The zucchini chronicles

Zucchinis 01 sml

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.

Squash 01 sml

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.

Zuccini Galette 01 sml

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.

Zucchini Salad 01 sml

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.

Zuccini Muffins 01 sml

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.

Zucchini Pickle 01 sml

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.

Zucchini Grilled 01 sml

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!

13 thoughts on “The zucchini chronicles

  1. For dinner last night, we had zucchini fritters and cream cheese stuffed zucchini. I use Treeline cashew cheese with garlic and herbs and a little onion with the interior zucchini.

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  2. As I started reading the ‘Zucchini Chronicles’ (while eating a piece of zucchini bread made yesterday) I was reminded to actually keep one for seeds. Been Really collecting them this year. I have enough for about 10 years so far. 😀 I also have a carrot Zucchini muffin recipe that tastes great and freezes well. I’m also looking at a carrot salad recipe that might be interesting with some zucchini added or even replaced with. We shall see. Unfortunately my yellow, butternut, acorn, and pumpkin all have very pretty female flowers but no ‘fruit’ so far. I did have to put some ‘veggie bags’ over the zucchini for protection. Squirrels! They don’t seem to know what it is so they stay away. YAY!

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    • Susan, great job on saving seeds! It’s so important to build our own unique seed banks. And I’m struggling with winter squash too this year; those plants really need to hurry up if we’re to have viable fruit by the first hard freeze.

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  3. It looks like Squash Bacterial Wilt. Any wilted plant parts should be disposed of out of the garden. Pull the affected plant so not to infect the healthy plants. Another good reason for plant rotation, if you can.

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    • Thanks, Jim! I’ve pulled the diseased plants and will burn them later on when it’s cool and wet enough to do so (if that ever happens). I hope that bed won’t be infected on a long-term basis. Hope you’re well!

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    • It seems to be a combination of problems. What I ‘see’ is powdery mildew. Most zucchini plants are infected with powdery mildew so some degree. However, it is not a problem for healthy plants. It becomes a problem for plants that are distressed from something else, such as nutrient deficiency, or squash bacterial wilt.

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      • Thanks, Tony! Yes, I definitely assume powdery mildew to an extent on all squash plants, and here we tend to see it pretty aggressively later in the season before the plants freeze. But the squash bacterial wilt is new to me, and I’ll be doing more research on that. Hoping the entire bed isn’t infected. Thanks for reading!

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  4. May I have your zucchini muffin recipe you related to in this last post? I want to reduce sugar. I love your posts. I met you at a couple health fairs at Hunter Douglas, put on by Angie Nichols some time ago. She shared your email with me and I look forward to your posts.
    Thank you,
    Connie Allen

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  5. Pingback: This week in flowers: September 7 | Finding Quiet Farm

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