Fresh ideas for your bumper crop of zucchini

During these lazy days of August, your vegetable garden might be overrun with what looks like green baseball bats. It's a common scene this time of year, when the beach beckons and tending the vegetables feels like a chore. But if you can, try to avoid letting your zucchini grow too large. When it is not harvested in time, zucchini will bloat with water and become bland.

When harvested at its ideal size, about 1 to 1-1/2 inches in diameter, zucchini has a delicate, yet distinct, flavor. Zucchini is prized for its versatility, as it fares well in pastas, soups, breads, and even desserts. Cooks relish the challenge of coming up with interesting new recipes that bring out the best in this summer squash, which is technically a fruit, but treated as a vegetable in the culinary world.

Lynette Raap is an avid cook and gardener who never tires of zucchini. As a co-owner with her husband of a community supported agricultural (CSA) farm in Burlington, Vt., Ms. Raap hauls home 15 to 20 pounds of zucchini per week.

She can hardly wait to start slicing and dicing the glossy green squash. With each week's supply, she digs out her favorite zucchini recipes and gets to work. She might make a sauté of sliced zucchini with garlic, fresh ginger, olive oil, and soy sauce. Or make curried zucchini soup, zucchini pancakes (replacing milk with pureed zucchini), or perhaps a mock apple pie, which substitutes zucchini for apple and used to fool her kids when they were wary of all things green.

When her family gets bored with the old standbys, she often looks for fresh inspiration online, where zucchini recipes are now especially plentiful. Or she turns to her dog-eared copy of "The Classic Zucchini Cookbook," by Nancy Ralston, Marynor Jordan, and Andrea Chesman, where she first stumbled upon that recipe for mock apple pie – or, as the authors dubbed it, "Zapple Pie."

At the Food Project in Lincoln, Mass., a CSA that donates 30 percent of its harvest to six Boston-area shelters, zucchini also has been on the minds and stoves of its members. Many have been whipping up batches of Middle Eastern tabbouleh.

Michael Iceland, spokesman for the Food Project, says the farm's crop was diminished somewhat by spring rains, but that his organization is still harvesting about 400 pounds of zucchini every August morning.

Boston chef Robert Lionette recently baked savory scones, laced with zucchini, corn, and tomatoes, with the Food Project's youth workers. But his favorite way to cook zucchini is simple: grilled, lightly marinated in extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, fresh herbs, and then chilled. He might add grilled eggplant and red peppers to the cold salad.

At Garden of Eden, the Lionette family's restaurant in Boston, and for their market next door, Mr. Lionette cooks 100 pounds of locally grown zucchini every week in August. The market's biggest seller is his ratatouille, which he makes in two large batches each day, using 10 pounds of zucchini per batch.

"We attract customers who want to eat what's in season," he says. "These days, it's ratatouille. We can't make enough of it!"

Zapple Pie

This mock apple pie is a delicious way to sneak vegetables into your kids' meals.

Filling:
6 cups peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced zucchini (about 2 pounds)
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 unbaked pie shell

Topping:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

To make the filling: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine zucchini, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Stir to mix and cook until tender, but not mushy, about 15 minutes, stirring frequently.

In a large measuring cup or a small bowl, mix the flour with the remaining 1/2 cup lemon juice until smooth. Stir into the zucchini mixture. Continue to cook until the mixture thickens, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

To make the topping: Combine flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly. Stir in the pecans or walnuts.

Spoon the filling into the pie shell. Top with half of the streusel topping. Place in the oven and reduce heat to 350 degrees F. Bake for 30 minutes, until the crust is browned and the filling bubbles.

Sprinkle the remaining topping over the pie. Turn on the broiler. Place pie under the broiler for about 3 minutes, until topping is browned.

Set the pie on a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or completely cooled. It is best served on the day it is made. Serves 6 to 8.

Source: From 'The Classic Zucchini Cookbook' by Nancy Ralston, Marynor Jordan, and Andrea Chesman

Tabbouleh

1-1/4 cups water
1 cup bulgur wheat
4 small zucchini, finely diced
1 bell pepper, seeds removed, finely diced
2 scallions, minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lime
Freshly grated Parmesan or crumbled feta cheese (optional)

Bring water to a boil in a small pot. Add bulgur and boil, uncovered, for 1 minute. Remove from heat, cover, and set aside until bulgur has absorbed rest of the water, about 15 minutes.

Fluff cooked bulgur with a fork and transfer to a large bowl. Add diced zucchini, bell pepper, and scallions. Toss until combined.

Whisk together dill, parsley, olive oil, and lime juice in a small bowl. Pour dressing over the bulgur and toss until thoroughly combined. Just before serving, sprinkle with cheese. Serve at room temperature. Serves 6.

Source: Adapted from The Food Project in Lincoln, Mass.

Zucchini Tips

• The best size to buy, unless you stuff them, are small, skinny zucchinis that are 1 inch or less in diameter.

• Don't buy zucchinis that are larger than 1-1/2 inches in diameter or longer than 6 inches.

• Look for even, bright color and glossy skin; firm, not bendable fruit.

• Soak zucchini in cold water for about 5 minutes, then scrub thoroughly under cold running water. If zucchini still feels gritty, peel it.

• When cut, the flesh should be crisp and show tiny seeds.

• Cut off and discard both ends before using in any recipe.

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