Attack of the Zucchini

Andreae Prozesky is not wont to exclaim “gad, zukes!”

Remember that old joke, “when you step off a plane in Newfoundland, remember to set your watch ahead half an hour—and back twenty years”? I think it was meant in a bad way.

I remember it from my childhood, before the latest wave of Newfoundland nationalism, when the rowhouses of downtown St. John’s were still clad in their neo-traditional grimy vinyl siding. It seemed foolish even then. We’re not twenty years behind… We’re six, eight weeks behind, max.

Our mornings start earlier than anyone else’s, but our summers start later. The rest of the country had their local strawberries eaten at the end of June while ours just appeared two weeks ago. Same goes for raspberries. Blueberries are a July treat across much of the continent, but we’ll have to wait another couple weeks before our famed blueberry season hits full swing.

And only now—well into August—are the first garden zucchini beginning to peek out from among their jungle of ground-trailing vines.

Zucchini are kind of a gardening joke. They grow with such vigour and enthusiasm that they have been known to overtake whole garden plots without so much as a ‘how-you-do.’ Plant them one spring and all your friends and loved ones will be set for life on the zucchini bread front.

I’ve heard more than one backyard gardener swear in October, after what must have seemed like endless weeks of zucchini harvesting, that they would never grow zucchini again.

Then, when the snows of March and April (and May) finally vanish, “well, maybe I’ll just keep this one section for zucchini here.” The memories of the perpetual zucchini muffins fade, and the promise of at least one crop that cannot fail is too seductive to refuse.

And so the cycle continues.

If you know anyone who grows zucchini, there’s a good chance that there have been baskets of it left on your doorstep. If you’ve answered the doorbell quickly enough, you may even have heard your benefactor slamming the car door and peeling off. You can’t refuse the gift of free vegetables, especially ones that were lovingly grown by someone you know, but that doesn’t mean you’re stuck with three weeks’ worth of zucchini bread either. (Not that there’s anything wrong with zucchini bread, in fact, a good slice of zucchini bread, with a strong cup of tea, is a wonderful thing.)

Zucchini has a lot more to offer.

The sweetest zucchini are the small, slender ones. Sliced thin on the diagonal and sautéed over high heat with a little olive oil and garlic, some sea salt, and fresh pepper, cooked so the skins turn a bright green and the centres turn a luminous gold, zucchini is as good a side dish or pasta topper as you’ll come across.

Overcooked, it’s slimy and beige like any other vegetable. But cooked just enough, it’s glorious. Its flesh takes on a wonderful silken texture and a translucent glow.

Zucchini is a lovely addition to Moroccan-style stews (or tagines), where the cream-coloured flesh absorbs the colours of the tomatoes, saffron, and cinnamon it has been simmering in. Grated into strands, zucchini cooks away to nothing, which is what gives it status as a Stealth Vegetable. Stirred into your standard spaghetti sauce or chilli, it will magically disappear, leaving children (and others) who eye any naturally green food with suspicion, completely unaware of its presence.

And, of course, there’s the unparalleled moistness of chocolate zucchini cake, a Stealth Vegetable classic if ever there was one. A few issues back I gave you the recipe for my daughter’s chocolate zucchini birthday cake (search for it at ­thescope.ca.)

Now, if you’re looking for something a little out of the ordinary, try this zucchini-crusted pie. It’s light and summery, can be dressed up like a pizza for picky youngsters, and has the added benefit of being wheat-free for those people out there who can’t go near wheat gluten. This recipe works just as well with frozen grated zucchini as with fresh, that way next year, when everybody else’s zucchini has come and gone, ours is just stepping out to greet us, and by then you’ll have a few new ideas about what to do with it all.

Zucchinilicious Savoury Pie
(With vague filling suggestions, below)

1 1/2 cups grated zucchini (about 1 medium zucchini)
1 cup peeled and grated floury potato (baking potatoes like russets work best)
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
salt
pepper
olive oil

Preheat oven to 350F. Place grated zucchini and potato along the middle third of a clean, dry dishtowel and sprinkle well with salt. Fold dishtowel like a letter so that grated veggies are enclosed. Place dishtowel o’veggies on a cutting board and lay a heavy pot on top for 10 minutes or so. This will release any excess water from your vegetables. Wring out the towel, with the potato and zucchini still in it, to squeeze out any last bits of water, then turn grated veggies into a mixing bowl. Add eggs and Parmesan cheese, and season with pepper (you should be fine for salt).

Oil a 9-inch pie pan (glass works well; cast iron works best) and place it in the oven about 5 minutes to get nice and hot (this is optional, but it helps keep the crust from sticking). Remove pan from oven and carefully pack zucchini-potato-egg mixture into it, using a fork to build up the sides. Place in the oven about 15 minutes. If the bottom of the piecrust has puffed up, poke it with a knife to release any trapped air. Add your chosen pie filling and return pan to oven for 40-45 minutes, until filling is set and crust is golden. Serve hot or at room temperature. You may need to run a sharp knife around the sides to release the crust if it’s being stubborn.

And now with filling
Atop your semi-cooked zucchini crust, spread 1 cup grated hard cheese (Cheddar, Edam, Gouda, Havarti, Gruyere, what have you).

Top that with 1 1/2 cups lightly cooked and drained vegetables (Swiss chard, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, leeks, you know).

Beat three eggs with 1/4 cup of light cream and some salt and pepper. Pour that over the top of the cooked vegetables.

Sprinkle the top with tasty herbs, or cover it with thinly sliced tomatoes, or decorate it with crisped bacon or pancetta. Bake as above.

Send your questions, comments, and zukkulent suggestions to dreae@thescope.ca

2 comments

Other events Monday

Book Launch: A Charm Against Pain edited by Georgina Olivere, Roberta Buchanan and Geraldine Chafe Rubia, 5pm-7pm, Bianca’s Something to Sing About: Local carolers performing traditional holiday favorites, 12:30pm-1pm, St. Bonaventure’s College

4 December 2006

  1. Leisha · December 4, 2006

    Dreae, I just tried this recipe tonight and it is absolutely AMAZING. I used soymilk instead of cream and used swiss chard, broccoli, leeks, mushroom, and red peppers for my veggies with gouda cheese and tomatoes, and herbes de provence. Its probably one of the most stunning things I’ve ever made and its all thanks to you!! We actually took photos of it, it turned out that good. You are the food goddess!!