The power of the patch
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
When one of our chickens went missing at the end of July, I was worried enough about her that I put a Lost and Found notice on Craigslist asking people in the York neighborhood to keep an eye out for an errant Rhode Island Red.
Betty Crocker had only been gone for a few hours when I sent out the Amber Alert, but an extensive search of the yard—and eventually the neighborhood—had turned up zilch.
Three days later, I’d heard nothing from or about Betty, and figured a rabid raccoon had devoured her. I was sad, but the life of an urban farmer exacts a certain number of losses, so I sighed dramatically and got on with weeding the vegetable garden.
That’s when I realized it had been almost five days since I’d harvested anything from our ever-growing zucchini and squash patches. I secured a Ginsu knife and a large silver bowl and headed into the fray.
I’ve written about the power of zucchini patches before, but it continues to amaze me that the inconsequential-looking starts planted in the ground in late spring so soon turn into gargantuan leaves with edible green and yellow baseball bats attached to them.
Such was the case when I entered the larger of our two patches to see what was new. Rampant growth was evident. Burgeoning yellow crookneck squash commingled with delicata vines, all crowded by the pushy zucchini plants.
While still on the outskirts, I noticed a green giant nestled deep within the patch. I donned gloves, put the Ginsu to work slashing through the prickly leaves, and eventually found myself standing above what appeared to be a 10-pound zuke.
I also found myself peering at the missing chicken. I removed the broody hen her from her verdant home-away-from-home to find she’d been nesting atop a few eggs—and by a few, I mean 15.
In short order, I locked Betty in the coop so she could catch up on food and water consumption, extracted the huge zucchini (and a slightly smaller sibling) from the hen’s hideaway, and brought the 13 eggs that hadn’t been crushed inside to dunk them in cold water to make sure they didn’t float and were still fresh enough to eat (they were, and we did).
The duo of abnormally large zukes made a perfect centerpiece for the dining room table, but for the past month, and counting, it’s been a continuous challenge to keep up with the rest of the prodigious produce.
It’s a challenge I’ve accepted, and this year’s bumper crop has forced me to look at zucchini in a new way—in the garden, as well as in the kitchen.
While I’ve been using the vegetables in everything from spaghetti sauce to stir-fries, omelets, barbecues, casseroles and the ilk, I’ve also found ways to use it that are kind of sneaky. I’d be willing to wager that even people who say they don’t like zucchini would be fooled by the trio of menu items I made on a recent Sunday to use up some of the stash.
I’ve never considered myself a baker, but the first-ever loaf of zucchini bread I made using a friend’s grandmother’s recipe—grated zucchini, sugar, oil, flour, chocolate chips and a variety of spices were part of the equation—came out just right. She’d told me it was “moist, flavorful and freezes like a champ,” and she was correct.
Next up, I made a batch of zucchini “butter.” The easy recipe called for me to grate a mess of zucchini, let it drain for a few minutes, and then add it to butter or olive oil that had been sautéing with garlic. I added more zuke mass than the recipe called for, which meant that I let it all simmer together a bit longer—approximately 30 minutes total.
When it was finished, I toasted Avenue Bread sourdough slices, spread the still-warm marmalade on them, and topped it with sliced tomatoes (from the garden, naturally) and pepper. My taste tester declared the result “buttery and delicious,” and I got going with the third recipe.
Zucchini garlic soup may not seem like the best thing to make on a summer day, but the result I offered my lab rat made him declare it was nothing like he’d expected, and was one of the most flavorful soups he’d ever eaten in his life. It also used up an entire large zucchini—which was, thankfully, harvested before it got big enough to hide a chicken.
Zucchini Garlic Soup
—Adapted from http://www.thekitchn.com
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 white onion, sliced
8 to 9 large cloves garlic, sliced thinly
4 medium zucchini, about 1 1/2 pounds
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth (I used beef, and it worked just as well)
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
Salt and pepper
Optional: carrots and sage
Melt the butter in a heavy four-quart pot over medium heat. When it foams, add the sliced garlic and onions and cook on medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, or until the onion is soft and translucent. Keep the heat low enough that the garlic doesn’t brown; you want everything to sweat.
When the onions are soft, add the zucchini and cook until soft (I also added chopped sage and about six carrots). Add the broth and bring to a simmer. Simmer at a low heat for about 45 minutes. Let cool slightly, and then blend with an immersion blender until creamy, or transfer to a standing blender to puree. Taste and season with ginger, salt and pepper.
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