Practical Ways to Rid Your Garden of Zucchini

Zucchinis are coming, zucchinis are coming.

Too late. They're here.

There's something about harvesting zucchinis that brings out the worst in home gardeners. Even the best natured green-thumbers will go to the most devious means to get rid of this Godzilla of summer vegetables. (The one that works best for me is to drop a bag of zucchini on a neighbor's doorstep, ring the bell, and run.)

Zucchini, I've come to find out, is harder to get rid of than a flock of homing pigeons. I know, I have both. And although I wouldn't harm a feather on my little birds' heads, I'm sometimes tempted to lob a grenade or two in the direction of my zucchini patch this time of year.

Partly it's my fault. I tend to plant too many baby zucchs. (One plant, I figure, is more than enough to feed a family of four until frost.) But nurseries don't sell one plant, they sell six-packs. And if you give extra plants to neighbors, it can undermine your method of disposal.

Partly it's a genetic flaw in the zucchini. They don't know when to stop growing. A tender six-inch vegetable can attain the size of an Indian war canoe practically overnight. You don't want a vegetable you have to quarry, so pick them young, when they're most tender and flavorful.

Zucchini, like its paler summer-squash cousins, the straight neck, crookneck, and patty pan, never need peeling if picked young. A wipe with a damp paper towel is all that's needed to clean them. Their flavor is delicate, so treat them gently. Never boil them (they turn to mush). Simply sauted in a bit of butter and olive oil and lightly salted and peppered is one of the quickest and best methods of disposing of them.

If you've found your squashes have grown out of control, try stuffing and baking them.

Simply cut them in half lengthwise and scoop out the flesh leaving about 1/2-inch of shell. Chop the flesh and saut it in olive oil with chopped onion, red bell pepper, and other vegetables of your choice, along with some sausage, bacon, or ground beef. Stuff the zucchini "canoes" with the mixture, top with bread crumbs and your favorite grated cheese, and bake at 400 degrees F. for about 30 minutes.

If after all this, you're still up to your ears in zucchini, the following recipes will surely help.

Zucchini Salsa

3 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound zucchini (about 3 medium) trimmed and cubed

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1/2 cup coarsely chopped onion

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 large tomato, peeled, and chopped

1/2 teaspoon oregano

1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

1 lemon peeled, seeded, cut into paper-thin slices, and quartered

1 tablespoon red wine, or balsamic vinegar

Dash or two of Tabasco or hot sauce

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Melt 1 tablespoon butter and the olive oil in a large skillet.

Add zucchini and cook over medium heat until wilted (about 3 minutes). Transfer to a large bowl.

Add another tablespoon of butter to the skillet along with red pepper and cook for 5 minutes. Combine pepper with zucchini.

Add last tablespoon of butter to the skillet along with onion and garlic. Cook about 5 minutes. Add tomato and continue cooking another minute or so. Combine these vegetables to zucchini mixture along with parsley, lemon, vinegar, and Tabasco or hot sauce.

Allow to cool. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with tortilla chips, or serve warm or at room temperature as a side vegetable dish.

Serves 4.

Zucchini Fruit Nut Bread

1-1/2 sticks butter, melted

4 eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder

2 cups shredded zucchini, firmly packed

1/2 cup chopped nuts, (pecans, walnuts, or almonds)

1/2 cup raisins or dried cranberries

Zest of 1 lemon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, F.

Lightly butter and flour a 1-pound bread pan.

In a large bowl, blend the melted butter, eggs, sugar, and vanilla with a wooden spoon. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, salt, cinnamon, and baking powder; stir into the butter mixture and mix in zucchini. Add nuts, fruit, lemon zest, and blend well. Pour into bread pan and bake for 60 to 75 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow to cool 15 minutes before removing from pan.

Zucchini-Feta Fritters

2-1/4 pounds of grated zucchini

1 large onion, grated

1-3/4 to 2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup crumbled feta cheese

2 egg yolks

4 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Vegetable oil, for deep frying

Sour cream for topping (optional)

Combine zucchini and onion in a bowl. Stir in flour, cheese, and egg yolks, dill, parsley, and nutmeg. Blend thoroughly. Mixture should be loose, but not runny.

Add more flour if necessary. Heat about 2-inches of oil in a heavy, straight-sided skillet. When oil is very hot, spoon tablespoonfuls of zucchini mixture into oil. After fritters are golden brown turn with tongs, and cook other side. Remove from oil, shake off excess oil, and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt, and top with a bit of sour cream.

Makes about 35 fritters.

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