Tuesday, August 25, 2009

How Do You Use It Up? Zucchini Edition

So even at this late date, I'm seeing zucchini out the ears at every farmstand. This is one of the big ones that people struggle to use up because it seems that if zucchini grow at all, they grow in great big piles of plant matter. They can be frozen (great instructions on general freezing of vegetables here), but for some reason this isn't commonly done. Perhaps people are so tired of them by summer's end that they just don't care to eat it in the wintertime; or maybe, the fact that it's available fresh at a fairly reasonable price year-round is the culprit. The latter won't work for you if you're a locavore, though.

At any rate, as a result of zucchini's abundance, there are a vast, vast array of recipes to use it up. From Allrecipes, in terms of sweets, we have:

Zucchini Bread
Blueberry Zucchini Bread
Zucchini Cake (good heavens, that looks wonderful)
Zucchini Spice Cake
Lemon Zucchini Drops
Streuseled Zucchini Bundt Cake
Zucchini Lemon Sorbet (!)
Zucchini Brownies (many vegetables can be hidden in brownies or other chocolate desserts; I heard of someone making chocolate cake with beets when their CSA share grew overabundant in them)
Zucchini Cobbler
Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes (see?)
Zucchini Chocolate Orange Cake
Zucchini Pie

...and many, many more. In short, there doesn't seem to be a dessert you can name that you can't squeeze a zucch into somehow.

But that only partially solves the problem. You can't eat that much dessert! Zucchini season also happens to be bikini season, after all. And you can only pawn so many desserts off on other people.

So it's good to be armed with a large number of main and side dish ideas for your zucchs, as well; personally, I use them this way far more often than in sweets (I haven't made a single zucchini bread this year!).

Zucchini are great as main dishes for a vegetarian meal. As a flexitarian, I've gotten more and more comfortable with the idea over time. Some great possibilities include stuffing them, which you can do with any variety of other vegetables, breading, meats, or cheeses; baking them into a frittata or quiche; or baking them into a casserole. One of my favorites is to bury them with onions and peppers in a spaghetti sauce and then topping them with mozzarella and other Italian cheeses. This is also good with pieces of chicken breast in it.

Under main dishes (not all vegetarian) on Allrecipes:

Farmer's Market Vegetarian Quesadillas Zucchini Dutch Cheese Casserole
Connie's Zucchini 'Crab' Cakes (I have made these, and really enjoyed them)
Ratatouille (how could I have left that off the list?)
Pasta Primavera with Italian Turkey Sausage
Zucchini Alfredo (I like this idea, but would prefer to make my own alfredo sauce - I'll post the recipe below)
Cheesy Sausage-Zucchini Casserole
Marrakesh Vegetable Curry (ooooh!)
Lemon Orzo Primavera
Zucchini Parmesan (look! That's what I make!)
Italian Sausage and Zucchini
Vegetarian Moussaka
No-Cream Pasta Primavera
Summer Zucchini Casserole

Many of these recipes call for processed foods - cream soups, processed cheese, stuffing mix. But a cook who wants to avoid these things can find their ways, with homemade cream sauces, actual cheese, and bread crumbs they add seasoning to (just peek at stuffing recipes to get an idea, or add a mess of poultry seasoning to it).

There are about a half a ton of ways to make it as a side dish, too. My favorites are roasting them with olive oil, a little salt, and Parmesan or Romano cheese (this works for baby squash, too - if you harvest them when they're small, you get less!), or breading and frying them. My mother used to bread yellow squash when I was a little girl and, if I remember correctly, it's the first way I found zucchini edible.

In terms of side dishes, Allrecipes offers:

Crispy Zucchini or Pumpkin Blossoms (if you eat the flowers, you get way less, too!)
Cheddar Zucchini Wedges
Cheesy Zucchini Medley
Corn and Zucchini Melody
Japanese Zucchini and Onions
Grilled Zucchini
Sesame Parmesan Zucchini
Tomato Zucchini Casserole
Zucchini and Potato Bake
Summerly Squash
Zucchini Saute
Easy Cajun Grilled Veggies
Zucchini Casserole
Moroccan Couscous
Zucchini Pancakes
Zucchini in Sour Cream Sauce
Cheesy Zucchini Casserole

To try something a little bit more adventurous, check out these:

Tabakh Rohoo ("an Arabic vegetable stew")
South Indian Lentil Kootu
Mexican Zucchini Cheese Soup

And now I'll post my alfredo recipe. I originally found it in Woman's Day, and found it had exactly the flavor I crave for that sort of thing. I used to buy it in the jar every time I wanted alfredo, but now I just make it from scratch. You can even use whole wheat flour in it without making the texture gross.

Alfredo from Scratch

1 Tbsp. butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 Tbsp. flour (I find that this makes the sauce two thick - but try it out for yourself; you can always add extra milk)
2 cups fat free half-and-half (I just use regular milk; FF 1/2 & 1/2 is a processed food)
1/4 tsp. each salt, pepper, and ground nutmeg (the nutmeg is the secret to just the right flavor)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan

Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add garlic; cook over low heat 1 minute, or until fragrant. Whisk in flour, then slowly whisk in half and half until well combined. Whisk in salt, pepper, and nutmeg, and bring to a boil, whisking frequently.

Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in cheese until melted.

ETA: Upon posting this link to Facebook, my mother replied: "You can freeze zucchini but it doesn't hold up well. There is so much water in the veggie that the water crystals make the veggie break down into a mushy mess when defrosted. Same thing happens with summer squash. You can freeze zucchini bread or other things with zucchini in it, like soup, but as far as the veggie itself, the results aren't worth the work. This is the old farm wife speaking from experience."

So I asked then, how do they get seemingly decent zucchini into those frozen stir fry mixes and whatnot? And she replied, "Veggie processors have equipment that can flash freeze veggies that otherwise can't be done at home. Even so, the zucchini , if you taste it separated from the rest of the stuff and sauce and frying, tastes pretty bland. Bon appetit.;-D"

I'm not claiming complete accuracy, but I'm too lazy to look it up. So that's my answer for why not to freeze zucchini.

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