Summer squashes prolific, with a world of wasy to serve them

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Costata Romanesca, 8-ball, crookneck, courgette, zucchini. No matter what you call it, summer squash is one of the vegetal highlights of summer. Sure, it can be easily found year-round at any grocery store, but the fresh local stuff can only be found in summer months.

As any gardener or neighbor of a gardener knows, the summer squash plant easy to cultivate and very prolific.

Last year was the first time we grew our own, and we waited in anticipation for the first blossom to turn into fruit. After that first squash was picked and eaten, we had trouble keeping up with the production that followed.

I became very creative in the kitchen and learned to make many delicious dishes with summer squash. My friends, neighbors and co-workers benefited as well, if they weren’t growing their own plants or knew someone else who was sharing their gifts of abundance.

Picking the flower is a good way to slow production, and they, too can be eaten. Many cultures consider squash blooms a delicacy and have special dishes centered around them.

Mexicans make a delicious quesadilla called flor de calabaza. Italians make fiori di zucca, filling flowers with cheese, bread and frying them. Greeks stuff them with feta or with a mixture of rice, herbs and meat, then deep-fry or bake with tomato sauce.

Cultures also have special dishes celebrating the squash itself.

The French enjoy ratatouille, a stew of summer vegetables prepared in olive oil and cooked for an long time over low heat. In Turkey, the popular mücver, or zucchini pancake, is made from shredded zucchini, flour and eggs, lightly fried and eaten with yogurt. Egyptians cook squash with tomato, garlic and onion. And Bulgarians prefer oven-baked zucchini, sliced and covered with a mixture of eggs, yogurt, flour and dill.

Zucchini and all of it’s summer relatives are low in calories and provide good amounts of folate, vitamin A, manganese and potassium. They have cooling, refreshing properties and contain healthy amounts of antioxidants.

We all have our favorite summer squash preparations and often stick with those recipes alone, which can get quite boring. If you’re like me and plan to have an excess of squash this summer, it helps to have a arsenal of recipes to prepare for the bounty.

My personal favorite is zucchini ribbon salad (see recipe). Asking around town for people’s favorite zucchini dish, I gained new ideas and inspiration. Amy at Frog Hollow Farm likes her’s sauteed with Bragg’s liquid amino acids and tossed with nutritional yeast. Jairo at Whitehouse-Crawford likes his grilled with lots of garlic and olive oil. And my friend Brian likes his stuffed with ground beef and peppers and baked.

Try a new recipe and enjoy the local stuff straight from the garden.

Fried Zucchini Blossoms

  • Zucchini or other squash blossoms
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup club soda
  • Salt

Whisk flour into soda, adjusting proportions so batter is the consistency of thick heavy cream. Coat blossoms in batter and shallow fry in hot oil. Drain on paper towels and season with salt.

Pesto Stuffed Zucchini

  • 2 cups of day old cubed bread
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoon pine nuts
  • 1 very large zucchini (about 2 pounds)
  • 1⁄4 cup prepared basil pesto
  • 1⁄4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 ounces cubed mozzarella
  • A handful of cherry tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • Salt

Melt butter in medium skillet on medium-high heat. Add cubed bread, toss to coat in butter and brown on most of the sides. Remove from pan and let cool. While the croutons are cooling, heat a small skillet on high, add pine nuts and cook until they begin to brown, then remove them from the pan into a small bowl.

Place the croutons and Mozzarella in a medium bowl. Toss with the pesto. Add the grated Parmesan, chopped cherry tomatoes, toasted pine nuts, and mix to combine.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Cut zucchini in half lengthwise. Scoop out the inner flesh with a metal spoon, leaving 1⁄4 to a 1⁄2-inch thickness in the zucchini boats. Place the boats in a roasting pan. Sprinkle the inside of the boats with salt. Fill the boats with the stuffing mixture. Pour a cup or so of water into the bottom of the roasting pan (so that zucchini doesn’t dry out on the outside), to about 1⁄4 inch depth. Bake for 45 minutes.

Summer Squash Fritters

  • 1 pound of squash, coarsely grated
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 scallions, finely chopped
  • 1⁄2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1⁄2 cup canola oil or olive oil
  • Sour cream or plain yogurt

Salt the squash with about 1 teaspoon of salt. Remove excess moisture from squash by squeezing with paper towels.

Whisk egg in a large bowl; add the squash, flour, scallions, and 1⁄4 teaspoon of pepper. Mix to combine well.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook fritters in two batches. Drop batter into the skillet. Flatten slightly. Cook, turning once, until browned. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Sprinkle with salt. Repeat with remaining batter.

Serve immediately, with sour cream or plain yogurt on the side.

Zucchini Ribbon Salad

  • 2 pounds zucchini
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons mustard
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1⁄2 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1⁄2 cup chopped, toasted almonds
  • handful of fresh basil leaves, thinly chopped
  • 1-ounce Manchego, Myzithra or other hard cheese, shaved

Shave the zucchini into long wide ribbons using a vegetable peeler or mandoline.

Whisk olive oil, lemon juice, mustard and pepper in a serving bowl. Add the zucchini and onion and toss to combine. Sprinkle with almonds, basil and cheese and serve.

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