This is only one day’s harvest!
(…or the courgette chronicles, for our English audience.) By now we’re likely all familiar with the time-honored adage about how rural residents only lock their cars in July and August, because that’s when a fiendish neighbor is most likely to deposit a bag of overgrown and unwanted zucchini on the passenger seat. It’s an apt joke, however; anyone who has grown summer squash knows that it absolutely has a mind of its own. One day, there are tiny flowers on the plant; not even twenty-four hours later, it seems, zucchini the size of baseball bats have taken over the garden. If not carefully monitored, these plants can become unmanageable very quickly.
Please, someone, tell me what’s wrong with this zucchini plant?
I always think of zucchini (like my beloved kale) as a self-esteem boost for the gardener. It grows well in just about any conditions, needs little care and produces voluminously and reliably. Interestingly, this is the first season I’ve struggled with zucchini – of seven plants, four look like the photo above: small and stunted with initially green leaves that turn crisp and brown without growing larger. The plant keeps putting on new leaves, which promptly die; no blossoms or fruit appear. All of the seven plants are from the same seed and in the same bed and none are planted where squash grew last year; I’ve never seen anything like this. Are they diseased? Attacked by a mysterious pest? Why are three plants growing perfectly? If any experienced gardeners want to weigh in on this unexpected quandary, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
A rustic, free-form savory galette is a perfect way to use up excess vegetables.
Zucchini is basically the boneless, skinless chicken breast of the vegetable world – unbelievably versatile in the kitchen. Like chicken, however, zucchini often needs a little boost in the flavor department, so I have a few hard-and-fast rules when it comes to using it.
First, I make every effort to harvest zucchini as frequently as possible. I think it’s most flavorful when it’s smaller; the massive, weaponized zucchini are just tasteless white flesh and lots of seeds, in my opinion. The only exception to this is the zucchini I’m saving for next year’s seed; I typically leave one fruit on each plant to get as large as possible so I can harvest its seed. This gigantic zucchini is cut just before the first hard freeze; the flesh is given to the chickens, since it’s utterly flavorless and no longer useful in the kitchen.
Raw zucchini salad with melon, radish, Parmigiano, basil and pistachios.
When cooking zucchini, I always make a point of removing as much moisture as possible. Zucchini has a very high water content, which contributes to its blandness. I typically use dry, direct-heat methods, such as roasting or grilling, which help remove that moisture and intensify the zucchini’s sweet green flavors. If I’m using the zucchini raw in a salad, I’ll shave it thinly and salt it first, to draw out that excess water and add an extra layer of flavor. And if I’m shredding the zucchini for baking, I’ll squeeze out as much liquid as possible before combining with the other wet ingredients.
Hot coffee and a fresh muffin: yes, please.
I love baking with zucchini, both for color and substance, but I’m not a fan of the traditional American zucchini bread – way too much sugar and not enough complexity. I bake muffins a couple times each week; they’re terrific to have in the freezer for breakfast or afternoon snacks. At the moment I’m making a sort-of carrot cake muffin, with shredded zucchini and carrot, toasted walnuts, dried cherries, candied ginger and lots of warm spices. I never use more than a half-cup of sugar in a twelve-muffin recipe; I’m not looking for breakfast cupcakes. Muffins are an easy way to manage a hefty zucchini harvest; if you’re overrun with zucchini, shred it, squeeze out the excess moisture and freeze in two-cup portions for use in baking throughout the fall and winter.
Quick pickles are sharp, bright and flavorful.
Quick pickles are a fabulous way to preserve zucchini, and they keep indefinitely in the fridge if thoroughly covered in brine. There are a million ways to make quick pickles; I use a 1:1 ratio of white vinegar and water, plus jalapeños, peppercorns, cumin and dill. Since they’re not cooked, the zucchini retains its crunch and takes on the brine’s bright, spicy notes; we use these in sandwiches or on a cheeseboard. Also, if you happen to have brine left from store-bought pickles or olives, you can bring this to a full rolling boil and pour it over sliced vegetables for an even quicker quick pickle. Store quick pickles in sterilized glass jars in the fridge; just remember that the vegetables always need to be fully submerged, and only use clean utensils (never your fingers!) to remove pickles from the jar.
Lots of char means lots of caramelized, smoky flavor.
Another favorite use for excess zucchini is Grant Achatz’s simple, silky zucchini soup. It’s too hot for soup right now, but this is an easy meal I want on hand for colder weather, so I’m giving my future self a gift and prepping it now. I like to grill both the zucchini and the onions fast and hot for smoky flavor; this admittedly gives the finished soup a bit of a grey cast, but the flavor is incomparable. The soup can easily be made vegan, but if possible you should most definitely finish it with a swirl of this truffle butter, which takes it straight to fancy restaurant level. And like most soups, it freezes beautifully.
Zucchini is one of those vegetables that it’s easy to tire of when it seems like you’re harvesting three or four pounds daily. But come winter, I’ll be longing for those bright green summer flavors, and as always I’ll be glad I took the time to preserve our harvest.
What are your favorite ways to use up your zucchini bounty? Please share in the comments below!