I have been enviously reading the entries in gardening blogs ("Anybody want some zucchini? I've got a bushel of them!") And it's all I can do to keep from begging, "Sure! Give them all to me." My sole little zucchini plant only has a few babies. I will keep my fingers crossed that all the flowers predict a bumper crop a little later in the season -- but time is running out. Luckily, for me, zucchini is readily available at every grocery store and at the Farmer's Market.
Zucchini and its summer squash siblings, yellow squash and calabacitas, are very versatile vegetables. The possibilities are abundant, just like zucchini itself.
Slice and sauté in a little olive oil with garlic and herbs for a simple and tasty side dish. Cut lengthwise, toss with vinaigrette and grill. Grate and incorporate into a sweet batter for a dense and delicious quick bread. Add to spaghetti sauce for a nutritious veggie boost. You can even spiralize and use in place of pasta for a lighter dinner option.
As many of you know, I am Greek. That means I like to share my culinary heritage. We Greeks like to feed people, and my family was no exception. We joyfully exclaim "Kali Orexsi" as we bring dinner to the table, which means "enjoy your good appetite."
Greeks tend to have several vegetarian dinners a week, and needless to say, zucchini is an important part of Greek cuisine. Greeks look at zucchini as a substantial substitute for meat. Summer squash cooks quickly and tastes delicious. Many a busy evening my mother served us a braised zucchini stew with potatoes, onions and a thick tomato sauce. She completed the meal with a salad for a quick and tasty repast. Her start-to-finish recipe only took about 30 minutes to cook, so by the time we set the table and sliced the crusty bread, supper was served.
Some of my fondest memories are from when my mother made special zucchini dishes. Once in a while, especially during holidays and weekends, she cooked up a batch of kolokithokeftethes -- zucchini fritters. These crisp and tasty cakes were traditionally served with creamy tzatziki -- a refreshing yogurt and cucumber sauce. Zucchini fritters were a vegetarian substitute for the traditional Greek savory meat patties that were served often for dinner at our home. If we were having company, she made the fritters very small to eat as mezedes -- appetizers.
Another festive and mouth-watering zucchini dish my mother made, especially at the end of summer when squash was bountiful, was kolokithopita, a savory and crisp phyllo pie. The exquisite zucchini filling was similar to that of spanakopita -- classic Greek spinach phyllo pie. She sautéed the zucchini with green onions and plenty of herbs, then combined the cooled results with eggs and feta cheese. My mother then brushed melted butter on layers and layers of thin phyllo pastry, adding the zucchini filling in two batches with more layers in between, before topping with the remaining phyllo pastry and the last drops of butter. The savory smell of buttery pastry and traditional Greek herbs, like dill and mint, filled the house as the pita (Greek for "pie") baked until golden. Kolokithopita was traditionally baked in a round pan and cut into wedges.
Zucchini season is my perfect excuse for me to revisit these tantalizing family dishes. The late summer abundance can sometimes overwhelm, but I can use up large quantities of the beautiful fresh zucchini in these preparations. Easy and delicious, either recipe would be perfect for a lighter meal or a substantial side dish.
And once you've tried them, you can personalize the recipes, too. Add shredded carrots to the fritters for an even more robust result. And the phyllo pie welcomes the addition of other sautéed vegetables, such as mushrooms or corn. And why not add half a cup of freshly roasted chopped green chile? I love incorporating that snappy Taos twist into many of my favorite recipes.
So I hope you give one or more of these dishes a try next time you have a boatload of zucchini, whether you buy it at the market, grow it in your garden, or benefit from the generosity of friends (hint, hint.)
And again, "Kali Orexsi." And maybe you will be inspired to dance a little "Zorba" around the table.