Advice from a magical kitchen to yours—
Dear Kitchen Witch,
I’m sure you get this question all the time, but what should I do with all the summer squash that’s coming my way?
This is, in fact, the first time I’ve fielded this question in this column—but it is true that I’ve felt its approach, coming at me, the way one eyes that zucchini plant in the garden that’s just about to go bonkers. And much like a zucchini not picked when it’s small, the question only lurks and gets more threatening when left to languish, so I’m going to tackle it immediately. Correspondingly, my first advice to you is to pick them small, if you are the producer of said summer squash. I personally like zucchini when the seeds inside are no bigger than tiny seed pearls—indeed have barely formed as a separate thing—and the squash themselves are not much bigger around than a highlighter pen. They’re tender, delicately flavored, firm, and not watery or stringy—two qualities that give giant zucchini a bad name. Tiny baby zucchini are lovely raw, shaved into a salad or the like.
An aside: A lot of the summer veg, I think, suffer by being left too long. Like a laid-off guy who turns to comfort at a dive bar, they’ll turn seedy and bitter. My favorite variety of cucumbers are called lemon cucumbers—little egg-shaped things with a disconcerting three-day beard of sparse prickles—and I think because of the name, many farmers and home growers of them leave the cucumbers on the vine until they get big and tough-seeded and turn yellow, at which point they are bitter and disgusting. Picked when the skin is silver-green and they are about the size of an egg, they are wonderful and my fave cucumber for fresh eating. Likewise, eggplant and zucchini.
If you are in control of the picking of the squash, you can thus control the sheer amount of squash you end up with by not letting it grow so much. The leveling-up version of this is to pick the squash blossoms, stuff them with a little cheese (or not), dip them in batter, and fry them up Italian style, which thus neatly sidesteps the problem of having any squash whatsoever. They are also tasty chopped up, sautéed in a bit of butter, and stuffed into an omelet.
However, we all know that it’s easy to miss the occasional piece of produce, which develops overnight into a baseball bat-sized thing. And we all know neighbors and family who grow zucchini and yellow squash and whatnot and will give it to you in a spirit of bounty/desperation. The easiest and most delicious way to deal with a lot of squash at once, in my opinion, is the noble fritter. This is one of my favorite summer dinners. If you have a Cuisinart, and I hope you do for this purpose, it’s also quick and relatively easy. Shred up those squash using the shredder attachment (if they’re enormous, make sure you scoop out the seeds first) and put them in a colander with a little kosher salt to drain. If you like, you can shred some onions or shallots in with them. When they’ve had an hour or so to leach out some liquid, dump the shreds into a clean kitchen towel and squeeze the almighty hell out of them. Seriously, twist that towel as hard as you can and get as much as you can of the zucchini’s considerable liquid out. Then transfer to a bowl, beat in some eggs and flour and a splash of milk and black pepper, and some chopped fresh herbs if you are fancy, and fry them. Serve with a mint yogurt sauce if you, again, are fancy, or topped with eggs for a lavish brunch, or with ketchup if your children are (like mine) very much not fancy.
My favorite zucchini side dish is something my grandma and then my mom used to make. Prick the whole zucchini with a fork, steam or boil them until barely fork-tender, and then let cool slightly and cut in half lengthwise. Blot away the excess liquid on the cut half and place them cut side up on a baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and pepper and a bunch of grated Parmesan, and broil until brown. My grandma and my mom used the Kraft cheese in the shiny green canister, which made for a very crunchy crust. I use the refrigerator-case pre-grated (not shredded) kind. Real Parmigiano-Reggiano is, of course, delicious but meltier and not as crunchy under the broiler.
Astute readers will notice I have not yet mentioned zucchini noodles. I like them fine. There are a lot of recipes for making and using and spiralizing them out there on the naked, unfettered Internets, and so I doubt anyone in the year 2019 needs my prompting to make them. I will say my favorite thing to do with them is wide ribbons (like pappardelle) made with a mandoline and very lightly sautéed, then topped with a fresh, delicate tomato sauce, maybe with a touch of cream. Even better, you can use regular pappardelle and top it with zucchini and lemon.
Last summer, faced with some very large vacation-grown zucchini, I tried shredding a lot of it in batches to freeze. They released a lot of water on thawing, not surprisingly, and worked better in baked goods than in fritters, where you want some of that fresh texture for lightness. I started making some chocolate muffins with shredded zucchini in them and it was, as you might imagine, a big hit with my kids. I am a child of the 1970s and I like zucchini bread, that old staple, though I like it less oily and less sweet and heavy than the brick-like productions of my youth. I’ve had success lightening up the flavor of such quick breads with lemon and rosemary. They do tend to use a little less of that zucchini you want to get rid of, though. On the plus side, baked goods are the perfect thing to give back to the people who gave you the zucchini in the first place.
Every week, the Kitchen Witch answers your culinary questions with an eye towards seasonal, sustainable cooking. Ask your question by email email@example.com or on Twitter @ECkitchenwitch.