by Daniel Marsula|
SHNS/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette illustration
Mild summer squash revs up with inventive recipes
By Bob Batz Jr.
I didn’t think I could get excited about zucchini, but I have, as I’ve gotten tastes of all it can be.
This time of year, the mild (some say wallflower) squash arrives in such abundance that some gardeners cook up ways to dump it on others.
If anyone offers, take it.
We’ve cooked up a surplus of recipes that bring out the sexier sides of zucchini, whose name, after all, is Italian (“zucca” means “squash”). I get revved up at its French name, “courgette” (diminutive of “courge,” or “gourd”).
The Pennsylvania Vegetable Marketing and Research program calls it “the prolific zucchini” and notes that it and other summer squashes differ from winter squashes by being harvested young while the skin still is soft and edible. Some people swear by eating the blossoms.
Zucchini is mostly water, with some vitamin C and other nutrients and almost no calories. So, in the words of our food writer Marlene Parrish, it “needs all the flavor you can add.”
But it tastes, and looks, good in just about anything you put it in, from pickles to chocolate cake to, well, a bikini. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette artist Dan Marsula cooked that up, with inspiration from copy editor Jim Heinrich, in homage to the 1965 Annette Funicello movie.
Feel free to put the recipes you can’t use in your neighbor’s mailbox. Here are zucchini recipes tested by the newspaper staff:
Goats in Boats (Goat-Cheese-Stuffed Zucchini)
When I went in search of a stuffed-zucchini recipe that included goat cheese, I couldn’t find one. This one evolved as I blended and tweaked a few recipes and added goat cheese. The sun-dried tomatoes I use are packed in olive oil. And for a nuttier texture, I use whole-wheat bread reduced to crumbs in the food processor.
3 medium zucchini, about 8 inches long
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed then finely chopped
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1/2 cup finely chopped flat-leafed parsley (or other fresh herb)
3 to 4 tablespoons goat cheese, to taste
Preheat oven to 350.
Parboil zucchini for 15 minutes; remove and set aside to cool.
Chop onions, garlic and tomatoes and put in a medium bowl.
Trim stem end of zucchini. Cut each zucchini in half lengthwise and, using a teaspoon, carefully scoop out the soft centers, reserving flesh and seeds. Coat bottom of baking dish with olive oil; place zucchini shells side by side in it.
Roughly chop the zucchini flesh and seeds and mix in the bowl with the onion, tomato and garlic. Melt butter in warm skillet; add vegetables and cook, stirring, for three minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in the breadcrumbs, parsley and goat cheese.
Using two teaspoons, place equal amounts of the stuffing mixture loosely into the six zucchini boats; do not pack down.
Bake 25 minutes, uncovered, or until heated through.
A few years back, Monongahela, Pa., native and architect Terry Necciai, who now lives in Alexandria, Va., was looking for a way to use a giant zucchini he’d found in his garden. He remembered seeing a man-shaped cookie cutter at the grocery store and — well, better let him tell it:
“The plan came to me in a flash,” he writes. “I made a special trip ... to buy the cookie cutter, and I literally couldn’t stop chuckling until I got home.”
And a few days later he was handing out jars of zucchini people, their pickled little bodies plastered to the insides of canning jars, to family and friends. They were, everyone agreed, a riot.
He began by cutting long slices of skin and flesh, a little under 1/4-inch thick. With the skin, he cut rectangles a little bigger than the cookie cutter, then cut the man-shape out of the rectangles. Then, for a little figure/ground action and better contrast, he flipped the cutout men over and reinserted them in the rectangles. The jars were lined with green men in white flesh frames and white men in green skin frames, then filled with white-fleshed people.
There were casualties; some jars were labeled Zucchini People Body Parts. “Make sure they go to people you know will enjoy such things,” he advises.
I, however, could not find a giant zucchini on pickle-making day, so I used little zukes and a girlie cookie cutter, making the rind the bottom of the skirt. So instead of laugh-out-loud funny, I got “Cute!” And this:
“Is that a feminist thing?” the food editor asked. “No, it’s an I-only-had-one-cookie-cutter thing,” I said.
Because I used small zukes, the Zucchini Girls have seeds in them that became more visible as the process moved along. Still, they were surprisingly resilient — and surprisingly slippery. Their strength, it turns out, is in their skirts. Hmmm ... maybe it was a feminist thing.
Cook’s note: When I make pickles again I will use half as much salt as this recipe calls for; they were too salty for us.
1 quart distilled white vinegar
2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup salt
2 teaspoons celery seed
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 teaspoon dry mustard
5 pounds medium (about 8-inch) zucchini, unpeeled, cut into 1/4-inch slices and then into people shapes
1 quart (4 to 5 medium) thinly sliced onions
Combine first 6 ingredients in saucepan; bring to a boil. Pour over zucchini and onions; let stand 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
In saucepan, bring mixture to a boil, then simmer 3 minutes.
Continue simmering while quickly packing one hot, sterilized jar at a time (if you wish, begin by lining the sides of the jars with the people shapes). Fill to within 1/2-inch of top, making sure vinegar solution covers vegetables. Cap each jar at once.
Process 5 minutes in boiling-water bath.
Makes 6 to 7 pints.
— Adapted from Cooks.com.
Of the dozens of versions of this retro recipe, nearly all call for 3 cups zucchini (sliced, diced or grated, peeled or unpeeled), 4 eggs, 1 cup Bisquick and various amounts of cheese and onion. I used 1 medium zucchini and 1 large onion and made 2 pies. Use the seasonings of your choice. Next time, I’ll use olive oil, and I’ll dice the zucchini to get as much as possible in the pie. About Bisquick, I say: If it was good enough for Mother, it’s good enough for me.
1 cup Bisquick
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup oil (we used safflower)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (we used a mixture of parmesan and Romano)
3 cups zucchini, unpeeled and thinly sliced
1 small onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon dried dill
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
Freshly ground salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix Bisquick, eggs, oil and cheese in a medium bowl. Add zucchini, onion, dill, oregano, salt and pepper, mixing well. Spray or grease a large pie plate or a 9-by-9-inch-square pan. Add zucchini mixture and spread out evenly. Sprinkle with paprika. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes. (Ours took 30.) Let rest for 10 minutes before cutting. Serves 6.
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