Every year more and more gardeners realize the biggest problem with zucchini is trying to give it away. Prolific is hardly the word for it. This year I decided not to grow zucchini at all because I knew my neighbors would have plenty for me, as well as for their family, relatives, friends, and people at the office. They do.
Twenty years ago most people didn't know what a zucchini was. Now it's a best seller, if not a staple, year-round in supermarkets. In the gardens there seems to be a contest in growing giant sizes. You see people with them on the subway bringing them into their place of work or swapping them for tomatoes, cabbage, or corn on the cob.
Zucchini is one of the few squashes that is not native to the Americas. It was developed in Italy, although there is certainly no question as to its overwhelming acceptance in the US today. Cooking it is no problem, either, for there must be more print about what to do with extra zucchini than any other vegetable.
If you have your own garden, you can pick the small squash when it is only 4 or 5 inches long. That's the best size, although you won't find it this small at most supermarkets. The smaller squashes are usually crisper, have smaller seeds, and are less watery than large ones.
Most any size is edible, however, and the huge ones are fine when they are scooped out, filled with a mixture of rice, chopped vegetables, bread crumbs, ground meat, and seasonings, and then baked. They can also be filled with a mixture of creamed chicken, turkey, or ham, then browned under the broiler.
Medium ones are good when seeded, cut in wedges about 4 inches long or circles, dipped in flour and seasonings, then pan-fried in butter or vegetable oil. They can also be cut in half and baked with a topping of butter, salt and pepper, and grated cheese.
If the squash is really huge and the skin is tough, peel and seed it, then grate it and use in a souffl'e, pancakes, bread, cake, fritters, or casseroles.
Remember that zucchini is bland and most recipes will need seasoning. Add salt, pepper, and butter, plus onion, garlic, parsley, and other herbs according to your taste. Don't forget to use large or small zucchini as sticks for snacks or to serve with a cheese or vegetable dip as an hors d'oeuvre.
When buying zucchini at the market, look for those with firm flesh and glossy green skins. Zucchini is perishable, so remember to refrigerate it and use within a week.
Food writer Beatrice Comas calls zucchini the ``most congenial vegetable'' because it is compatible with so many dishes. Here are some of the many recipes that show its versatility. Bea's Zucchini Pickles 4 quarts sliced, unpeeled zucchini 1 quart onions, sliced 1 quart vinegar 2 cups sugar 1/2 cup salt 2 teaspoons celery seed 2 teaspoons tumeric 1 teaspoon ground mustard
Bring to a boil vinegar, sugar, salt, and spices. Pour over zucchini and onions and let stand l hour. Bring to a boil then cook 3 minutes. Pack in hot, sterilized jars. Seal at once. Makes 6 to 7 pints.
From ``The Zucchini Cookbook,'' by Helen and Emil Dander (Sterling Cookbooks). Chocolate Zucchini Cookies 1 cup margarine or butter 1/2 cup sugar 1/4 cup brown sugar 1 egg, beaten 3 tablespoons cocoa 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla 1 cup cooked, mashed zucchini 2 cups flour 1/2 teaspoon salt 2 teaspoons baking powder 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Cream butter and sugars together. Add next four ingredients. Sift together dry ingredients and add to mixing bowl. Stir in walnuts. Drop by teaspoonfuls on greased cooking sheet. Bake in 350-degree F. oven 10 to 12 minutes. Makes 3 dozen. Zucchini Pancakes Parmesan 4 cups firmly packed, coarsely grated zucchini 3 eggs, well beaten 1/2 cup cracker crumbs 1/2 teaspoon each dried dill, marjoram, and thyme Salt and pepper to taste 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese Vegetable oil for frying
Place grated zucchini in colander, sprinkle with salt, and let sit about 10 minutes, then squeeze out moisture.
In large mixing bowl, beat eggs. Add remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly. Heat a lightly greased heavy skillet and cook pancakes a few at a time, using about 3 tablespoons batter per pancake.
When lightly browned, about 3 minutes, turn and cook other side l minute. Drain on paper towels. Serve with butter. Makes about 20 cakes.
From ``Vegetables, the New Main Course Cookbook,'' by Joe Famularo and Louise Imperiale (Barron's). Oven Zucchini Omelet 1 pound zucchini, coarsely grated Salt 4 eggs, beaten 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped 1 large red or green sweet bell pepper, diced 1 garlic clove, finely chopped 1 tablespoons chopped parsley 3 or 4 green onions, chopped Salt and freshly ground pepper 1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
Place zucchini in colander over a bowl and sprinkle with salt. Let drain about 30 minutes, then squeeze out moisture.
In large bowl combine remaining ingredients and mix well. Pour into oiled 9-inch oven dish or pie plate and bake in preheated oven at 350 degrees F. 40 to 45 minutes or until nicely puffed.
Remove from oven, let rest a few minutes, then serve from the casserole. May also be served cold. Serves 4 to 5.
Huntley Dent, author of ``The Feast of Santa Fe'' cookbook (Simon & Schuster) suggests combining zucchini with green chilies, along with garlic and green enchilada sauce. He also tells of variations such as grated zucchini with cream and cheese and grated zucchini with pur'eed avocados, lime juice, and coriander. Here is another of his zucchini recipes. Calabacitas ((Zucchini With Green Chili and Corn) 2 cloves garlic, peeled 2 Anaheim green chilies or half a large bell pepper, seeded 6 green onions, with green tops
2 medium zucchini, in 1/2-inch cubes 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 tablespoon butter Salt and pepper to taste 1/3 cup heavy cream 1 cup white corn kernels from 2 ears corn or canned corn (not creamed) 1/2 cup (about 2 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
In food processor chop garlic, then chilies and onions, until fine. Combine with cubed zucchini. Heat oil and butter in l2-inch skillet and saut'e mixture over medium heat 5 minutes, tossing occasionally. Do not brown zucchini.
Add salt, pepper, cream, and corn, if fresh. Cover pan and simmer over low heat 5 minutes. Remove cover and taste; zucchini should be just cooked and crisp. If using canned corn, add at end and heat.
Add cheese off the heat and mix to melt it. If necessary, return pan to heat to melt cheese, but don't heat too much or cheese will be stringy. If making dish ahead of time, set aside and add cheese when reheating.
From Cynthia Kannenberg, Brown Deer, Wis., in ``The Garlic Lovers' Cookbook, Vol. II.'' Patchwork Zucchini Pasta 4 zucchini, about 3/4 pound, in diagonal slices 2 cups broccoli flowerets 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted 3 fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped 1 pound spaghetti 1/4 cup olive oil 1 tablespoon minced garlic 1 chili pepper (optional) Salt and pepper to taste 1/2 cup half and half cream 1/4 cup butter 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Blanch zucchini in boiling water l minute. Blanch broccoli 3 to 4 minutes in boiling water. Drain.
Toast pine nuts in 350 degree F. oven 5 to 10 minutes. Cook spaghetti al dente as package directs.
Heat oil in skillet. Add garlic, zucchini, broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, and seasonings. Cook briefly, stirring.
Add drained spaghetti, cream, butter, cheese, and nuts. Discard pepper. Toss pasta and serve immediately. Garnish with additional cheese if desired. Serves 6 to 8.