The wayback machine is reminding me of the summer when everybody I knew, absolutely everybody, was growing zucchini. It was the first time any of us had grown zucchini, so no one really knew what to do – how to plant it, when to plant it and, most critically, when to harvest it.
You know how it is with zucchini. One day it is small and meek and gentle, and then overnight it becomes enormous. Like a fallen tree trunk or an Olympic gymnast’s thigh. If you’ve never grown zucchini before in your life, you can’t not allow this drama to happen. You are in its thrall. Your garden has been enchanted, and this one little plant is churning out so. much. food. Until you go to cook it, of course, which is when you find out that the cute little night-before squashes would have been far superior to this, this, this styrene-like flavor-free something.
One consequence of those dear dead days was that, for weeks, everyone was trying to unload vast supplies of giant zucchini. People who had grown too much and too large zucchini were driving around the countryside desperately trying to hand it off to other people who, frankly, had their own embarrassment of zucchini to deal with. I remember zucchini boats stuffed with feta, rice and walnuts; zucchini thrown promiscuously into any sort of pasta sauce; and of course there were dozens of recipes for baked goods crammed with zucchini.
At the end of the summer, I came back to Michigan, expecting to not have to look at or cook with or eat any more zucchini for an entire year. To my horror, though, everyone in Michigan had also gone zucchini mad, and people were welcoming me home by bringing over the whole array (zucchini logs/zucchini boats/zucchini bread) all the time. All the time. My fridge and pantry were bulging with the stuff. And, appallingly, my dad had also fallen prey to the zucchini disease. He came to visit, with an enormous pile of zucchini, which I have to say were the biggest of all, good work, Dad!, each the size of a four-month-old baby. He was really bursting with pride over those giants. I said, “Dad, do you think your neighbors might like that zucchini? Because, look, I really have so much already.” And I showed him my overflowing fridge and shelves crowded with zucchini breads and cakes and cookies and muffins. “Of course,” he said, and when he left through the kitchen door, he took all his zucchini babies with him.
About half an hour later, I went out onto the front porch to check the mail, and sitting there, right in front of my door, were all of his zucchini, in a big neat stack, like a cord of firewood.
This quick weeknight recipe is inspired by Cantonese cooking, not by that summer of giant zucchini. It is super fast and delicious. It uses nice, dark green, little zucchini – about half a pound or so – cut into slender matchsticks. They will cook up a treat in no time and, because they are small and fine, will taste of the lovely summer garden, rather than of cardboard and vanity.
P.S.: I don’t even remember what I did with that cord of paternal zucchini. It’s gone from the mind. Just as well, I suspect.
Turkey Zucchini Stir Fry
Canola oil for the pan
1 pound ground turkey
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons soy paste or soy sauce
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 smallish zucchini, about 3/4 pound total, topped and cut into matchsticks
1 clove garlic, minced fine
1 stalk of lemongrass, peeled to expose the tender core – mince the core and discard the rest
For the sauce:
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup water
1. Put turkey, oyster sauce, soy sauce and cornstarch in a smallish bowl and moosh everything together with your hands. Let stand for 10 minutes.
2. Whisk together the sauce ingredients in a smallish bowl.
3. Drizzle some oil in a large, deep skillet or wok and heat over medium-high flame. Add the garlic and lemongrass and cook quickly, stirring, for about 90 seconds. Transfer to a small dish.
4. Add a little more oil to the pan. Over high heat, cook the zucchini quickly, stirring carefully. It will take about 90 seconds to two minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Better to undercook at this point!
5. Add more oil if necessary and then pour in the turkey mixture. Over high heat, stir fry, breaking the single giant lump into small chunks. Stir fry for two or three minutes, until the turkey is cooked through. Add in the garlic and lemongrass, stir and reduce the heat. Mix together the sauce ingredients in a little bowl, stir to blend, and pour into the pan. Cook, stirring, until the sauce turns clear. Then add the zucchini, mix carefully, grate black pepper over everything, and this is ready to serve.
6. Serve with rice, serve with noodles or omit starch entirely (if you don’t use starch, it will serve three).
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