Dear Helen: Help! I’m swamped with zucchini and don’t think I can eat any more unless I can find a few new ways of using them. What do you do with an over-abundance of zucchinis?
I’m hearing the same plea from neighbours whose plants, like yours and mine, exploded into productivity with the heat this summer. Here are a few ideas I’ve been passing along to them.
• Pick zucchinis young, just 10 to 12 cm. long or even a bit smaller. My father loved eating baby zucchinis, just slightly cooked or raw in salads. He also used them for dipping. I’ve been enjoying them sliced lengthwise, browned in butter in a covered pan, turned, and drizzled with fresh lemon juice and salt.
• Offer excess zucchinis to neighbours without gardens, and/or take some to your local food bank.
• Zucchini is a surprisingly pleasant, quickly prepared dinner vegetable cut in chunks, lightly steamed and dotted with butter. It’s a perfect light-textured, mild-flavoured foil to heavier ingredients in a meal, such as meat and potato.
• Cut into pieces, very lightly steam-blanched and cooled quickly over ice packs, zucchini is a very good frozen vegetable for winter meals. I discovered this years ago on a visit with my parents in Sidney, when my mother took a container of her garden’s zucchini out of the freezer to include in a dinner.
• Often, as summer progresses, it’s inevitable that some zucchinis are overlooked and develop with alarming speed into the size of the family dog. These overgrown ones provide me with a favourite winter treat. I use my big wok to fry onion and garlic lightly before adding the chopped zucchini and water or vegetable broth. Once the vegetables are cooked tender, I cool the mixture a little before pureeing it with an immersion blender. I pack the cooled zucchini puree into containers and freeze. In winter, heated with milk or cream, it is a superbly soothing and satisfying soup. Comfort food.
• Another easy way to turn a large zucchini into a comfort meal is to split it lengthwise, scoop out the seed cavity, fill it with ground beef and onion, and bake.
• In summer, tasty, healthy snacks are handy for a quick lunch or a small bite to eat with a cup of afternoon tea. Here’s a quick and easy recipe.
Zucchini and Cheese Squares
3 beaten eggs
1 cup whole wheat or spelt flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup milk
4 cups sliced zucchini
2 cups broken up or cubed feta or cheddar cheese
Dash of hot sauce (optional)
Pine nuts or sesame seeds for topping
Blend baking powder with flour and add with milk to eggs. Whisk smooth. Add zucchini, cheese, and hot sauce if you like to spice up otherwise fairly mild-tasting food. Pour into a rectangular pan 23 by 33 cm. Older pans will be identified as 9 by 13 inches. Either oil the pan or line it with parchment paper first. Top with seeds or nuts. Bake at 375 F for 25 to 30 minutes. Top should be golden and puffy.
Variations: Depending on the season and what’s producing well in the garden, kale or broccoli can be substituted for zucchini. Toppings can include grated parmesan, sliced black olives, or/and sweet red pepper slices.
Dear Helen: My potted Tumbler tomatoes are flavourless and mushy this year. They were always tasty before. Why?
Too much water can cause mushiness. Let a top three cm of soil dry between waterings. Extreme fluctuations in temperature can cause a deterioration in texture and flavour quality. Consider growing more than one tomato variety for potting each year, as a way of finding out which are most resilient and fine-tasting in your growing conditions..
Weekend column. I’ll be taking a rest from writing the Saturday column for the upcoming holiday weekend. May you all relish the break in routine as you enjoy the fruits of your gardening efforts.
Plant sale. The Compost Education Centre, 1216 North Park St. in Victoria, is holding its Annual August Organic Plant Sale on Saturday, Aug. 7, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., outside the centre’s demonstration site. Seven local farmers will be offering a wide variety of over-wintering, organically grown vegetable transplants as well as perennial fruiting plants and herb seedlings. There will be live music, and more.