Zucchini – the road less traveled

Zucchini and yellow squash were my least favorite vegetables during childhood and occasionally I still find them revolting.

It might seem odd then, that I grow so much summer squash. Striped Cocozelle zucchini is an annual fixture in the garden, as is tromboncino squash, an vining Italian variety that can produce arm-length specimens that ripen into winter squash if you let them.

This year, a friend gave me a seedling for an über zucchini, Costata Romanesco, yet another Italian import. I’m dubbing the plant “Andre the Giant” because it dwarfs all of the Cocozelle plants in the garden and yet produces huge and tender fruit.

Of course, I don’t grow vegetables just to be amused by them. They need to provide for the table.

While I still haven’t made my peace with yellow squash or spaghetti squash (due entirely to the “baby food” flavor and texture of most pan-fried or baked summer squash), I’ve grown zucchini for at least 11 years.

Most of that time, I’ve sliced it into thin coins for quick pickles or, more often, grated it and froze it for future quick bread and gratins. Heck, I still have four Ziploc bags of last year’s grated zucchini in the freezer. Fortunately for our waistlines, however, I’ve discovered better uses.

The first discovery was “zucchini carpaccio” – in which fresh, raw zucchini is sliced into paper-thin coins and sprinkled lightly with olive oil, lemon juice, good Parmesan, and thin shreds of mint. A Norwegian friend found the recipe in one of the final print editions of Gourmet, and we feasted on it multiple times during one epicurean summer (This recipe seems to have disappeared from the Internet, but I’ve told you all you need to know).

In general, my “texture” issues with zucchini can be overcome with wafer-thin slabs or diced zucchini tossed raw in a salad or cooked as briefly as possible – preferably over a grill. My preference is to grill very thin slabs and toss them into dishes, especially this one featuring fresh herbs, lemon, and goat cheese. This recipe, by the way, is very helpful if you have large amounts of mint and basil that need regular trimming.

This year, I’ve also begun to “dry fry” zucchini in a pan without oil. It seems to limit the “mush” factor that is hard to avoid when you need to sauté a large amount of summer squash for a pasta dish. In fact, I’m planning to try dry frying zucchini this year with a few main course recipes that previously failed the test due to the “mush” factor.

My most recent experiment (last night) was zucchini gazpacho, in which I blended up raw zucchini, cucumbers, mint, chives, chickpeas, red wine vinegar, olive oil, chilled water, garlic, and a bit of salt and pepper. That was a low-carb masterpiece!

Here are a few other favorites:

Zucchini Hummus (2 cups of diced zucchini, 2-3 large cloves of garlic, 1/2 cup of tahini, juice from one lemon, 2 tsp. cumin, and a pinch of salt. Blend till smooth and refrigerate.) This is another recipe that has disappeared from the Internet.

Corn Sweet Onion and Zucchini Saute with Fresh Mint

Zucchini Pickles

Note: A lot of people complain that their zucchini fruit rot on the vine. Usually this is due to lack of pollination. If you have no male flowers, your female flowers will not swell up and grow up. However, you can still eat them as delicious “micro” zucchini. If you have only a few male zucchini flowers, I recommend hand pollinating your female flowers using the following technique that I’ve filmed and posted on YouTube.

I hope I don’t have to explain the technique any further …

Finding respite at elevation

In mid-June, I finally stopped spending all my spare time puttering in the vegetable garden and made some dates to hike with friends and look for plants.

It’s now two weeks into July. We’re past the “peak flower” time for wildflowers in the Chugach Mountains. I’ve been too busy to post about each adventure but have saved up some memories and pictures to share in a few photo galleries.

My hiking group will have bittersweet recollections of one hike late June. Several of us joined a 7 a.m. trip that started on the lower slopes of Pioneer Peak – the familiar massif that looms over Palmer, Alaska. Six days later, we found out that one of our hiking companions and two others, including her husband, had died in a small plane accident.

Also, in recent weeks, Alaskans have been suffering from record-level heat, smoke from wildfires, and the dumpster fire of Alaska’s political situation. Higher elevations have been providing many of us with a little respite from all of the above.

Click on the pictures for a closer look.

Pioneer Peak trail, June 23 with the Alaska Native Plant Society:

Hatcher Pass, Gold Cord Lake trail, June 30

Hatcher Pass, Craigie Creek trail, July 6, with the Alaska Native Plant Society

Denali State Park, Ermine Hill Trail, July 7