When a friend gave me a 20-pound box of zucchini, I was in an upper ring of Zucchini Heaven.
First, I dug through my mother’s old Farm Journal canning book and made a double batch of what are basically zucchini bread-and-butter pickles, a little sweet, with the fragrance of celery and mustard seeds. From another canning book, I followed (loosely) a recipe for zucchini chow chow. Then I had to get really creative.
It turns out zucchini works for every meal of the day. For a Saturday breakfast, we had zucchini pancakes from Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything.” I squeezed out excess liquid before mixing in the other ingredients and let the mixture sit a few minutes before forming the cakes. It was a quick and easy breakfast with a little low-fat yogurt on the side.
At lunch, we put some of those zucchini pickles and relish on our sandwiches. (I also love to grill a couple zucchini cut into quarter-inch slabs, which I can keep in the refrigerator for salads during the week.)
I searched through the kitchen gadgets at TJ Maxx until I found a spiralizer, one of those cutters that turns vegetables into curly strands, for less than 10 bucks. That opened up vast possibilities for dinners besides the standards.
One night, we had a simple zucchini salad, cut in spirals and tossed with fresh lemon juice and a little olive oil. The crowning dinner event was Zucchini Pad Thai, with spiralized zucchini standing in for the noodles. A quick saute softened them without making them limp and unappealing. A sauce came together easily with natural peanut butter (which I substituted for the ketchup called for in the recipe), fish sauce, and a few other ingredients I always have on hand. I crisp-fried some tofu as a protein and we enjoyed a tasty, nutritious dinner.
And what’s dinner without dessert? I whipped up a zucchini cake, similar to carrot cake: shredded zucchini, spices, chopped nuts. It calls for a cup of oil, but dedicated gleaner that I am, I had some mashed banana in the freezer. (I never let those mushy Costco bananas go to waste!) I substituted a 1 / 2 cup of mashed banana for half of the oil. It made a rich, tender cake that lasted well.
This weekend, you can sneak those zucchini onto your neighbor’s porch if you’d like. But if you keep them for yourself, there’s plenty you can do with them.
SLICED ZUCCHINI PICKLES
From “Farm Journal Freezing and Canning Cookbook” (1963)
4 quarts sliced, unpeeled zucchini
1 quart onions, sliced
1 quart distilled white vinegar
2 cups sugar
1 / 2 cup salt
2 teaspoons celery seed
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 teaspoon ground mustard
Place zucchini and onions in a large, heatproof bowl. Combine vinegar, sugar, salt and spices in a large pot or Dutch oven. Bring to a boil; pour over zucchini and onions and let stand 1 hour.
Fill a deep pot with a rack with water and bring to a boil. Wash 6 to 7 pint canning jars well and fill with hot water. Wash rings and new canning lids.
Return the zucchini and onion mixture to the pot, bring to a boil again and cook for 3 minutes.
Pour the hot water out of the jars and divide the zucchini and onion mixture between the hot jars. Immediately top with the lids and rings. Using tongs, lower the jars into the boiling water bath and process for 5 minutes. Use tongs to remove the jars and place on a dish towel. Let stand until cool, then check to make sure the lids are sealed.
Yield: 6-7 pints.
ZUCCHINI PAD THAI “ZOODLES”
Adapted from whiteonricecouple.com.
About 2 medium zucchini
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 / 2 pound firm tofu, sliced
3 large cloves garlic, minced or crushed
1 / 2 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced thin
3 green onions, sliced
1 large egg
About 2 cups bean sprouts
1/3 cup roasted peanuts
1 / 4 cup chopped cilantro (optional)
Few lime wedges for serving (optional)
2 tablespoons rice vinegar or distilled white vinegar
2 tablespoons fish sauce or to taste
3 tablespoons peanut butter
1 teaspoon packed brown sugar
1 / 2 teaspoon cayenne pepper or 1 small red chile, sliced
1 teaspoon chile garlic sauce, or to taste
Make the sauce: In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, fish sauce, peanut butter, brown sugar, cayenne pepper and chile garlic sauce. Set aside.
Cut the zucchini into noodles or long pasta using a vegetable spiralizer or sharp vegetable peeler.
Heat a large pan on medium high heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add zucchini noodles and cook 2-3 minutes or until tender. (Don’t overcook. The zucchini should be slightly crunchy.) Let the noodles rest for about 3 minutes to allow as much moisture as possible to release. Remove the noodles from the pan and drain.
In a small skillet, heat about 2 teaspoons of oil over medium-high heat. Add the tofu slices and cook about 4 minutes, until it’s brown and releases from the skillet. Turn over and cook on the other side. Remove to a plate, cut into cubes and let stand.
Wipe out the pan you used for the zucchini, then reheat on medium high heat. Add the remaining olive oil and garlic. Cook the garlic until soft, about 30 seconds. Add the tofu and cook, turning, until crisp on both sides.
Add the bell peppers and green onions. Cook for about 1-2 minutes or until tender. Add the egg and stir in with the vegetables until the egg is cooked.
Return the zucchini noodles to the pan, stir in the cooked tofu and add the sauce. Cook about 1 minute, until heated through. Stir in bean sprouts.
Serve topped with roasted peanuts, cilantro and lime wedges.
Yield: 2 servings.
Adapted from www.simplyrecipes.com. The frosting is enough if you keep the cake in the pan and only frost the top. If you frost the sides, you'll need more.
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon (or use a mix of spices such as allspice and nutmeg)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 / 4 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (optional)
2 cups (from 3-4 zucchini) grated zucchini (squeeze out moisture before measuring)
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1 / 2 cup golden raisins (optional)
3 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 / 4 cup butter, room temperature
1 1 / 2 to 2 cups powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 13-by-9-inch baking pan or a loaf pan.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt and baking powder. Set aside.
Beat the eggs on high speed with an electric mixer until frothy. Lower the speed and beat in the sugar, vegetable oil, vanilla and lemon zest (if using). Stir in the flour mixture a third at a time. Stir in the zucchini and chopped nuts and/or raisins.
Pour mixture into the prepared pan. Bake 40 to 45 minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely before frosting.
To make the frosting, beat together the cream cheese and butter. Add the powdered sugar and beat until smooth.
Frost the cake and serve.