Every year it happens. I promise myself I won't grow more than one zucchini plant, and every year I break that promise.
Zucchini has boundless energy and is easy to cultivate. That's the problem. As anyone who has grown this summer squash knows, by the end of the season, you've got more fruit than you bargained for. And, believe me, it's easier to get rid of a litter of kittens than find a home for those feral zucchinis.
What's a gardener to do? Actually, you can do a lot. Zucchini may be last on the list alphabetically, but it's first in versatility. It can be grated and added to soups and stews, or sliced into ribbons and deep-fried and drizzled with truffle oil, or mashed into latkes. Large ones can be halved, stuffed with sausage and cheese, and baked. Even the ones hiding under their umbrella leaves that aren't discovered until they're the size of torpedoes can be scooped out like pumpkins and used as serving containers.
One of the best reasons to grow zucchini, and other summer squash, is their edible, golden blossoms. This end-of-season gift is sometimes available in late summer and early fall in produce markets, but always ready for the picking if you grow your own. This is when the male blossoms (they're the ones with stems) are harvested. Simply dip the blossoms in a slurry of milk and flour, and fry them in olive oil. A sprinkle of salt and a bit of pepper, and, like me, you'll be planting more than one zucchini next season.
QUICK 'N' EASY ZUCCHINI PICKLES
Makes 4 to 6 servings
1 medium zucchini or yellow summer squash, washed and trimmed
Kosher or sea salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon fresh, chopped dill or 1 teaspoon dried
1/4 cup cider or rice wine vinegar
Ground black pepper, to taste
Slice squash as thinly as possible; place slices in a large colander and toss liberally with salt. Let sit to drain for about 30 minutes. Squeeze excess moisture from squash slices.
Rinse thoroughly under cold water, pat dry with paper
towels, and place in a bowl. Toss with sugar, dill,
vinegar, and pepper. Serve immediately, or chill briefly in the refrigerator
Serves 6 to 8
2 to 3 medium zucchinis, trimmed (about 1-1/2 lbs.)
Coarse salt and ground black pepper, to taste
8 ounces ricotta cheese, coarsely grated
1 egg, lightly beaten
24-ounce jar of pasta sauce
4 ounces mozzarella, thinly sliced
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
18 large, fresh basil leaves
Preheat oven to
375 degrees F.
Slice each zucchini lengthwise into about 1/8-inch thick slices. Discard the first and last slices of green skin. Drizzle zucchini with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper on each side.
Mix the ricotta and egg together.
Lightly oil the bottom of an 8-by-10-inch baking dish. Spread a quarter of the pasta sauce in the bottom of the dish. Top with a layer of zucchini slices. Spread zucchini with one-third of the ricotta mix, one-third of the mozzarella, some grated cheese, and 6 basil leaves. Repeat the process, ending with a bit of sauce. Decorate with a few basil leaves, and drizzle with olive oil.
Bake uncovered for 25 to 30 minutes or until top is lightly browned and bubbling.
Remove from oven and let stand 5 minutes.
ZUCCHINI BLOSSOMS STUFFED WITH GOAT CHEESE
24 zucchini or other squash blossoms
4 ounces herbed or plain goat cheese
3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup whole milk
Olive oil for frying
Salt and pepper, to taste
Carefully open each blossom along one side. Roll a 2-inch-long piece of goat cheese and place it inside the blossom. Fold the blossom over and gently press the edges together. Mix the flour and milk, and dip the blossoms in the batter.
Heat about 1/3 inch of olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. When oil is hot, sauté blossoms in batches, turning once, until light golden brown – about 1 minute each side.
Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Serve immediately, or keep warm in an oven at 200 degrees F.