By now, many of us have had more than our fill of zucchini and summer squash.
Farmers markets are still piled high with them, C.S.A. boxes are loaded with them and lately everyone I know has tried to pawn some off on me, finishing conversations with, “Here, take some zucchini – I planted too much this year.”
A box of overgrown specimens appeared on my porch the other day, and then later, some zucchinis found their way into my car. That’ll teach you to lock your doors and roll up your windows – I still have no idea who put those there. Obviously, someone feeling a little guilty about not being able to consume all the zucchini they planted and letting them get excessively large. As I drove home that day with zucchini on my passenger seat, I passed a heaping box of summer squash, left on someone’s front curb, labeled “free.”
The overabundance of zucchini and summer squash may be the reason we have become so creative in utilizing them. Baked, braised, grilled, shredded, raw, shaved, fried, blended, pureed, mashed, glazed, pickled, stuffed, breaded – they can be treated every which way. Chameleon-like, they pop up in everything from decadent dark chocolate cake to fritters, gratins, tians, soups, fries, pizzas, chips, hummus, frittatas, bread, salads and pesto. There appears to be no limit to what they can become. A new fun trend is to replace the pasta in lasagna with long thin strips of zucchini, or turn zucchini into “linguini” by slicing it into long thin noodle like strips – a low carb, gluten free alternative to pasta.
These days, more than 100 varieties of zucchini exist, varying in shape and color from pale greens to bright yellows to almost black. Regardless of variety, all parts of summer squash are edible, including the tender skin, creamy white flesh and soft seeds, and can be used fairly interchangeably in most recipes. When choosing summer squash, look for small- to medium-sized varieties, preferably no larger than 8 to 10 inches. If you do happen to end up with giants, make sure to scoop out the large seeds before use. They should feel firm without nicks or cuts and if really fresh may bristle with fine hairs. Some varieties also produce beautiful edible flowers, which are great for stuffing.
One of my favorite ways to eat zucchini is grilled. Tossed with a little olive oil, a splash of balsamic, salt, cracked pepper and lightly charred on the grill, sprinkled with fresh basil or lemon thyme, they are healthy and fast. But how many days in row can you eat grilled zucchini? So, I try to mix it up a bit.
Growing up, my Egyptian father would make a baked zucchini dish that today might be called a zucchini tian. He would never call it anything that fancy. To him, it was just “baked squash.” Layers of zucchini, caramelized onions, lots of garlic and a rustic homemade tomato sauce, seasoned with cumin and coriander seeds, lemon zest, and baked in the oven until succulent. When it came out, he drizzled it with olive oil and sprinkled it with fresh parsley. It melted in your mouth.
Last year, a friend gave me a jar of her homemade patty pan pickles, and I have been a huge fan ever since. She came up with the idea of making quick pickles, extending their shelf-life for a few weeks longer. Zesty and flavorful, they add punch to sandwiches, are great for barbecues and make a tasty side to have on hand. The best thing is they are very simple to make. Jars are filled with any variety of sliced summer squash, fresh dill, mustard seeds, garlic, red chili peppers and topped with a pickling liquid. Chill in the fridge for a few hours and they are ready to go. They also make great hostess gifts.
My husband’s favorite way to eat summer squash is in fritters. You can pretty much put anything in a fritter and have it taste good. Grated and folded into a light batter with fresh dill, crumbled feta and a hint of fresh grated nutmeg, imitating the flavors of the Greek spanakopita, they are fried until crispy, and topped with a cool dollop of tzatziki. Served with Greek salad, they make for a light dinner. They keep well in the fridge and are easily reheated, and I am often sorry when I don’t make a double batch of these. Hopefully, some of these recipes will help you get through the rest of your stash.
