Friday, September 08, 2006

A Zillion Zucchini

Right now gardeners everywhere are wondering what in the heck they can do with the wheelbarrow full of zucchini piled on the kitchen counter. Having completely mastered the task of getting their plants to produce, they are now overwhelmed. People cringe when gardeners are carrying brown paper bags; friends hide when they see them coming. This is a sad state of affairs. What you are eating instead of zucchini is likely adding pounds to your middle. Give them a chance. Learn some new culinary tricks for this low calorie food and your middle will thank you.

Zucchini, and other summer squash are actually very diet friendly, nutritious, and versatile in the kitchen. Summer squash, including zucchini, only has 20 calories per cup. It is low in carbohydrates and fats, so you can eat lots and not gain a pound. It is a good source of vitamin C, riboflavin, B-6, potassium, and manganese. All things the body needs. The web site The Worlds Healthiest Foods claims that summer squash, including zucchini, have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. They are supposed to be especially good for the prostate gland and for folks with “conditions like asthma, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.” With just a few tips you can probably use all the summer squash your vines and bushes will produce. And your health may be all the better because of it.

Grate that zucchini:

Back when I was a mere pup, I worked at The Chef – a natural food restaurant in Carmichael, CA. Every morning at 6 AM I could be found grating mountains of fresh zucchini, yellow squash, and carrots. These were mixed together, equal parts zucchini and yellow squash, to about ¼ part grated carrots. This mix was stored in a big clear plastic garbage bag in the walk in cooler. It was completely gone by the following morning. We used this mix in nearly every omelet, order of scrambled eggs, and sandwich we served. It was used as a garnish for every salad, entree, and bowl of soup. It was part of The Chef’s signature. And not a bad idea to use at home. You can add zing by adding other grated fresh veggies, pressed garlic, or slivered onions. You can toss the mix with your favorite fresh or dried herbs, mixed seasonings, olive oil, or salad dressing. Dress it up with a sprinkling of pine nuts; sunflower, pumpkin, or sesame seeds. Serve it up on some lettuce or kale leaves, add a few slices of tomato and / or cucumber, a scoop of tuna salad - and call it dinner!

A cup of fresh grated zucchini or other summer squash can be added to bread and cake recipes. The squash will increase the moisture level of the baked goods, allowing you to cut the oil, butter, or fat called for in the recipe by half. Match the color of your squash to the color of your recipe. Yellow squash goes perfect with yellow cake or corn bread. Peeled, any light fleshed squash is perfect in white cakes or breads. Zucchini hides nicely in chocolate cake and whole wheat bread. The texture, flavor, and health benefits of your baked goods are improved!

Grated squash makes an easy frittata for a quick dinner or a company brunch. 1&1/2 cups grated squash and other veggies can be placed in a small pie pan with an unbaked pie shell, or skip the pie shell and simply oil the pan. Optional: add ½ cup grated cheese of your choice. Beat 5 eggs adding 2 tablespoons of flour and ¼ cup milk.. Pour over veggies and bake at 350 for 30 – 45 minutes. It is done when it quits jiggling in the middle and a tooth pick inserted comes out with no under-cooked egg mix clinging to it. Serve with salsa, and salad for dinner, or sliced fruit for brunch. Dress it up with a dollop of sour cream, unsweetened yogurt, or fresh chopped herbs if desired.

Grated zucchini or summer squash can be added to ground meat. Use about ¼ grated squash to ¾ meat. Cook as you normally would. This is great for meat loaf, hamburgers, patty sausage, and meat balls. It will add moisture, flavor, and reduce calories, fat, and cholesterol.

Dice it up:

Diced squash is good in salad, soup, beans, casseroles, and stir fry. Dice it tiny and add it to salsa and chutney, or pour leftover pickle juice over it and keep refrigerated and call it relish. Dice it chunky and steam for a simple side dish. Mix it with diced potatoes and peppers and fry it up to go with breakfast or as a dinner side dish. Marinate it in olive oil and balsamic vinegar and poke a tooth pick in each piece and call it a hors d’oeuvre. Pierce it with a skewer alternately with other veggies and shrimp, chunks of albacore, or beef, grill until done - and you have shish-kabob.

