Zucchini plant in bloom
Ah, zucchini. One of the first summer veggies to fruit. You know summer is officially here when your zukes are flowering and producing nice long fruits. By mid-summer, the novelty has worn off. By August, you can't give the things away! I even saw a box in my local hardware store with free zucchinis.
So, what's a gardener to do with all that excess bounty? Well, you can donate them to a food pantry, you can preserve them in a few different ways, or you can use them in ways I'd never even thought of!
How to Preserve Zucchini Harvests
For preserving, you can freeze them, can them or dry them. I don’t care for canning zucchini as they are not acidic enough to just use a water bath; the full pressure canner set up is required. You could pickle them, lowering the pH enough to use a water bath. There are all kinds of fun pickling recipes out there. Adding peppers is a way to add zing to an otherwise bland taste. Just make sure you follow the recipe exactly as the proper pH is critical to safe canning.
I am exploring the freeze and dry methods. For freezing, first slice them, lay them on a cookie sheet and freeze them. After they are frozen, you can put them in a freezer bag. When you need a few, they are easy to get out of the bag. If you put them into the freezer bag fresh, they will freeze together. I am trying a few frozen whole. With a sharp blade, I can slice them when I need them, kind of like frozen cookie dough.
For drying, slice and either use a dehydrator, the sun or your oven. Zucchini has a great deal of moisture so it will take a while to completely dehydrate. You can speed the process by salting, squeezing out the excess (cookie sheet weighted down on top of another cookie sheet is an easy way to do this) for about 15 minutes, then either popping into the oven, setting them out in the sun or placing in a dehydrator for a couple of hours should do it. Keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t burn if you are using an oven. Recommended temp for drying is 120-200 degrees F max.
Using Zucchini in the Kitchen
I ran across some recipes in Capper’s magazine that looked tasty: zucchini spaghetti and meat balls, stuffed baked zucchini, and zucchini parmesan. I have tried a variation on the baked zucchini and the zucchini parmesan and both were quite good.
They have this nifty little gadget called a spiralizer that you put a zucchini in and it will make nice long spaghetti noodles. You can use them just like spaghetti but with no carbs or gluten. Cool, huh? Just toss with your favorite sauce and serve.
Grilled zucchini is tasty with sea salt and olive oil. It is one of our standbys. Just be sure to not heat your olive oil above 340 degrees F; the smoke point of this delicious, nutritious oil.
There is also fried zucchini. It is easy to make. Just whip up 3 eggs with a little milk. Mix together 1/2 cup of cornmeal with a 1/4 cup of flour, salt and seasonings to taste. Dip the zucchini slices first in the egg batter then in the dry meal. Place in 350-375 degree F oil and fry until golden. If you are going to eat by itself, using a Cajun season salt adds a welcome zing of flavor.
For any extras you have, you can freeze them, too. Just put a single layer on a cookie sheet and let freeze through. Then, put all the pieces into a freezer bag. You can pull out any time you have a craving for fried zucchini! Just thaw and warm up in the oven.
The baked zucchini was good. Take a large zucchini, cut in half and scoop out the seeds. Stuff with your favorite meat stuffing recipe and bake until the zucchini is tender at 350 degrees F. Mine took about an hour and a half to become tender. Top with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese and put bake in the oven until cheese is golden and bubbly.
There was a recipe in the magazine for zucchini parmesan. Basically, you layer sauce, sliced Italian sausage, breaded and fried zucchini to fill a baking dish, then top with mozzarella cheese and bake at 350 degrees F until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese golden and melted.
We didn’t have any Italian sausage, so I made up a stuffing mix which is below. I just then layered sauce, then breaded and fried zucchini, then meat stuffing until the baking pan was full. For my pan, it was 3 layers of each. Then top with mozzarella and parmesan and into the oven at 350 degrees F until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese is melted.
I was amazed at how delicious the zucchini lasagna was. It is low carb, gluten free, full of just harvested veggies and a great way to utilize the bounty from the garden!
Here is a meat stuffing mix I really like: 1 small diced onion, 3 eggs, 1 piece of whole wheat toast crumbled, 2 teaspoons of ground garlic, 1 teaspoon of sea salt, 1/2 teaspoon of fresh ground pepper, 2 teaspoons of dried mixed herbs from the garden, and a half pound of burger (bison, grass fed beef or venison). Just mush it all together by hand. When combined, use to stuff the zucchini or layer as part of the zucchini lasagna dish.
Classic Zucchini Bread
Then there is the ever classic zucchini bread. Recipes abound on the internet and cookbooks for this perennial favorite.
Now you have several ideas for fully utilizing all your wonderful zucchini besides the compost pile : )
For more tips on small space and container gardening, see Melodie's blog at www.victorygardenonthegolfcourse.com.