Soon after we moved to our house in Midcoast Maine, a neighbor and I had a conversation about gardens and what we both hoped to grow in our gardens that summer. Upon hearing the word “zucchini,” she could not resist the old joke: “Don’t leave your car windows open in a parking lot, or you might find someone dumping their baseball bat-sized zucchini in your back seat.” Poor zucchini, they get no respect!
Zucchinis and summer squash are some of the easiest plants to grow in a home garden, but they unfortunately grow so fast that if not carefully monitored easily tend to reach gigantic size, concurrently losing flavor and becoming watery. In contrast, when harvested at 5-7-inch size, they have a subtle flavor and firm texture. Zucchinis have thin skin and do not need to be peeled. Sliced thin on a mandolin they make a delightful salad combined with thin curls of Parmesan cheese or blend in other salad presentations.
Other uses for it abound besides the famed ratatouille, from a shredded cup in my favorite moist summer yeast bread; a luncheon dish of fried breaded slices of zucchini topped with a slice of Provolone and a halved cherry tomato; lightly sauteed with garlic in olive oil; or grilled as a side dish for meat. Their subtle flavor facilitates many combinations with other ingredients, all with only 33 calories from a medium-sized zucchini. It is a summer favorite on restaurant menus, although it may come with its more elegant French name of “courgette.”
Zucchini shape-up soup
In a 3-quart pot, saute 1 medium coarsely chopped onion on medium heat in 1 tbsp olive oil for 5 minutes, then add 1 chopped garlic clove. After 1 minute pour in 2 1/2 to 3 cups chicken or vegetable broth, bring to boil, and stir in the following chopped vegetables: 1 medium peeled potato, 1 celery stalk with leaves, 1-2 medium zucchini, 1 tsp thyme, and 1/2 tsp lemon pepper. Cook on medium heat for 20 minutes and slightly cool before pureeing in a blender. Stir in 1 1/2 cups low fat plain yogurt (not Greek) and 2 tbsp white wine vinegar and transfer to a large bowl.
When cool, stir in diced 1 small zucchini, 2 Roma tomatoes, 1 pickling sized cucumber, 1/2 red pepper and 2 scallions with green parts thinly sliced. Refrigerate to blend the flavors for at least 2 hours. Serve cold with sprinkling of fresh dill or chives. Soup will keep refrigerated for 3 days.
American Indians and other good farmers traditionally plant corn and squash together for efficient yields. Not unexpectedly, corn pairs well with zucchini also in dishes for the table. This can be fortuitous this time of the year when you suddenly find yourself with an extra ear or two of roasted corn and look for ways to use them for the next meal.
Zucchini stir fry with corn
Prepare beforehand: 1 medium zucchini in 1/4 inch slices, 1/2 cup chopped red onion, 1 chopped garlic clove, 1 diced Roma tomato, 5 sundried tomatoes cut in julienne, and corn kernels from 2 roasted ears of corn (or 1 cup frozen corn kernels).
Heat 2 tbsp light olive oil to hot in a pan and add zucchini, onion, and garlic and stir fry 2 minutes until zucchini browns in spots. Stir in tomatoes and 1 tbsp soy sauce and water each. Cook with stirring 2 minutes, stir in corn to heat through and serve.
Zucchini and corn fritters
Coarsely grate 1 medium zucchini on a box grater, sprinkle with 1 tbsp kosher salt and allow to sit for 30 minutes. Rinse the zucchini in excess water, drain, and blot excess moisture with paper towels.
In a small bowl lightly beat 1 egg with 1/4 cup flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp oregano, 1/4 tsp lemon pepper, 2 tbsp chopped parsley, and 2 small scallions with greens, thinly sliced. Stir in the zucchini and 1 cup corn kernels and mix thoroughly.
Heat 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp butter in a large pan and drop the dough in 4 even portions in the pan, flatten slightly with spatula and fry on medium heat 3-4 minutes on the side. Serve warm with meat, sausage, or just a dollop of sour cream.
Three cheers for courgettes in France and U.K. and zucchini in U.S., the incredibly versatile summer squash.
(I. Winicov Harrington, of Waldoboro, is the author of “How to Eat Healthy and Well for Less Than $5.00 a Day: The Smart-Frugal Food Plan.” For more information, go to winicov-harrington.com.)