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The Zucchini Are Here!

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Summer may not officially be here until the end of June, but the zucchini is, and we need to stay on top of that feracious fruit before we send the neighbors hiding when they see us coming with a wheelbarrow load. Oh what to do, what to do with them? 

How about dressing up like the mailman and sticking them in people’s mailboxes? You can keep a basket by the front door like Halloween candy to pass out to door-to-door solicitors, the UPS delivery person, or anyone else who ventures along unawares. What is it about this summer staple that makes people guffaw and roll their eyes at its mere mention? It’s not the only vegetable in our gardens that grows so prolifically. What about cucumbers, eggplant and tomatoes? Do you ever hear anyone complaining, “Oh my gosh! I have kohlrabi comin’ outta my ears!”?

And it always comes down to the big questionwhy do we plant so much? Well, who only plants one zucchini? I plant two, yes, only two. Under the right conditions, two zucchini plants can produce up to 180 squash in one season. I believe it is the very nature of this fruit to grow exponentially overnight that makes it the butt of so many jokes. If you miss one under those giant leaves, it can grow to firewood-size in just a few days. It is one of the easiest plants to grow, at least until the spider mites and aphids move in. If you are diligent and patient in your pest control routine, you can have zucchini long after everyone else has pulled theirs up. 

Despite all the disrespect, we know we are eating healthy. This vita-packed veggie is about 95 percent water, high in fiber, yet low in calories, at only 17 per 100 grams. Most varieties are rich in vitamins A and C and potassium, and they’re also high in flavonoid, polyphenolic antioxidants such as carotenes, lutein and zeaxanthin, which help mop up free radicals that may play a role in aging and various disease processes. Scientists have become especially aware of the benefits of this underestimated powerhouse and have been researching pumpkins and squash for cancer-fighting properties. 

Although we gardeners facetiously complain about our abundance of this venerable vegetable, we love the multitude of recipes we can make with it. It may be only June, but I have already sautéed it in extra virgin, doused it with soy sauce in stir-fry, and grilled it with asparagus. Sliced thin and combined with peppers, it makes a fabulous frittata or quiche. And when they really start coming on strong, I battle the bees to fill up my basket with the blossoms to sauté in extra virgin for buttery-flavored goodness. I even purchased a vegetable spiralizer, turning out amazing yard-long strings of zoodles and zasta. I felt like a kid again with a Play-Doh factory but actually got to cook and eat the stuff in a variety of sauces and soups. And these are just a handful of dishes on the savory side.

The versatile zucchini transforms into Chameleon Veggie, taking on the flavor and color of whatever it is cooked with. Last summer, I experimented with mature zucchini and fruit juice and came up with a fun recipe for zucchini fruit chews. It also makes unbelievable chocolate cake, brownies, mock-apple pie, zapple crisp, and it’s terrific tossed into pancakes and waffles. And, ultimately, there is my favorite way to deliciously dispose of truckloads of this incredible curcurbitmy famous zucchini bread. Not only is a loaf of this unpretentious pastry a constant on my counter, but I seize every opportunity to bake up a pair for the slightest of occasions. Is it your birthday? I’ll put candles on it. Going on a picnic? I’ll slice and stuff it in snack baggies. Need gluten-free? Don’t worry; I got your bake. There are lots of good recipes online and elsewhere, but after years of experimenting, I believe I have the basic ingredients down for a moist, not-too-sweet, tasty recipe that also uses extra virgin olive oil.

As the summer progresses and the squash proliferate, I encourage you not to panic but, instead, calmly go to my Pinterest zucchini board and start experimenting. You’ll find lots of easy and edible ideas there, as well as on my Tumblr site. As for me, I am always on the lookout for new recipes, too, so feel free to send me a Pin. And if you see me cruising around parking lots this summer wearing a hoodie and sunglasses, I am not there looking for unlocked cars.

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