Whiz it:

Use a food processor to puree your squash. One cup pureed squash can be added to pancake and waffle batter. When adding to pancake batter you can reduce the fat, butter, or oil in the recipe by half. Be careful when experimenting with reducing fat in waffle batter, because a certain amount is necessary to keep the waffles from sticking to the waffle iron. Small lightly browned pancakes ad waffles can be frozen in zip-lock bags to make your own quick microwave or toaster oven breakfasts. Pureed squash also makes a good base for the cool summer soup called gazpacho. If you think you want your soup supper smooth - use small young squash. If you don’t mind a little more fiber, you can use medium sized squash that have immature seeds inside. Just grind them up smooth with some garden greens if available. Dice up some tomatoes and peppers and fresh herbs and stir them in and chill. You can serve as is or with a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt and some chopped chives or basil. The grated squash -carrot blend also makes a nice garnish! Young pealed squash puree can be used in place of a portion of the fruit in recipes for things like apple-sauce cake, smoothies, and jam. I recently made a batch of jam with 2 cups fig puree, 2 cups squash puree, 2 cups blackberries, 2 cups sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and ½ teaspoon each nutmeg and cloves. I let it cook down on low in the crock-pot with the lid slightly ajar for most of an afternoon, then I added 1 package no-sugar pectin, brought it to a boil, packed in sterilized jars and water bath processed it. Tastes great!

Keep it for later:

Diced, grated, or whizzed zucchini can be frozen in zip lock bags for up to 6 months for use in cooked dishes. If you have a food dehydrator, zucchini and other summer squash can be sliced fairly thin, dipped in lemon juice if desired and dried until crisp. (Some references say to store right away – some say to leave the veggies out to “condition.” I don’t have a dehydrator - Store in an air tight container They make great low calorie chips as is, or they can be added to soup or casseroles.

Tougher more mature zucchini can be canned or pickled. To can dice the squash in bite size sections leaving the skin on. (But remove the seeds.) Pack raw into quart jars leaving ½ headroom. Boil enough water or broth to fill jars. Salt and herbs are optional but nice. Vinegar or lemon juice can also be added to taste – and it improves color retention. Pour over squash, dry jar rims, cover with new lids, install rings – but do not tighten. Process at 10 pounds for 30 minutes in a pressure canner. Vent canner and as soon as it is cool enough to be safe, promptly remove jars and tighten lids.

Best results for pickles are also obtained with about half mature squash. Wash and remove seeds but not the rind. Boil jars, rings, and pour boiling water over the lids. While jars are boiling cut squash wedges to fit the jars, leaving about ½ inch head room. Boil equal parts vinegar of your choice and water, adding 1/3 cup salt for every 6 cups liquid. Pack squash wedges in jars, adding your choice of garlic cloves, onion wedges, dill, mustard, and/ or celery seed, peppercorns, hot peppers, etc.. Pour boiling pickle solution into packed jars to within ½ inch of top. Dry rims, cover with lids, loosely install rings, process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes, promptly remove jars and tighten lids.

No zucchini?

Start seeds right now for a fall crop! Last year I picked summer squash from my garden here in Hoopa until the middle of December when we finally got a hard killing frost. Zucchini can take more cold than many summer veggies – so it is not too late. And you don’t need to till a whole garden plot to grow a few plants. Tuck them into an empty spot along a fence or in your flower border. Give them a little water when you can and they are likely to take right off.

Stay tuned – next time we will be taking a look at broccoli and its close relatives.. They can be started now and again in mid October for fall and winter crops! Until then, you can probably find me out in the garden, Digging the Dirt.

Copyright 2006 Harvest McCampbell, from my column "Digging the Dirt," published in The Hoopa Valley People Newspaper, August 15, 2006. Posted here with permission.