- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 22, 2004

CONCORD, N.H. — Summer’s arrival means it won’t be long before we all are inundated by zucchini, those funky squash everyone grows but no one ever seems to know what to do with.

When I was a child, a family friend grew zucchini by the bushel on a small city garden plot. All summer, he would leave paper grocery bags stuffed with enormous squash on our back porch.

Strangely, I can’t recall ever eating zucchini as a child. Not quite sure what Mom did with them.

These days I eat plenty of zucchini, thanks to having discovered the simple signs of a good squash and perfected a few reliable and easy recipes for using them.

To get zucchini at their best, select ones that are no more than about 6 to 8 inches long and about 1 inch in diameter. These zucchini will be tender and sweet. Large ones are bland and fibrous.

This may be why I can’t recall Mom ever using our friend’s zucchini, which tended to be somewhat boatlike.

If you are stuck with gargantuan zucchini, slice them in half lengthwise and hollow them out, leaving just about 1/2 inch of flesh. Stuff the zucchini “boat” with a mixture of bread crumbs, canned beans and egg. Season with salt and pepper.

Top the filling with cheese, then cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees until the zucchini is tender and the stuffing heated through, about 30 minutes. Remove foil for final 5 minutes to allow cheese to brown.

Don’t overlook zucchini breads and chocolate zucchini cakes as other great uses for oversize zucchini.

The Internet and traditional community cookbooks overflow with recipes for these unusual, but not unpleasant, baked goods.

The cakes can be especially good — and perhaps mitigate some dessert-inspired guilt.

For zucchini that are the right size, my favorite preparation is perhaps the simplest.

Trim the ends from the zucchini, then cut in half lengthwise. Place the prepared zucchini in a large plastic bag. Add several tablespoons of olive oil, and salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste. Seal the bag, and shake to coat evenly.

Cook the zucchini halves on a preheated grill, 3 to 4 minutes per side, or until lightly browned on the outside and tender inside. Various seasonings and herbs can be added when coating the zucchini in the bag.

Raw zucchini also can be good in salads. Use a grater or julienne peeler to shred the squash into long, thin strips. Season lightly with cider vinegar and salt before adding to salads.

Or try fried zucchini fritters, with the following recipe from Saveur magazine.

These simple, savory patties can be eaten as is with salsa and sour cream, or wrapped in flatbread with a bit of tzatziki, a Greek yogurt and dill spread.

Zucchini fritters

The preparation time is 30 minutes.

6 tablespoons corn oil

2 medium yellow onions, peeled and finely diced

4 medium zucchini, ends trimmed, grated on the large holes of a box grater

1 egg, lightly beaten

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a medium nonstick skillet over a medium flame.

Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until soft, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

Working in batches, place a small mound of grated zucchini in the center of a large square of cheesecloth. Gather the corners of the cloth together and, holding over a sink or large bowl, squeeze out as much water as possible.

Transfer zucchini to a small bowl. Add the onions, egg and flour. Season with salt and pepper, then mix until thoroughly combined.

Heat the remaining oil in the skillet over a medium flame. Using your hands, gently form the zucchini mixture into 8 patties about ½ inch thick. When the oil is hot, fry the patties in batches until browned and crisp, 2 to 3 minutes per side.

Using a slotted spatula, transfer the fried patties to paper towels to drain.

Season the patties with salt while still hot. Serve with salsa and sour cream.

Makes 8 servings.

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