Pour me a zucchini

What does pizza, cream pie and the tropical piña colada have in common? Well, in my kitchen, one of the ingredient just might be zucchini! That’s right you read correctly: the zucchini.

Left: Pinapple juice is infused into zucchini so that it mocks canned pineapple. The “pinapple” can then  be blended with coconut milk

Left: Pinapple juice is infused into zucchini so that it mocks canned pineapple. The “pinapple” can then be blended with coconut milk

What does pizza, cream pie and the tropical piña colada have in common? Well, in my kitchen, one of the ingredient just might be zucchini! That’s right you read correctly: the zucchini.

It happens during this time of the year. Summer heat arrives and then — bam! — a zucchini or two is left in my office, on my car and in the coffee room, courtesy of co-workers and friends trying to offload their garden bounty. Suddenly, like rabbits, my initial one green gourd has multiplied into mounds of squash.

I’m not complaining, mind you.

I love the versatility of zucchini. It has a mild, tender flavour that marries well with other tastes, both savoury and sweet. You could literally eat them in every meal for weeks on end and never repeat the same recipe.

This is a good option for those of us who are determined to eat or use up every last bit of this summer vegetable . . . or should I say fruit?

Actually, zucchini is both a fruit and a vegetable. The fact that zucchini contains seeds makes it a fruit, but it is used as a vegetable in most recipes.

What can you do with this abundance bounty, besides give it to co-workers and make lots and lots of zucchini bread?

Think ahead! Once you start getting plenty, is the time to think ahead to fall and winter. You can freeze it, so you can bake and cook with your zucchini long after the growing season is over.

All you do is shred the zucchini, bag it and freeze it. To make things simpler, measure it into the amounts you know you will be using. To use: just take out of freezer, let thaw and remove excess water before adding to your recipe.

But when using it fresh, the sky’s the limit on what you can do with it.

Again, because of its mild flavour, it can be added to almost any main-dish recipe for texture, flavour, and colour. You can use it so that it is obvious in your recipe or if you have any zucchini phobic members in your family, it can be easily disguised.

A small squash whose skin is still tender can be served raw with other vegetables as part of a vegetable platter with dips, in salads, broiled, steamed, stir-fried, deep-fried, boiled, baked, or stuffed.

My personal favourite is on the grill. Simply split zucchini the long way into two halves and mist with olive oil for a leaner twist. Next, dust each half with salt, fresh ground black pepper and dried basil. On a medium-heat grill, zucchini should take about three minutes to the side. If the grill marks are golden brown, they’re done.

You can also try a little zucchini in your spaghetti. Not in the sauce, but right alongside your noodles.

Julienne one zucchini as thin as possible. About two minutes before your pasta is done cooking, drop the sliced zucchini into the pasta water. Toss with your favourite spaghetti sauce and enjoy.

The zucchini doesn’t have a lot of flavour on its own, so it tends to take on the flavour of whatever spices or flavourings you add to the dish. Use herbs and spices to enhance the flavour of mild summer squash. Dill, pepper, basil, marjoram, chives, and mint are particularly well-suited to squash, and it is delicious cooked with garlic, onions, and tomatoes.

If you are looking into ways to fool the kids to eat this prolific vegetable, consider incorporating into baking and slathering in something that will hide it.

You can make quick breads, cookies, cupcakes, cakes, and mock “apple” pies . When used in baking, the zucchini not only adds moistness but increases the nutrients.

Who doesn’t like pizza? Make a quiche-like zucchini pizza “crust” and top with favourite toppings and finish with loads of cheese. Once melted, the cheese will not only entice the picky eaters but also covers what they consider the “offensive” vegetable.

Needing some pineapple? Try cooking the zucchini in some pineapple juice and sugar. The juices slowly infuse so that the vegetable takes on the pineapple flavour and texture. No one will be able to tell the difference. This “pineapple” may be eaten as is or used in recipes that calls for canned pineapple.

So before you give away the “fruits” of your labour, consider these ideas and recipes for zucchini. You’ll be amazed and delighted.

Zucchini Pizza

3 cups shredded zucchini

2 eggs

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups (8 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

2 small tomatoes, halved and thinly sliced

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup julienned green pepper

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon dried basil

3 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese

Generously butter a 9 x13-inch baking pan. Preheat oven to 450°. Put grated zucchini in a strainer and press out as much excess liquid as possible.

Put zucchini in a mixing bowl. Add well-beaten eggs, flour and salt. Mix well and spread in buttered pan

Bake at 450° for eight minutes. Reduce heat to 350°.

Sprinkle with the mozzarella, tomatoes, onion, green pepper, oregano, basil and Parmesan cheese.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until onion is tender and cheese is melted.

Yield: 6 slices.

Zucchini Cream Pie

1 1/2 cups zucchini — peeled, seeded and sliced

1 cup evaporated milk

1 cups white sugar

1 egg

3 tablespoons margarine

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 pinch salt

1 recipe pastry for a 9 inch single crust pie

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Boil zucchini until tender. Drain and let stand in cold water for about 5 minutes, then drain. Put the zucchini, evaporated milk, sugar, egg, margarine, flour, vanilla and salt into a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into unbaked pie shell. Sprinkle with cinnamon and nutmeg. Bake at 425 degrees F (220 degrees C) for five minutes. Reduce heat to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C) and bake for 60-65 minutes or until set.

Zucchini pineapple

18 cups ground (or sliced if you want tidbits) zucchini

1/2 cup lemon juice

3 cups sugar

1 (46 ounce) can pineapple juice

Bring juices and sugar to a boil. Add squash and simmer 25 minutes. Pack and seal in hot jars and lids. Makes 12 pints of crushed pineapple. May be used as you would regular pineapple

Madhu Badoni is a Red Deer-based freelance food writer. She can be reached at madhubadoni@gmail.com

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