Gad Zukes! My Favorite Way To Get Rid Of Them

There are very few foods that I dislike. Pretty much, I'm willing to give anything a try. Even vegetables that are famously unpopular are okay by me. Brussel spouts, broccoli, rutabagas, I'm pretty much fine with all of them. But, I draw the line at zucchini. There, I've said it. I don't like zucchini. I'm biased against it and undoubtedly, that bias will shade all that I have to say. Many people are fans of this green, cucumber like squash, but, what they really like are all the additional ingredients which are used to make this squash palatable. Ask any zucchini aficionado how they like the veggie, and nine times out of ten, they'll tell you how delicious it is when sautéed with garlic, olive oil and topped with parmesan. In point of fact, what they really love is the garlic, olive oil and parmesan, because the squash itself has no independent flavor. It takes on the flavors that are added to it; a squash sponge. To make matters worse, the plants are prodigious. One zucchini plant, when properly fertilized provides enough fruit to feed a family of four, with nothing but zucchini for at least 2 months during the summer.

Zucchini, or cucurbita pepo, is a summer squash. In fact, because the squash forms from the swollen end of the female blossom, it is technically a fruit, not a vegetable. Other summer squashes are native to the Americas, with archeological evidence of an origin in Mexico some 9000 years ago. Summer squash was a part of the pre-Columbian "three sisters" food trio, a mainstay made up of maize (corn), beans and squashes. But unlike our native squash, the zucchini is thought to be a spontaneous mutation of an American squash which occurred when the plants were introduced to Europe, probably in Italy. Once mutated, the vegetable invaded the United States. Hapless and clueless Italian immigrants are believed to have fostered the cultivation of this European mutation (probably as an excuse for consuming garlic, olive oil and parmesan.). Laugh if you will, but I think it is more than mere coincidence that the first records of zucchini in the United States occur at precisely the same time that Prohibition was ratified.

In an effort to be evenhanded in discussing a vegetable which I dislike, I have to admit that there are some benefits to eating zucchini. As a dark green veggie, it is loaded with good healthy vitamins and nutrients. Like other squashes, the zucchini is an excellent source of potassium and vitamins A and C. Absent olive oil and cheese, it is also very low in calories at 13 per 1/2 cup, while at the same time being a good source of dietary fiber. All these nutritional benefits notwithstanding, I still haven't been able to shake my mental block against the fruit. On a positive note, the zucchinis that we eat are actually the immature fruit. Apparently we have a certain innate knowledge that to allow these to reach their full size potential makes a bad situation worse. A fully grown zuke will typically reach 30" or longer in length and 5 or 6 pounds in weight. Even people who like to eat the garlic, er, zucchini, will acknowledge that at that size, the stringy toughness makes them virtually inedible. Some of the more foresighted cooks have even gotten to the plant before it has a chance to produce fruit. Stuffed, sautéed (with garlic) and deep fried zucchini blossoms are a popular way to eliminate the need to actually eat the fruit.

Cooking zucchini needs to be done in a fairly rapid fashion. Since the fruit is 95% water, anything more than a quick olive oil sauté (with garlic) reduces the vegetable to an even more unpalatable mush. And of course there are any number of ways that we can hide the squash, secreting it in muffins and bread, or disguising it, by scooping out halves and stuffing these zucchini boats with flavorful ingredients. Some find that a grilled zucchini half, drizzled with olive oil is an excellent accompaniment to meats prepared on the grill.

My first recipe for zucchini was developed at an early age. Knowing that those boa constrictor sized gourds in the garden were destined for my plate, I became fixated on making them disappear, if only to avoid the dinner instruction of cleaning them from my plate. It was at this moment, in a unique flight of 8 year old culinary experimentation that I developed my favorite zucchini "recipe". If this is something you wish to attempt I must warn that speed is of the essence, especially given the water content of the squash. Any delay is executing the instructions can cause the recipe to be a real "dud".

First, choose the largest, most offensive zucchini on the vine. Although removal is not necessary, if left on the plant, there is a certain hazard to the remaining blooms and fruit. With a sharp tool, make a slice in the middle of the gourd, about halfway through. Now comes the tricky part. Take the firecrackers you saved from the Fourth of July, gently twist the fuses together to create one super cracker. Insert into the slit, light the fuse and get away. Voila: le zucchini bombe surprise! For those who object to the sacrifice of innocent veggies, and are now tired of garlic, olive oil and parmesan, I will offer a bit more useful recipe, one you can actually eat. Perhaps you will tap into the summer abundance of this squash, and maybe, just maybe, there won't be any left for me.

Stuffed zucchini halves (serves 6)

3 6-8 inch zucchinis
2 roma tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup finely diced onion
1 clove finely minced garlic
1 tsp. fresh thyme or dill
1/3 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated parmesan
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil

Split the zucchinis lengthwise, and with a melon baller or sharp spoon, hollow each half into a shell. Chop and reserve the scraped out zucchini.
Sauté the onion and garlic in a scant teaspoon of olive oil until just translucent. Add the tomatoes and sauté until they begin to soften (5-7 mins). Add the reserved zucchini, and continue sautéing until it is just heated through. Remove from heat and combine with the bread crumbs, herbs and cheese. Salt and pepper to taste. Spoon the mixture into the zucchini shells, packing firmly and smoothing the top. Brush with olive oil and broil for 5-7 minutes, on until the stuffing is a golden brown.

Read More on Chef Geoff
Volume 2, Issue 17, Posted 1:01 PM, 08.10.06