What to do with all that zucchini

Bread-and-butter zucchini pickles can be served alone or with a variety of different dishes. (J.B. Forbes/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)
Bread-and-butter zucchini pickles can be served alone or with a variety of different dishes. (J.B. Forbes/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)

Give a man a zucchini and he will eat for a day. Give a man a zucchini plant, and he will wind up with so much zucchini he won’t know what to do with it, and he’ll probably end up resenting you.

Fortunately, zucchini is so versatile it can be used in a seemingly endless variety of dishes. Nevertheless, everyone with too much zucchini usually just ends up making zucchini bread. We try to convince ourselves that it is healthful because it has zucchini in it and it is bread, but deep down we all know that it is really just zucchini cake.

So I made four dishes, none of them involving cake, that managed to make a pretty good dent in anybody’s zucchini harvest.

Each, in its own way, was richly satisfying. Zucchini is often used as an afterthought, a vegetable that you may grab at the store because it is inexpensive and you haven’t had it for a while. But in each of these dishes, the zucchini becomes a star.

I started with zucchini pickles. Restaurants have been pickling pretty much everything they can get their hands on for the past few years, and zucchini is a natural. It goes well with salt, and it goes well with vinegar, the two main ingredients in a pickling brine. It even looks sort of like a cucumber.

This version adds mustard seeds, dry mustard powder and turmeric. The mustard does not make it nearly so hot as you might think, and apple cider vinegar is used to temper the acidity.

These pickles need to sit only one night before they are ready to be served. The flip side of that speed, though, is that they only last about one week. On the other hand, you’ll probably finish them off long before then.

I next made Zucchini Parmesan Crisps, and you can bet I’ll be serving them the next time we have people over for dinner.

They’re based on an Ellie Krieger recipe, and they could hardly be easier. Cut thin slices of zucchini, toss them in oil and then coat them in a mixture of breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese. Bake until crispy, and you have an addictive, irresistible hors d’oeuvre.

For a more substantial side dish or a vegetarian entree, I made the unfortunately named Zuccanoes. They are zucchini halves that are hollowed out like a canoe, but because they were created by Mollie Katzen in the original “Moosewood Cookbook,” I’m willing to give the name a pass.

Besides, anything that tastes this good should be tried.

What makes these canoe-shaped zucchini treats better than all those other canoe-shaped zucchini treats you keep hearing about these days is the stuffing. This stuffing is made from sautéed onions and mushrooms mixed with rice and minced nuts, for an earthy and obviously nutty taste.

Then you grate cheese on top and bake it. Because, let’s face it, everything tastes better with baked cheese on top.

The last dish I made found its inspiration in a dish made by my editor’s husband. I’m calling it Zucchini Medley, but it’s really just ratatouille on steroids, plus quinoa.

I know — I usually try to avoid the (perhaps formerly) ultracool grain quinoa. But its nutty taste is just the background this dish needs. And what a dish it is, too. It’s a kitchen sink kind of recipe, with an entire produce stand mixed together to create a multifaceted blend of flavors that I think, at the risk of sounding immodest, tastes superb.

Just imagine onion, garlic, red bell pepper, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, diced potatoes and corn, blended with quinoa and tied together with white wine, lemon juice and thyme.

Now add zucchini.

You’ll need a big pan to make it, because this is a lot of food. That’s good. It means more leftovers for all.

BREAD-AND-BUTTER ZUCCHINI PICKLES

Yield: 1 quart

1 pound very firm medium zucchini, sliced crosswise [1/8]-inch thick

1/2 cup thinly sliced onion

3 tablespoons kosher salt, divided

Ice water

1-1/2 cups apple cider vinegar

1/3 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons brown or yellow mustard seeds, crushed

1-1/2 teaspoons dry mustard powder

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1. In a large bowl, toss the zucchini and onion with 2 tablespoons of the salt. Cover with ice water and let stand until just softened, about 45 minutes. Drain the zucchini and onion well, and pat dry.

2. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, combine the remaining 1 tablespoon of salt with the vinegar, sugar, mustard seeds, mustard powder, turmeric and 1/2 cup water. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar; let cool completely.

3. Transfer the zucchini and onion to a 1-quart glass jar and pour in enough brine to cover. Seal with the lid and refrigerate overnight before serving. The pickles can be refrigerated in the brine for up to 1 week.

Recipe from Food & Wine

ZUCCHINI PARMESAN CRISPS

Yield: 6 servings

2 medium zucchini (about 1 pound total)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan

1/2 cup plain dry bread crumbs

1/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.

2. Slice the zucchini into 1/4-inch thick rounds. In a medium bowl, toss the zucchini with the oil. In a small bowl, combine the parmesan, bread crumbs, salt and a few turns of pepper. Dip each round into the parmesan mixture, coating it evenly on both sides, pressing the coating on to stick, and place in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet.

3. Bake the zucchini rounds until browned and crisp, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove with spatula. Serve immediately.

Adapted from a recipe by Ellie Krieger

ZUCCANOES

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

4 medium zucchini, about 2 pounds

1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil

1-1/2 cups minced onion

1 teaspoon salt

8 ounces mushrooms, minced

6 medium garlic cloves, minced

1-1/2 cups cooked rice, any kind

1-1/2 cups minced almonds or pecans, lightly toasted

3 tablespoons lemon juice

Black pepper and cayenne pepper, to taste

A few pinches of freshly minced or dried herbs (any combination of parsley, basil, dill, thyme or marjoram)

1 cup (packed) grated Swiss or cheddar cheese

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the zucchini lengthwise down the middle. Use a smallish spoon to scoop out the insides, leaving a canoe with a 1/4-inch shell. Mince the insides, and set everything aside.

2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and salt, and sauté over medium heat until the onion is soft, 5 to 8 minutes.

3. Add the minced zucchini innards and the mushrooms. Turn up the heat and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring, letting the liquid evaporate. Stir in the garlic and remove from heat.

4. Stir in the rice and nuts, along with the lemon juice, and season to taste with black pepper, cayenne and the herbs of your choice.

5. Fill the zucchini shells, top with cheese and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until heated through. Serve hot.

Recipe from “Moosewood Cookbook,” by Mollie Katzen

ZUCCHINI MEDLEY

Yield: 6 servings

2 zucchini

1 tablespoon butter

1 small potato, diced

1/2 small onion, chopped

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 red bell pepper, chopped

2 cups sliced mushrooms

1/2 cup dry white wine

1-1/2 cups cherry tomatoes or diced tomato

1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or 1/4 teaspoon dried

Kernels from 1 ear of corn

2 cups cooked quinoa (from 1 cup uncooked)

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1. Slice zucchini into quarters lengthwise. Then slice each spear into small wedges. Set aside.

2. In a large skillet (or pot, if necessary), melt the butter over medium-high heat and add the potato. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until pieces are soft all the way through. Remove cover and add onion, garlic, pepper and mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper. Sauté until the onion softens, about 5 minutes.

3. Add the zucchini, plus a little more salt and pepper, and cover. Cook until zucchini is soft. Remove cover and add wine; cook several minutes until liquid is reduced by half.

4. Add tomatoes and thyme, and cook 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in corn and quinoa, and cook until heated through. Stir in lemon juice and serve hot.

 

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