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Archive for Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Surplus zucchini difficult to cook, give away

July 27, 2005

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Every year's vegetable garden has a tendency to produce too much of one good thing. In my garden last year it was green beans. The year before that it was cukes, and this year it's golden zucchini, which presents a particular challenge since I'm the only one at my house who eats it.

To my way of thinking, a bumper crop for the average home gardener means enough surplus to fill both your crisper drawers and then some. An excess of summer squash is a bit tricky because it doesn't keep as long as some other vegetables, so the minute you start picking it, the pressure is on to start eating it and keep eating it and then eat it some more.

Unfortunately, summer squash comes up short as social currency, so it's a bit difficult to foist off on friends and neighbors. These people might really appreciate a dozen vine-ripened tomatoes, but a plastic grocery bag full of zucchini usually is not met with the same degree of enthusiasm and gratitude.

In fact, the moment of the hand-off can be incredibly awkward, as I observed in my kitchen the other day. Someone stopped by my house, and I seized the opportunity to share my bounty. Before the visitor could answer my question, "Would you like some zucchini? I have plenty to spare," I had my head buried in the refrigerator and was filling a sack. My guest, a usually graceful person, had difficulty forming words for a good 30 seconds after I handed her the bag, until she finally allowed that she would consult with someone knowledgeable about how to put that much squash to good use.

Fine. Whatever. Eight zucchini down, just 24 to go - until the next picking.

Even when you're running out of storage space, it's important to keep picking. If you procrastinate and leave zucchini on the plant, it simply gets bigger. Once squash goes mutant, it not longer fits in the crisper drawer, its seeds become large and the flesh loses some of its flavor and texture.

The other problem with having surplus zucchini lately is that it has been too hot to bake with it, which eliminates zucchini bread, stuffed zucchini and zucchini casseroles as disposal options. Last week, when the temperatures got stuck around 100 degrees, I also was uninterested in spending much time over the stove for stir-frying. Instead, I experimented a bit with grilled zucchini, which was better than I remembered, largely because I was lavish with the garlic and seasoning.

For grilling, use medium squash, about 6 or 7 inches long. If picked before the seed pocket has become too large, the seeds will not need to be scraped out. Trim off any stem and slice the squash lengthwise. Coat both sides of the squash with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Press a garlic clove onto each squash half and spread it around. A sprinkling of Parmesan, ground red pepper or an herb such as fresh thyme also is an option.

Place the squash halves on the grill face up and turn them after the backs just begin to brown. The squash will require about 20 minutes to cook. This allows the flavor of the garlic to mellow and the squash to sweeten.

¢ A tomato fanatic recently told me he had heard that placing a tablespoon of Epsom salts in the hole when he plants his tomatoes would produce beautiful plants with plenty of fruit. He showed me a row of salted plants, which were next to a row that had been treated with a chemical fertilizer specifically designed for tomatoes. The plants in the two rows were equally robust and equally laden with fruit. Was this a fluke? I would be interested in any insight from gardeners who have long-term experience with Epsom salts and tomatoes.

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