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Nuke those zukes. July 11, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. And no, being Luddites*, we don’t own a microwave here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and I share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. But, like most of you, we find ourselves confronting a glut of zucchini every summer, both in the form of cheap and abundant summer squash from our local groceries and farmers’ markets and from our own garden beds. What do you do with bazillion green and gold zucchinis?

Here are a few of my favorite uses, but first, a few disclaimers: With the exception of zucchini bread—and we’ll get to that in a minute—I used to hate zucchini. That’s because, as a vegetarian, I was always being served zucchini in place of actual, flavorful food. Stuffed zucchini, steamed zucchini, zucchini kebabs, zucchini pizza: You name it, I was expected to eat it. Fuggidaboutit. If it’s bland, boring, mealy, and tasteless, why should I have to eat it? Why would anyone eat it?!! Yuck.

Turns out, there are some great, flavorful ways to use zucchini, as I eventually discovered. But before I get to them, let’s talk about that second disclaimer: zucchini bread. Who doesn’t love oil-drenched, sugary zucchini bread, preferably heated with butter or smeared with cream cheese and/or apple butter? I certainly do! But eating a slice of that is about as healthy (and as good for one’s waistline and cardiac health) as wolfing down a couple of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Alas.

Instead, I’ve discovered that zucchini is great as a thickener in homemade spaghetti sauce, adding the bulk that’s typically provided by ground beef. See for yourself:

                      Silence’s Spaghetti Sauce

2 large onions, diced (you can use sweet or cooking onions or one of each)

4 large cloves garlic, minced

2 large cartons button mushrooms, sliced, then sliced again crosswise

1 large green bell pepper, diced

3 medium zucchini, sliced, then each slice quartered

1 tablespoon each dried basil, oregano, thyme, and Trocomare or salt (we like RealSalt) 

1 teaspoon each dried rosemary, marjoram, black pepper (we like lemon pepper) and hot sauce (we like Pickapeppa or Tabasco Chipotle)

1 large (12-ounce) can tomato paste

1 large (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1 tablespoon sugar

dry red wine (chianti, Cabernet Sauvignon, or whatever you have on hand)

extra-virgin olive oil

shredded Parmesan or Asiago cheese

I always start by putting a huge, heavy pot of water, covered, on the stove to boil. (I use my biggest LeCreuset Dutch oven for the pasta and my second-biggest for the sauce.) Once I see that the water has come to a full boil, I’ll turn it off, leaving it covered, until it’s time to cook the pasta. The heavy pot retains the heat, so it will just take a minute or two to return that big pot of water to a boil rather than the 10 or 15 minutes or more it would take if I were starting with cold water.

Next, I pour a liberal amount of olive oil in another large, heavy pot, making sure the oil covers the bottom of the pot. Turning the heat on low, I wait until the oil is starting to heat up, then add the diced onions, minced garlic, and Trocomare or salt. When the onions have clarified, add the mushrooms. Once the mushrooms have released their liquid, add the dried herbs, black pepper, and hot sauce, stirring well. Add the diced green pepper and quartered zukes. Add the tomato paste, stirring until it completely coats the veggies. Add the crushed tomatoes, stirring until the sauce is totally blended.

Now for those “secret ingredients”: Once the sauce is hot, sprinkle the sugar over the top, stirring it in. Then pour a ring of wine around the perimeter of the pot and stir that in. Continue cooking over low heat, preferably with a splatter shield, until the sauce thickens. Then turn on the pasta water, bring it back to a boil, add your spaghetti, cook until al dente, and serve it up with your rich, luscious spaghetti sauce on top and as much shredded Parmesan as anyone wants to add. Leftover spaghetti sauce is great on pizza or in lasagna.

What else is green zucchini good for? Ratatouille, of course! This delicious French vegetable stew includes tomatoes, onions, eggplant, and zucchini, among many other ingredients, a great way to serve up summer’s vegetable bounty with slices of crusty baguette, a nice red wine, and wedges of cheese on the side. But I have to admit that I haven’t yet made a distinctively Silence Dogood version of ratatouille, so if you Google it, you’ll find plenty of recipes to try on your own. Let me know if you happen to strike gold!

Then there are my favorites, the golden zukes. Picked or bought young, they’re great sliced to top tossed salads. But you can also use them in one of my favorite summer treats:

      Silence’s Super Squash Casserole

5-6 yellow zucchini

1 package frozen white corn, or kernels sliced from 6 ears

1 8-ounce carton sour cream

1 large sweet onion (Vidalia or WallaWalla type)

4 garlic scapes, if available

1 small carton mushrooms (button, baby bella, crimini, shiitake, mixed, if possible)

1 package stuffing/dressing (as Pepperidge Farm) or coarsely crushed crackers (oyster, Saltine, Ritz)

2 eggs

1 stick salted butter

1 teaspoon salt

8-10 fresh basil leaves

Grease 9 x 13″ baking dish. Chop onion and sautee in butter until clarified. Slice mushrooms and add. Chop garlic scapes and add. Tear basil leaves and add. (Dried oregano and thyme may also be added, to taste.) Add salt. When mushrooms have cooked down, add corn and cook on low until liquid has mostly evaporated. Meanwhile, slice yellow zukes, then quarter slices, and boil until tender. Beat eggs. Drain squash and stir in sauteed veggies, eggs, and sour cream to blend. Melt remaining butter in saute pan. Pour squash mixture into baking dish. Top with stuffing/dressing or crackers. Pour melted butter on top. Bake at 350 degrees F. for an hour. 

I hope this has helped you face the annual zucchini glut. And please, if you have any delicious recipes that includes zucchini, feel free to share them here!

            ‘Til next time,

                       Silence

* No, Luddites aren’t some kind of specialized religious cult, in case you’re wondering. They’re just a bunch of disparate techno-illiterates who eschew unnecessary (to them) high-tech devices, be they microwaves, e-readers or iPads.

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