Nothing quite says summer like trying to give away vast quantities of zucchini. To keep things in check this year I planted exactly two seeds, and only one came up. I gave it an entire bed to fill, so, naturally, it has grown in three different directions, two not of my choosing, smothering a few chard plants and a Jimmy Nardello pepper in its path.
It turns out that the plant that chose to grow was bred to make vast quantities of tiny little zucchini that are usually harvested with the flowers still intact. At first I was annoyed that I wasn’t going to get any big ones, but it turned out to be a rather fortuitous selection. Every now and again, one flower will get pollinated and I will get a large-ish zucchini, and in the meantime the plant keeps cranking out the megasporangiate flowers so there are loads of the little ones, too. I took this picture to remind myself to share what seems to be the best way to harvest the little ones which are determined to grow so closely to the main stem – a bird’s beak paring knife. It gets in there without damaging the rest of the plant, which could leave it open to predation.
Summer squash are pretty much interchangeable. You can use yellow squash, zucchini, or the little flying saucer types in just about any dish calling for one or the other. That includes zucchini bread, which, if we are honest with ourselves, is really a cake, but with vegetables, so, you know. It’s healthful, right? I have my Grandmother’s recipe, but I will send you once again to David Lebovitz for a reliable one. Bake it in a bundt pan so it looks pretty with zero effort, then get a photo right when you turn it out of the pan and before the local pastry-vores get hold of it.
Summer squash are also great in savory applications. I have eaten vegetable kofta in Indian restaurants, and a recipe popped up recently in an email newsletter, so I gave it a try. Based upon what I had in the pantry (what? No cilantro?), I combined the Times’ recipe with another from Julie Sahni’s Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking. The kofta are traditionally made with young snake gourd, but it appears that a number of people are making them with zucchini and other summer squash that are more readily available in the US. There are lots of recipes and videos out there.
The best method for removing water from the salted shreds is to use a potato ricer, crushing everything in batches. That’s a Sara Moulton tip. Kofta are usually deep fried, but I was not up for boiling oil during a heatwave, so I cheated, made little pancakes, and pan fried them. The little vegetable fritters are gently spiced, as is the accompanying tomato sauce, and the two meld beautifully. This is a lovely meal that I will make again, and maybe I will try “air” frying next time.
I’ve been using the tiny zucchini in several ways, mostly tossing with pasta and pesto. I also made a risotto that turned out quite well. I use a pressure cooker, which I know is controversial, but if it allows me to get a meal on the table in a half hour, I’m all for it. I have the original cookbook by Lorna Sass, a gift from my Mom along with my first pressure cooker, and I managed to find a video that shows her cooking a risotto up to the point the lid gets locked on. The second video with the finishing of the dish should pop up in the sidebar for you. You can use this method for any type of risotto, and it is an amazing time saver, as well as a guarantee that the rice will be evenly cooked.
A large zucchini got diced up and put in with the shallot, then the little ones were cooked separately in a skillet and stirred in after the cheese at the end. You may look at this photo and think I turned each of those little pieces separately. What can I say. Some people check in to an ashram and meditate for two weeks, and others of us fill a skillet with carefully sliced zucchini coins and gently turn them over, one by one. Then we put in the second batch and do it again. If that’s not your thing, chuck it all in the skillet at once and toss at will until everything is browned to your liking.
That’s fried okra on the side. I didn’t grow any this year, and this is only the second time in my life I’ve bought any. It was that beautiful in the store. Just picked and handled with appropriate care beautiful. I don’t know where breaded and deep-fried okra comes from because both of my grandmothers made it like it is pictured here. Toss with some seasoned cornmeal (salt, black pepper, chile flakes if you are into that sort of thing), then pan fry, stirring or shaking the pan regularly until it’s as crisp as you want. Take in a deep breath and get transported back in time to your Granny’s kitchen, just minus the Crisco. (I used olive oil.) Happy summer!