Rustic Zucchini Tian
2 tablespoon olive oil
2 large onions, sliced
10 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
4 large tomatoes, diced
1 small lemon, zest and 1 tablespoon juice
2 teaspoon cumin seeds (whole)
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling
2 pounds zucchini or summer squash, sliced into 1/4-inch disks
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
In a large, heavy-bottomed, oven-proof skillet (cast iron works great), heat olive oil until hot on medium heat. Add onions and sauté for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until golden brown. Add garlic, stirring more frequently, until garlic is lightly browned. Turn heat to medium low and add diced tomatoes, lemon zest and lemon juice, salt, pepper and spices. Simmer on low until tomatoes cook down a little, about 5 minutes. This will seem like a fairly “dry” tomato sauce, but remember, the zucchini will release their liquids in the oven.
Remove all but 2/3 of the rustic tomato sauce, placing it temporarily in a separate bowl. Spread the remaining tomato sauce (about 1/2 cup) evenly on the bottom of the pan. Place one single layer of zucchini in slightly overlapping concentric circles. Sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt and pepper. Spread another third of the rustic tomato sauce over the zucchini, as evenly as possible. It won’t seem like a lot, but don’t worry. Add the second final layer of slightly overlapping zucchini. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and the rest of the tomato sauce. Cover with foil. Place in 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. Uncover and give a good shake, and bake uncovered for additional 20 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.
Jill’s Pickled Summer Squash
1 pound patty pan, crookneck or zucchini squash, or enough to fill 4 (4-ounce) jars (pick squash no bigger in diameter than the width of the jars you will be using).
1 small onion or shallot, sliced thin
1 tablespoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons fresh dill
4 teaspoons mustard seeds
2 teaspoons whole peppercorns
1 small red chili, sliced thin
4 garlic cloves, sliced
For pickling solution:
1 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
Using a mandolin, carefully slice the summer squash. If using a knife, make sure to cut pieces as evenly as possible, to the same thickness. Thicker slices will result in a crunchier pickle. Paper thin will be softer.
Do the same with one small onion, or shallot. Toss both onion and squash in a bowl with a tablespoon of salt and let drain in a colander or strainer over a bowl in the fridge for 2 hours or overnight. Pat dry.
Make pickling solution: In a small pot, bring white wine vinegar, rice wine vinegar and sugar to a boil until sugar dissolves, let cool slightly.
In each jar, add about a tablespoon of fresh dill, a teaspoon of mustard seeds, 1/2 teaspoon peppercorns, a few slices of chili pepper and one sliced garlic clove. You could also try experimenting with other seeds like whole coriander, cumin, or fennel seed. Then layer the squash in jars, and top off with the pickling liquid. Press down on the squash. Seal, and let cool in the fridge, they will keep for up to two weeks.
Dilly Zucchini Fritters with Tzatziki
1 1/2 pounds small summer squash (about 3 to 4 zucchini, patty pan or yellow crooknecks)
2 teaspoons salt, plus 1/4 teaspoon
1/3 cup chopped fresh dill
1/2 cup chopped scallions
1/2 cup crumbled feta
1/4 teaspoon fresh nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cracked pepper
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
Using a grater or food processor, grate zucchini – you need about 4 cups grated – and place it in a medium bowl. Sprinkle with 2 teaspoons kosher salt, stir well, and let sit for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. This will release the water. Place in a strainer, rinse well and using your hand or a spatula, press down firmly to remove as much water as possible. Place on a few paper towels and blot the top with paper towels until squash is fairly dry.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Place squash back in medium bowl, adding dill, scallions, feta, nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon salt, cracked pepper and one egg. Mix well.
In a separate bowl mix flour and baking soda together. Add flour mixture to zucchini, incorporating all. These will be a fairly dry batter.
In a heavy bottom skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. When oil is hot, drop ping-pong-size balls of the batter. Brown each side until golden, about 3 minutes each side, and place in a warm oven, either on a wire rack or on parchment lined sheet pan.
Make in batches, letting fritters finish at least 10 minutes in the oven. Serve with a dollop of tzatziki.
Yield: 12 (2-inch) fritters
1 cup Greek whole milk yogurt
1 cup English cucumber, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 tablespoon chopped fresh dill or mint
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
In a medium bowl, mix together all the ingredients. Chill.