Recipe-Ready Frozen Zucchini

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by AdobeStock/Mikhaylovskiy

When it comes to zucchini, there are two types of gardeners: those who grow just one plant because they fear they’ll end up with too much squash, and those who grow extra plants in case one fails to produce. For the latter, the question is inevitably to preserve or not to preserve. You’ll never get a crisp pickled chip from zucchini because of the vegetable’s excessive water content. Instead, I stick with relishes that don’t suffer from a softer texture. But there’s a limit to how many jars of relish one household can consume in a year.

If your zucchini is overgrown and you’ve made plenty of relish, quarter those huge squash and discard the seeds. Then, grate the flesh, stuff it into bags, and freeze it. The freezing will break down the cells and cause it to exude its water when defrosted. Normal-sized zucchini (8 to 10 inches long) can be quartered, sliced, blanched, and frozen, or simply grated like the monsters. You’ll want to cut off the blossom end to remove the enzymes that will continue to ripen and mature the plant.


To freeze zucchini in chunks, I quarter it, and then slice it about 1/3 inch thick. I blanch the pieces in boiling water for 1 minute to set the color and texture. Next, I quickly cool them in ice water, drain, and dry on a thick towel. I work in 6-cup batches, which is what fits into a 1-quart bag (the frozen vegetable will lose some volume in the process), and I consider this the optimal amount to slip into a dish. I don’t blanch grated zucchini, because I don’t care if the freezing causes the zucchini to turn into mush, as it’s going to disappear into a cake.

Freezing zucchini does present certain challenges. Because it’s full of water, ice crystals will form around the pieces; for best quality, use frozen zucchini within four months. Also, the amount you freeze isn’t what you’ll end up with. I’ve done some math for you to help with planning.

  • 1 (8-to-10-inch) zucchini = 2-1/2 to 3 cups shredded, or 3-1/2 to 4 cups quartered and sliced
  • 6 cups shredded (fits into a 1-quart freezer bag) = 1-1/2 cups defrosted and well-drained
  • 6 cups quartered and sliced = 4 cups blanched (fits into a 1-quart freezer bag)
  • 4 cups blanched and frozen pieces = 3 cups defrosted

You must take into account the water that leaves the zucchini after it’s been frozen and defrosted. Thus, 6 cups of grated zucchini will reduce to only 1 1/2 cups defrosted and drained. For most recipes, I’ll then squeeze the zucchini until I’m left with only about 1 cup.

When my zucchini goes into the freezer, it’s bagged recipe-ready. That means blanching and freezing pieces in amounts that I can slip into soups, stews, and pasta sauces. I also freeze grated zucchini to be used in cakes, quick breads, and fritters.

When you’re baking with previously frozen grated zucchini, it’s important that the zucchini be completely defrosted and at room temperature. If you mix it into a batter while it still has ice crystals in it, the cake will be soggy and the baking time will be vastly extended. Slices, however, can be slipped into a soup or stew or pasta sauce (my personal favorite) without defrosting.


Chicken and Zucchini Provençal

Rich with the flavors of the Mediterranean, this chicken stew makes a fine one-dish meal reminiscent of summer. Serve it with a loaf of crusty French bread to sop up all the delicious sauce, or on egg noodles or rice. I prefer thighs for the chicken parts. Yield: about 6 servings.     

Ingredients

  • 3-1/2 pounds bone-in chicken parts or 1 whole chicken, cut into parts
  • 1/2  cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 4 ounces button mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup red wine or chicken stock
  • 2 cups canned tomatoes with juice
  • 3 strips orange zest
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 cups frozen, defrosted, and well-drained zucchini pieces
  • 1 cup pitted Kalamata olives
  • 1 cup pitted green olives
  • 2 tablespoons capers

