Sunday, September 30, 2012

The End of the Zucchini

There's an old joke you sometimes hear from small-town gardeners about zucchini. They'll tell you about how quiet and safe their town is, and that they never even bother to lock their car doors... with one exception. During the peak of zucchini season, if you don't lock your doors, someone will sneak into your car and leave a bagful of giant zukes, just because they have so much they need to get rid of.

Our plants have mostly lived up to this stereotype, keeping us in more zucchini than we usually know what to do with. We've given a few extras to pretty much anyone we could think of that might like one, but without being brazen enough to leave them in unlocked cars, we've been fairly inundated ourselves. Despite the unceasing attacks from all manner of bugs, our zucchini plants kept trucking along and churning them out one after another. But whether it was due to those pests, or just the fact that it's nearly the end of the season, it was clear by this weekend that they were done.

It's almost hard to see the zucchini there, since they've gotten so wilted and overrun by weeds and grass, but you can spot a few leaves here and there. Since they clearly weren't going to be producing any more zucchini, we went ahead and pulled the plants out to compost them. By next year they should be providing nutrients to the next generation of zucchini and other plants.

In the meantime, though, we still had a ton of zucchini! It's a little tricky to preserve zucchini, so we've done our best to make the most of the zucchini season. So for fun, here's a quick review of some of our favorite ways to have the summer's most plentiful vegetable.

Before they become baseball bat-sized, one of the best ways to eat zucchini is simply sauteed on the stovetop or cooked on the grill. With a little bit of olive oil, salt/pepper/any other spices, and cooked until they're soft and just translucent, you've got a quick and easy veggie side dish. Or you can throw the sauteed zucchini into any other dish you might be cooking. We've put sauteed zucchini into pasta sauces, casseroles, stir fries and veggie enchilada filling.

When you don't want to to eat zucchini with every meal, it works well to disguise it by putting it into dessert! We've mentioned our zucchini bread in the past, which is a favorite in our household. We've also made very tasty chocolate zucchini cake, and have given some thought to trying zucchini brownies in the future. Baking with zucchini never uses up quite as much as you might hope it will, but it gives you a good excuse to eat sweets, since you're really having vegetables, right?

This was an interesting experiment, and it ended up being quite a success. Everyone's heard of baked potato boats, so why not zucchini boats? We made ours Italian-themed, stuffing them with a mixture of local Graziano's sausage and marinara sauce, with some shredded mozzarella on top. This was a good way to use up some slightly bigger zukes from the garden, since we started by scraping out all the seeds and guts. Then we roasted the boats in the oven until they felt soft with a fork. Alternatively, you could probably soften them in boiling water or a steamer, if you have one. This was pretty tasty - a bit like an eggplant parmigiana, but without the breading.

And our most recent creation - cheddar zucchini biscuits! This came from a recipe online, albeit with a few substitutions. They called for Bisquik, which was really easy to make on our own. We used this formula, though of course we substituted our home-rendered lard for the processed shortening. By the time we'd finished substituting and baking, we had delicious moist savory biscuits. We served these with a hearty split-pea soup for a delicious fall dinner. The zucchini gave them a really light texture, especially compared with the density you frequently find in biscuits. These were delicious and we definitely plan to make them again.

There have probably been a few other things we've done with zucchini so far this year, but those are some of the highlights. That said, we still have a ton of zucchini to use up! The plants may not be producing anymore, but when they were we sure weren't able to keep up. We used a first-in first-out system so all our remaining zukes are still pretty fresh. It wouldn't be a surprise if over the next few weeks we end up making each of these recipes another time over. But we like to try new things so there will probably also be some unique dishes that we haven't even come up with yet.

Got any ideas for us? What's your favorite way to enjoy zucchini?

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