A few years ago, my husband spotted a sign along the Rim Road in Des Montes: "FREE!" Not one to pass up a bargain, he stopped the car and discovered a large box filled with zucchini …
A few years ago, my husband spotted a sign along the Rim Road in Des Montes: "FREE!" Not one to pass up a bargain, he stopped the car and discovered a large box filled with zucchini and yellow squash. However, these were not the delicate squashes from the farmers market. These had grown to over 10 pounds each.
Needless to say, my husband couldn't resist and brought several of them home. I took a look at them and gasped. But I seized the challenge. This should be fun, I thought. Just one of these monsters was enough to make four loaves of zucchini bread. I was definitely happy that I could share some of the loaves with neighbors. Dealing with the challenge could easily overflow my freezer.
Thus, there was a lesson to be learned. When you grow zucchini, you'd better have a plan. Those of you gardening out there know what I'm talking about. The abundance of zucchini from the garden can easily overwhelm you. During summer squash season, people have been known to pretend they aren't home when zucchini-bearing friends arrive, lest they are saddled with even more.
The zucchini harvest tries our ingenuity as cooks, as we seek ways to use it up before it turns on us. Fortunately, zucchini is a versatile ingredient. Depending on how you cook it, zucchini can be sweet or savory or somewhere in between. Puree it and add it to sauces as a thickener. Dice it and add to chili instead of beans for a lighter repast. Shred it and bake it in bread. Roasted, grilled, sautéed or raw, zucchini is truly an all-purpose fruit.
Zucchini is also chock-full of antioxidants, nutrients, fiber and vitamins. Experts credit it with health benefits ranging from heart health to better vision, weight loss to diabetes prevention. Luckily for us, it is also available year-round. The challenge is in finding creative ways to incorporate greater than average amounts of this superfood into your diet.
Did you know that zucchini makes an excellent substitute for pasta? This is good news for those watching their carbs as well as their calories. One medium zucchini only has 33 calories, compared to 200 calories for a serving of pasta, and only 3 grams of carbohydrates compared to 41 grams. Allow one medium zucchini per person and shred it into long strands using one of those inexpensive spiralizing tools. I like to sauté it in a little olive oil and garlic to strengthen the fibers a little, but you can skip that step. Top with your favorite sauce, and your family will hardly even notice the difference. Plus you won't feel guilty about anyone having seconds.
I also love it as a pasta-substitute in lasagna. Using a mandoline or a sharp chef's knife, carefully slice lengthwise into long thin ribbons. Salt and allow to sweat in a colander, then rinse and dry on paper towels. Layer it with a good sauce, ricotta and grated cheese just as you would lasagna noodles and bake until bubbly. And since it is also green chile season (and I will never turn down a chance to add green chile to almost anything), my lasagna recipe features green chile for a New Mexico flair.
Another great use of zucchini is in casseroles. My layered vegetable casserole is based on a dish from northern Greece brought over by the Ottoman Turks. In this unique preparation, I leave out the eggplant in favor of a variety of summer squash. By baking the dish at high temperature, the vegetables caramelizes, which concentrates their savory essence. If you use a variety of colored vegetables, you will guarantee the casserole is as enticing to look at as it is to eat.
No story on using up zucchini would be complete without a recipe for zucchini bread. My version of the classic uses twice as much zucchini as usual. The secret is to drain the grated zucchini for several hours, and to dry it well with paper towels before adding it to the batter. The extra zucchini produces a moist loaf loaded with nutritious goodness.
So next time you have a bumper crop of zucchini, just embrace it - and cook up a slew of recipes. You'll be glad you did. And while you're at it, invite some friends over to enjoy the bounty.
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