Summer: A time for zucchini, zucchini and more zucchini
A friend told me recently that he planted a dozen zucchini plants. I tried not to gasp but failed. I plant one each summer and grow enough zucchini to feed a small community even picking them when they reach six to eight inches in length. A dozen plants, I assume, would feed the entire planet. Zucchini is the only photosynthetic, eukaryotic, multicellular organism that I know of that procreates better than a weed. This means, even with my one and only lonely plant, a steady summer diet of this somewhat bland veggie.
It does help that there are numerous ways to fix a zucchini and its nutritional value is exceptional. At just 18-20 calories per raw cup, zucchini contains zero fat, minimal sodium and carbohydrates and it is chucked full of vitamin C. Of course, like any good-for-us food, we can defeat all of that in the preparing.
The other thing about summer and food is that mostly I try to stay clear of the kitchen. When I do cook, it is usually over a grill in the backyard. Most Sundays I grill up several boneless, skinless chicken breasts and find ways over the next week to use the meat in salads or sandwiches. I also grill a few zucchini slices that have been brushed with a small amount of olive oil and seasoned with whatever strikes me that day. Sometimes simply salt and pepper, but other times I add some of the seasoning I use on my chicken breasts: a mixture of minced garlic and whatever herb happens to be in my garden, rosemary, thyme, basil. Do not over cook the zucchini slices. A couple of minutes per side is sufficient to leave them slightly crunchy. These grilled zucchini slices I eat immediately, sometimes making a meal with nothing else.
The cold, grilled chicken can be pared with halved grapes or cubed apples or both, along with sliced celery, chopped onion and/or nuts and yes, cubed zucchini, to make a wonderful, tasty and nutritious summer salad. The dressing can be a simple mixture of yogurt and mayo with a bit of ground ginger. If you want a sweeter dressing, add a small amount of honey. I usually go half and half on the yogurt and mayo, say a tablespoon of each for a small amount of salad. You can also use sour cream if you do not have yogurt. And yes, feel free to use low- or no-fat products.
I also toss chopped zucchini into my salad greens or julienne one to dip in ranch dressing for a snack. They make a great addition to your breakfast omelet as well.
If you grow tomatoes, which I do, you can sauté zucchini slices along with a tablespoon or so of chopped onions and a chopped tomato until all are tender. Add a bit of chopped, fresh basil just before serving and enjoy. Of course for this one you need to be in the kitchen for a brief period. Sometimes you do what you need to.
You might notice that I said nothing about zucchini bread. That’s because I save any bread baking for winter and the only zucchini I use in bread are those that get away from me. I am at a loss as to how this happens. I check my zucchini plant every day and think I get them all. Then, out of nowhere comes a humongous zucchini sticking out of the bottom of the plant. These I peel, grate and freeze in measured amounts for bread next winter.
Near the end of summer, when you become just too tired of zucchini to enjoy its healthy effects any longer, there is a way to add a bit of decadent to the dish. By that I mean add some sugar and spice. These pickled zucchini slices keep well in the refrigerator and go great with anything barbecued.
Pickled zucchini slices
3-4 Small to medium zucchini squash, halved and sliced
1-2 Tablespoon kosher salt
½ Cup cider vinegar
¾ Cup granulated sugar
1/8 Teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/8 Teaspoon dry mustard
1/8 Teaspoon Turmeric
1/8 Teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ Teaspoon celery seed
1. Cut each zucchini in half lengthwise then cut into ¼ to ½ inch slices. You should end up with 3-4 cups.
2. Place zucchini slices in a glass dish and sprinkle with kosher salt. Use ½ Tablespoon per cup. Toss to coat with salt, cover and place in refrigerator overnight.
3. The next morning, rinse the zucchini slices with cold water and drain well before returning to the glass dish.
4. Add remaining ingredients, vinegar, sugar and spices, to small saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir until sugar dissolves.
5. Pour hot broth over zucchini slices. Cover and refrigerate at least eight hours before serving. These will keep well in the refrigerator.