Directions 

  1. Remove any excess fat from the chicken, rinse, and pat dry. Place the flour in a shallow bowl. Season with salt and pepper and 1 teaspoon of the thyme. Dredge the chicken in the flour, shaking off any excess.
  2. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add a single layer of chicken pieces and brown, turning as needed, for about 10 minutes per batch. Adjust the temperature as needed to allow the chicken to brown but not scorch. Make sure the chicken is well-browned, or the final dish will look anemic. Remove the browned chicken to a bowl or plate and keep warm. Repeat until all the chicken is browned.
  3. In the oil remaining in the Dutch oven, sauté the onion, mushrooms, and garlic over medium-high heat until the mushrooms have given up their juice, about 5 minutes.
  4. Add the wine to the Dutch oven, and stir to loosen any stuck bits from the bottom of the pot. Return the chicken to the pot and add the canned tomatoes with juice, remaining 1 teaspoon of thyme, strips of orange zest, and bay leaves, submerging the chicken in the liquid.
  5. Cover the pot and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 45 minutes, turning the meat every 15 minutes or so.
  6. Remove the chicken from the sauce with a slotted spoon and set aside. Bring the remaining liquid to a boil, and then boil until the sauce is thickened and reduced, about 5 minutes.
  7. Remove the orange zest and bay leaves. Return the chicken to the pot along with the defrosted and drained zucchini, olives, and capers. Taste and adjust seasonings. Simmer for about 5 minutes, until the zucchini is heated through. Serve hot.

Zucchini-Quinoa Fritters

I’m a big advocate of frying in animal fats rather than seed oils. Lard, beef tallow, or any poultry fat will harden at room temperature and form a shell rather than soak into the fritter and make it greasy. Yield: about 8 fritters.

Vegetarian food - zucchini fritters on wooden background.

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup quinoa
  • 1-1/3 cups water
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1-1/2 cups frozen grated zucchini, thawed and drained well
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup lard or any animal fat or vegetable oil
  • Salsa (optional)

Directions

  1. Wash the quinoa and drain well. Place a small dry saucepan over high heat. Add the quinoa and toast it, shaking and stirring constantly with a wooden spoon to prevent scorching, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a large saucepan and add the water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook, covered, until the water is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the quinoa, bread crumbs, cheese, shallots, thyme, salt, and pepper.  Squeeze the zucchini with your hands to wring out the last bit of moisture.  Add to the quinoa along with the eggs. Blend thoroughly with a mixing spoon until the mixture has the consistency of a soft dough.
  3. Heat the lard in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Using a 1/4-cup measure, slide lumps of batter into the hot fat, and press gently to flatten. Fry until the bottoms are golden-brown, about 2 minutes. Turn and fry the second side until golden, about 2 minutes. Drain on paper towels, and serve warm with salsa.

Deep, Dark Chocolate Zucchini Cake Recipe

The zucchini in this rich chocolate cake is barely noticeable, except to give it an unusually moist texture. Yield: 9 to 12 servings.

Homemade chocolate sheet cake with nuts (Texas sheet cake)

Ingredients

Cake

  • 4 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk, yogurt, or sour cream
  • About 3 cups defrosted and drained grated zucchini or summer squash (two 1-quart freezer bags), room temperature

Frosting

  • 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup brewed coffee
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups powdered sugar

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.
  2. Make the cake: Combine the chocolate and 1/2 cup of the butter, and melt over low heat in a saucepan or in the microwave. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl and whisk to blend.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, cream the remaining 1/2 cup butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the chocolate mixture and vanilla. Add the flour mixture and buttermilk, and beat just until combined. Fold in the zucchini. Pour the batter into the pan and smooth the top. Bake for about 55 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan before frosting.
  4. Make the frosting: Combine the chocolate and butter in a small saucepan over low heat, or in a microwave set to low heat. Melt and stir until smooth. Stir in the coffee and vanilla. Put the powdered sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add the chocolate mixture, and beat until smooth and creamy. Spread the frosting over top of the cake.

Andrea Chesman has written more than 20 cookbooks. She gives cooking demonstrations and teaches classes at events around the country, including MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIRS.

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