Zucchini: The Orphan Of The Vegetable World

This article is more than 8 years old.
(Flickr/graibeard)
(Flickr/graibeard)

By Kathy Gunst

It’s August and gardens are overflowing with produce. You drive down country roads and there, like homeless children, are baskets sitting by the side of the road pleading with those who pass by to take them away. “Free…Take Me…Please…Zucchini,” exclaim the hand-written signs. Why does such a delicious, versatile vegetable have to go begging?

Zucchini starts off life as a delicate little creature. First gorgeous yellow-orange blossoms appear, full of possibility... Suddenly, a baby zucchini, pencil-thin, and about 3 inches long, hangs from the vine, calling out to be picked. You decide to wait a day; you’ll cook it for dinner tomorrow night. But when you return to the plant a mere 24 hours later, the delicate, pencil-like squash has transformed into an overgrown, fat baseball bat of thing. Zucchini, more than any other vegetable we know, needs to be picked when young and small because, like all good children, it grows much too fast. When they are large and overgrown, their flesh dries out and becomes fibrous, yielding a vegetable that is distinctly unappealing.

Zucchini is infinitely versatile — it can be used to make everything from soups and appetizers to cakes and breads. It’s an important part of the Mediterranean diet, where zucchini are stuffed with fresh herbs and vegetables, fried into delicate fritters, and used to flavor egg dishes, pasta sauces, meat, and fish.

Dozens of heirloom varieties have been introduced (and re-introduced) in recent years, which means you can now grow and buy zucchini in myriad sizes, shapes and colors— traditional green or yellow, black, purple, striped, white-skinned, pear-shaped, speckled, and round.

I love to grill sliced zucchini that has been marinated in a simple mixture of olive oil, lemon juice, and chopped garlic. For summer breakfasts we slice them thin and sauté them with eggs. Stuffed with herbs and vegetables, they become one of the great dishes of summer. Cooked with leek and chives, and then pureed with vegetable or chicken stock, they make a delicate, spectacular green soup that can be served hot or chilled. We use them to make muffins, spreading the top with cream cheese and chopped crystallized ginger, and we often grate them into cake and quick bread batters to add moistness and flavor.

What do I do with those huge baseball bat-sized zucchini? Feed them to the chickens, of course.

This program aired on July 22, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

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