August has arrived with an abundance of zucchini
“The first week of August hangs at the very top of the summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning … The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn …” Natalie Babbitt, in “Tuck Everlasting.”
Pristine air. Cobalt sky. Linen-white clouds. The first week of August brought “Sneak Some Zucchini onto Your Neighbors’ Porch Day” on Aug. 8 — thanks to Pennsylvania gardener and humorist Tom Roy. Gardeners who grow this prolific summer squash find themselves with an over-abundance this time of year. Author Barbara Holland writes: “One’s own flowers and some of one’s own vegetables make acceptable, free, self-congratulatory gifts when visiting friends, though giving zucchini — or leaving it on the doorstep, ringing the bell, and running — is a social faux pas.”
Fortunately, zucchini and other summer squash varieties are so versatile, entire cookbooks have been written on how to use them. Shredded, they can be baked into zucchini bread, muffins and brownies. When they get big, they’re good stuffed and baked. Small, tender zucchini can be sliced into a salad as you would cucumber, or added to pasta and grain salads. And they’re great grilled, roasted, sauteed, stir-fried, or even steamed and seasoned. They can be stirred into pasta or baked in a quiche. Use them to make relish in place of cucumbers. Dry 1/4-inch-thick slices in a dehydrator as a replacement for potato chips. Serve with a dip or with hummus.
While we’re used to the common green zucchini, there are other varieties. Not all look like long, green, cylinders. Some are yellow, beige or white. Some, like the Ronde de Nice, are round. In addition, there are myriad varieties of summer squash — from patty-pan to crookneck — that are similar in flavor to zucchini.
Because zucchini is 95% water, they are hydrating and low in calories — one cup sliced, raw zucchini has only 16 calories. It also contains fiber, so it cleanses the digestive tract. And it has more potassium than a banana. Although less nutritionally rich than their thick-skinned, starchy winter squash cousins, zucchini contains many minerals and vitamins: potassium, phosphorus, manganese, copper, vitamins C, beta-carotene (vitamin A), folate and riboflavin. In addition, they offer some antioxidants, including lutein, which is famous for its vision protective ability and may also have cancer-fighting properties.
All squashes are native to the western hemisphere, where they were dietary staples as part of the “Three Sisters:” corn, beans and squash. They have been cultivated for thousands of years in Mexico and Central America. Winter squashes, melons, gourds, cucumbers, summer squash and zucchini are all members of the Cucurbitaceae family.
Early European explorers brought zucchini to the Old World, and it became so popular in Italy that it became known as “Italian squash.” The Italians first grew them for the sweet, edible blossoms, but soon discovered that the hearty fruit is delicious in many dishes. Our name zucchini derives from the Italian zucchino; in Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand they are known by their French name, courgettes.
Here are a couple recipes to help you use this abundant crop. In case you don’t grow your own and haven’t received any from a neighbor who does, you can find abundant, inexpensive zucchini at the farmers’ market.
Main Dish Zucchini Salad
This Mediterranean-style salad comes together quickly.
2 small zucchini (1 green, one yellow) (about 3 cups when diced)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, minced
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 or 2 tomatoes
1 sweet bell pepper
3 or 4 scallions
1 15 oz. can garbanzo beans
2 oz. feta cheese (about 1/2 cup, crumbled)
1/2 cup sliced olives (green, black, kalamata, etc.)
Dice the zucchini into a large bowl. If you have a spiralizer, try spiralizing it instead.
Sprinkle with salt and stir. Mince the basil and stir to coat. Next, stir in olive oil to coat, then the balsamic vinegar.
Chop the tomato, bell pepper and scallions. Stir in.
Stir in garbanzo beans, crumbled feta, and olives.
Serve with pita bread or toasted pita chips.
Serves 5 or 6.
Zucchini Skillet Supper
2 small zucchini (about 3 cups, diced)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tomato (1 cup, diced)
1/4 cup broth or water
1 1/2 Tablespoon butter
1 Tablespoon flour
1 or 2 Tablespoons minced fresh dill leaves
2 cups diced cooked chicken, turkey or ham, or 1 can chick peas, optional (for main dish)
In medium saucepan, combine squash, tomato, salt and broth. Simmer, covered, 10 minutes.
In a small skillet, melt the butter; add 1 Tablespoon flour and blend to combine. Heat on medium heat, mixing, until it is a nice golden-brown color.
Add about a half cup of the liquid from the vegetables to the flour and butter, and mix well to blend. Stir this back into the remaining vegetables. Add cooked meat or garbanzo beans. Cook 2 – 3 minutes, stirring continually. Sprinkle with fresh dill.
Serve over pasta or rice.
Side Main dish option: omit the meat or chickpeas, and serve as a vegetable side.
Author of the award-winning cookbook “Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market,” Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be found at www.yvonafast.com and reached at email@example.com or on Facebook at Words Are My World.