI POTATO CAKES
3 cups grated fresh zucchini
2 t. kosher salt, divided (see instructions)
3 cups grated Russet potatoes
½ cup grated onion
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup flour
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ t. baking powder
¼ t. cayenne
Olive oil, for cooking
Combine the grated zucchini and ½ t. of the kosher salt in a colander. Let drain 5-10 min. then put zucchini into a kitchen towel and wring out excess moisture. (This is very important, else you’ll have soupy cakes.)
Mix the flour, baking powder, Parmesan and cayenne together. Put the zucchini in a bowl, add the flour mixture and all other ingredients except the olive oil, stirring until well combined.
Heat 2 T. of oil in a skillet over med. heat. Drop zucchini potato mixture into the oil, using ¼-cup measure. Flatten cakes to ½” thick and sauté until potatoes are cooked, about 5 min. per side. Fry in batches, using more oil as needed. Keep cakes warm on a rack in a backing sheet, covered with foil in a 200-degree oven.
Note: Cakes can be served plain or with sour cream or plain yogurt on the side to use if desired.
Marinara Zucchini Cakes
5 cups grated fresh zucchini
2 t. kosher salt
½ cup flour
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup grated onion
2 T. chopped fresh basil
1 t. minced garlic (or to taste; I use more)
½ t. baking powder
½ t. kosher salt
¼ t. red pepper flakes
Combine the zucchini and salt in a colander for 5 min. Rinse in cold water, then squeeze dry in a kitchen towel.
Mix together the flour, Parmesan, baking powder, salt and red pepper flakes. Put zucchini in a bowl, add flour mixture and all other ingredients except oil, stirring until well combined.
Heat 2 T. olive oil in a nonstick skillet over med. high heat. Drop zucchini mixture by ¼-cup measures, flatten a bit with a spatula and fry, 2 min. per side. Remove to a rack in a baking sheet and keep warm in a 200-degree oven until all cakes are finished. Serve with Marinara Sauce (recipe follows). Serves 4-6.
Easy Marinara Sauce
½ cups diced onion
2 T. minced garlic
4 cups tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 T. sugar
1 t. kosher salt
½ t. red pepper flakes
1 T. chopped fresh basil
Sauté onions in a large skillet over med.-high heat for 2 min. Add garlic and sauté for one more minute, but be careful not to burn the garlic. Add tomatoes, sugar, salt and red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 min., stirring frequently. When you are about to serve the zucchini cakes (or whatever else) with the sauce, add the chopped fresh basil to the marinara sauce.
Note: This marinara sauce is good for many other dishes; over steamed clams or mussels, on top of sauteed eggplant slices, over grilled sliced zucchini, etc.
This next recipe is one of several Italian versions of stuffed zucchini; excellent with most meats, but much appreciated by the vegetarians at your table, unless they take exception to the anchovies.
3 T. olive oil, plus extra for brushing the baking dish
6 med. zucchini, cut in half lengthwise
4 anchovy fillets, drained and chopped
1-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped (to your taste)
1 T. flat leaf Italian parsley, finely chopped
1 fresh sprig basil, chopped
¾ cup green olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
2 fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
Fresh mozzarella cheese, diced
Salt and pepper, to taste
Brush an oven-proof dish with olive oil and preheat oven to 400 degrees.
With a small, sharp knife, scoop out the zucchini flesh, being careful not to pierce the skin or “shells.” Chop the flesh and set aside. Put zucchini shells, skin side up, in the baking dish and bake for 10 min. Remove from the oven and set aside. Reduce oven temp. to 350 degrees.
Put the chopped anchovy fillets in a small bowl; add 2 T. olive oil and beat with a wooden spoon until smooth.
In another bowl, combine the garlic, basil, olives; add the zucchini flesh, then stir in the tomatoes. Pour in the remaining 1 T. olive oil, add the anchovy mixture and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well, then carefully spoon the mixture into the prepared zucchini shells. Top with mozzarella cheese, then bake for 20 min.
Margaret Walton can be reached at email@example.com.