To the dismay of the resident cats, I recently baby-sat a kitten for a vacationing friend. When Eleanor returned 10 days later, she was amazed at the kitty's growth spurt--from a three-pound fluff ball to an adolescent cat ready to take on the world. Zucchini tends to do that too.
Plant a seed and stand back. From tiny tendrils come monstrous loops of deep green vines and bushy leaves. Under those broad and fanlike leaves you'll find delicate orange blossoms. And 10 minutes later those blossoms will have mutated into a vegetable 4 inches long, 6 inches long -- no, wait! -- 8 inches long. Ignore a zucchini, miss one especially adept at garden camouflage, and you'll have a green, palely striped baseball bat.
Now, what to do with this bounty? Stories abound of people sneaking zucchini onto the porches, or into the unlocked cars, of unsuspecting neighbors. Growers at the Farmers Market can barely give their zucchini away -- five for a dollar, and some sellers throw in an extra for luck.
Zucchini: loved for its ease of growth, disdained by chefs and diners alike. Well, that's gonna change. Around what other vegetable could an entire meal be built? Presenting ... The Zucchini Feast.
From nibblers (Zucchini Bruscetta, Beer-Battered Blossoms, Zucchini Stuffed with Cream Cheese, Bacon and Walnuts), soup (Cream of Zucchini) and salad (Sliced Tomatoes and Zucchini Drizzled with Fresh Basil and Olive Oil) to entrees (Carrot Zucchini Mushroom Loaf, Zu-canoes) and side dishes (Zucchini Polenta, Grilled Zucchini) and desserts (Zucchini Cobbler, Chocolate Zucchini Rum Cake), this meal highlights the depth and breadth of zucchini possibilities. Note that, unless amounts and proportions really matter, I've left those details up to you. Zucchini cries out for creative cooking.
Brush slices of French bread with olive oil. Bake until crisp. Spread with some pesto, top with a zucchini slice and shredded mozzarella. Put under broiler until cheese melts.
Mix _ cup beer and 5 tablespoons of flour to make a batter. Dip zucchini blossoms in batter to coat. Fry in hot vegetable oil until brown; season with salt.
Zucchini Stuffed with Cheese, Bacon and Walnuts
This is a variant on everyone's favorite from the 1950s -- stuffed celery. Mix cream cheese and blue cheese crumbles. Stir in chopped walnuts and cooked crisp bacon bits. Slice smallish zucchini in half lengthwise. Scoop out enough filling to replace with cheese mixture.
Cream of Zucchini Soup
This technique works well with almost any vegetable, but let's focus on zucchini here. Saut chopped onion in oil until translucent. Add some minced garlic. Chop some zucchini, leaving the skin on if it's not too tough. Add to pan and saut until tender. Add some chicken broth; simmer 15 minutes or so. Whirl in a blender to an interesting texture and return to soup pot. Add half-and-half to make it as creamy as you want. Season with salt, pepper and fresh thyme.
Carrot Zucchini Mushroom Loaf
1 large onion
4-1/2 cups grated carrot and zucchini (combination of both)
1 pound mushrooms, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup breadcrumbs, divided
1 cup grated cheese (Cheddar or Swiss)
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons basil
1/2 teaspoon tarragon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
Pre-heat oven to 350 F. Saut garlic, mushrooms and onion in 1/4 cup butter until soft. Combine 1/2 cup breadcrumbs and 1/2 cup grated cheese and mix with all other ingredients. Press into a buttered loaf pan and sprinkle remaining breadcrumbs and cheese over the top. Dot remaining butter on the top, cover with foil and bake for about 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 5 minutes or until golden brown.
Zu-canoes (for when zucchini really get out of hand)
1 large (13"-14" long) zucchini, sliced lengthwise; scoop out seedy center
_ pound ground beef
1 small onion, chopped
1 small red pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon chili powder
_ teaspoons ground cumin
1 can (4 oz) diced green chilies
1 can (8 oz) Mexican-style stewed tomatoes
_ cup chopped cilantro
_ cup bread crumbs
_ cup shredded jack cheese
Scoop out zucchini to leave a shell about 1/2-inch thick. Chop scooped out zucchini and reserve. Saut beef, onion and red pepper. Drain off fat. Add chili powder, cumin, green chilies, corn, tomatoes and reserved chopped zucchini to pan. Cook until most liquid evaporates. Mix in breadcrumbs, cilantro and half the cheese. Spoon mixture into zucchini shells. Bake in 350-degree oven 30 to 40 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and bake about 15 more minutes until cheese browns.
1 cup polenta
3 cups chicken broth
2 cups shredded zucchini
Shredded jack cheese to taste
Stir polenta and chicken broth over high heat until boiling. Mix in zucchini and simmer over low heat until polenta is smooth. Stir in cheese.
Slice zucchini lengthwise. Brush with olive oil, sprinkle with fresh oregano. Grill.
8 cups chopped, seeded, peeled zucchini (about 3 pounds)
2/3 cup lemon juice
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups cold butter
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Cook zucchini and lemon juice over medium-low heat for 15 to 20 minutes or until zucchini is tender. Add sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg; simmer until blended. Remove from heat and set aside.
For crust, combine flour and sugar in a bowl; cut in butter until mixture resembles course crumbs. Stir 1/2 cup into zucchini mixture. Press half of remaining crust mixture into a greased 15-by-10-by-1-inch baking pan. Spread zucchini mixture over top; crumble remaining crust mixture over zucchini. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Bake at 375 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes or until golden and bubbly.
Chocolate Zucchini Rum Cake
_ cup butter
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 cups shredded zucchini
1/3 cup rum
2-1/2 cups flour
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate bits
_ cup unsweetened cocoa
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
_ teaspoon cinnamon
_ cup milk
Beat butter and sugar until blended. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until fluffy. Stir in zucchini and rum. In separate bowl, combine all dry ingredients. Stir flour mix and milk into egg mixture until well blended. Pour batter into buttered and floured Bundt pan. Bake in 350-degree oven 50-55 minutes. Cool in pan about 15 minutes. Top, if desired, with a rum glaze made by mixing 3 tablespoons rum with 1-2/3 cups powdered sugar.
Anyone out there needing zucchini should give me a call.