Zucchini 101

Dealing with the squash of summer

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

If you don’t typically lock your door, now would be a good time to start. Behind the usual pleasantries, your neighbors are probing you for weakness, trying to decide who among you would be most likely to break and accept a bag-load of zucchinis, or leaving the prolific produce on porches and in unlocked vehicles.

Any amount of zucchini can be handled, and probably with less effort than you fear. If you can adopt a can’t-stop-won’t-stop approach, you will eat a lot of zucchini, and you will like it. (And it will be cheaper than what you would have made if you didn’t have zucchini.)

There is your pep talk; the ideas are out there. Anyone with access to a web browser can search for “zucchini ________”. Fill in the blank with whatever you have on hand, or whatever you can imagine.

And if you draw a blank, reverse the question and try to name a food, any food, that cannot be made with zucchini. You can’t.

Bread, soup, salad, pasta (as in, shredded into noodles) or steak (fried, grilled, broiled or breaded). Parmesan, ratatouille, and other Italian ways, as well as Thai-style (in curry), Vietnamese-style (with cold noodles), Chinese-style (with oyster sauce and whatnot), Russian-style (fried), or Ari-style (chocolate zucchini mayo cake).

In fact, since it is my style, why not start with that Chocolate Zucchini Mayo Cake? It is so simple.

Step One: Prepare chocolate mayo cake batter.* Step Two: Add grated zucchini to the batter before baking it, and mix it in. Step Three: Proceed.

*I got my chocolate mayo cake recipe from the jar of Hellmann’s mayo that we always had in the fridge growing up. The essence of mayo cake is you substitute mayo for the eggs and oil in virtually any cake, including from a mix.

The shreds of zucchini melt into the batter, where they act as the secret glue. They don’t interfere with the baking process, and they add moisture, fiber and density to the finished product, even while hiding in the background. Consider peeling the larger specimens, as squash skins toughen as they age.

Like many sweet of tooth, I have a salty side as well. And the zucchini department is no exception. In summer, my go-to recipe is one that works with the honker monsters of summer, with no need to peel them. It works equally well in a pan, under the broiler or on the grill.

Slice a large zucchini thickly, up to an inch, and lay the slices on a tray. If there is room, add thick slices of onion as well. Sprinkle zucchini lightly with salt on both sides, and then pour on some olive oil (about 1/4 cup for a decent-sized one), white balsamic vinegar (1 tablespoon), red balsamic (1 teaspoon), soy sauce (1 tablespoon), and many hard shakes of garlic powder.

Turn over the zucchini slices as a way of mixing the marinade and coating the slices, and then let them sit for a moment while you heat up your grill/pan/broiler. Don’t mess with the onions. Just leave them alone on the tray while you flip around the zucchini, and transfer them gingerly to the heat when it’s ready.

Lay the zucchini and onions on the heat, and cook them until soft. In a pan they need no extra oil. On the grill, where they can be placed amongst the hamburgers, beware of flare-ups.

These lusty, juicy steaks are light and fun to consume, and consume, and consume, and it’s a beautiful thing to watch a family get full on zucchini. Those slices go well atop a burger as well, or in place of a burger on a bun.

At the other end of the size spectrum are the baby zucchini, those finger-sized ones that are small enough that they still have edible flowers attached. They would do fine in the above marinade, as would any size of summer squash, but because they are so delicate they’d be more effectively enjoyed by a slow, gentle frying in butter, intact with the flowers on. Turn when brown, and add minced garlic before the final minutes of cooking. (Or, if you want to batter coat and deep fry them, I won’t stop you.(

So now you have some ideas for what to do with squash at the extreme ranges of size. For all the zucchini in between, consult the internet.

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