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Battle of the Bulk: Strategies for winning the War on Zucchini

Hearthfire & Brimstone
Natalie St. John

Published on October 14, 2017 1:13PM

Last changed on October 14, 2017 1:31PM

Mt. Squash-more can pile up quickly if you don’t have a strategy for your zucchini.

DAMIAN MULINIX/For the Observer

Mt. Squash-more can pile up quickly if you don’t have a strategy for your zucchini.

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Summer squash have been abundant this year, so it’s good to have a plan when dealing with them.

DAMIAN MULINIX/For the Observer

Summer squash have been abundant this year, so it’s good to have a plan when dealing with them.

Buy this photo
The Chinook Observer introduces Natalie St. John's new column, Hearthfire & Brimstone, devoted to Lower Columbia regional foods, cooking and people who are passionate about delicious things to eat.

In Washington, it’s perfectly legal to leave your infant at a fire or police station if you realize, nine months too late, that parenthood is not your “thing.” But firefighters are under no such obligation to take your unplanned zucchini.

As I contemplated the towering pile of zucchini in my kitchen in mid-September, the injustice of this seemed almost overwhelming. A lot of people end up with squash innocently enough, because gardeners can smell weakness. Let your guard down just once between June and October, and you’re likely to find a sack of zucchini sitting on your doorstep; as hotly-anticipated as a stack of old Watchtower magazines, and only slightly more delicious.

I had only myself to blame for my predicament. When my Beloved and I signed up for a second season of local organic produce from Grays River’s Glory B Farms last spring, the proprietors gave us a chance to opt out of receiving any veggies we disliked. The absence of a CSA box over the winter hadn’t made our hearts grow fonder of zucchini, but it had given us amnesia.

“Zucchini’s OK, right?” I said, and opted in. For weeks, a rainbow of produce arrived each Thursday, buried under an insulating layer of zucchini and summer squash. At first, we kept up. We felt good about ourselves. We knew our mothers would be proud of us for getting in our “roughage.”

Soon however, they began to pile up. Individual zucchini started tumbling down the increasingly unstable slopes of Mount Squashmore at odd moments. Though our efforts took on ever more Sisyphean overtones, we continued to slice, dice, and chop with the fervor of infomercial pitchmen. We left several on my mother’s counter while she was at work. She was not amused. Our food-loving Tiny Human happily sacrificed dessert one night to get out of eating a sodden attempt at zucchini “pizza.”

Summer turned into fall, and still the mountain grew. I hit bottom when I used an $8 block of gruyere to turn $2 of squash into a gratin. My family ate the bubbling cheese and breadcrumb crust, and left the rest in the fridge, where it wept zucchini tears until we threw it out.

All that time spent shivering in the cold shadow of Mount Squashmore eventually led to an epiphany: Zucchini season is not a culinary event — it’s a war. And in battle, you don’t need recipes — you need strategies. I started tested zucchini-reduction strategies in earnest. By early October, the surviving squash were in retreat.

Now, only a few stalwarts remain, looking as battle-weary as I feel. I’m haunted by the inevitability of another squashpocalypse next summer, but I have the beginnings of a plan. In solidarity, I offer you, my comrades-in-arms, these zucchini-vanquishing strategies. May you win the battle and the war.


Prevention


If you froze a big zucchini, you could inflict some decent blunt-force-trauma on someone, a la the main character in Roald Dahl’s wonderfully dark short story, “Lamb to the Slaughter.” So, by keeping zucchini from ever coming into the world, you could be preventing a murder.

“Think of it as zucchini contraception,” accomplished home cook and gardener Lynn Dickerson, of Klipsan Beach, joked in September, as she pulled a pan of bright orange blossoms from her oven. She likes to stuff them with seasoned ricotta, then roast them until they wilt.

In Mexico, cooks at roadside snack stands sautee flor de calabasa with diced onion and jalapeno, and serve it in tacos or quesadillas.

Italians adore the blossoms too. They batter and fry them, sometimes with the tiny baby zukes still attached. It’s easy: dip the blossoms in egg beaten with a little water, and then in seasoned flour. Or dunk them in a thin batter of flour, lager beer and a little salt. Fry in a light, neutral oil like grapeseed oil. Eat them hot, while your family is in the other room, wondering what you’re up to.


Aggression


Internet health gurus claim zucchini cut or formed into whimsical shapes can stand in for things like tater tots and pasta. These people probably give out raisins on Halloween. They are not to be trusted.

“Zoodles,” “zots” and “zasagna” made from raw zucchini are zisappointing and zoggy, because they have a fundamental flaw — they replace dry, starchy ingredients with the waterlogged gym sock of the vegetable world.

Zucchini are typically 95 percent water, so the first step in rendering them delicious is to render out all of that moisture. If you plan to eat zucchini raw, cut it, toss it with salt, and leave it to drain in a colander for a few hours. The salt will help leach out the water. It also converts its spongy texture into something you might actually want to chew. Try it grated and tossed with olive oil, garlic, and lemon zest or herbs.

For baking, go one step further. Gather the shredded squash in a clean dish towel and twist. Think about all of the things that are holding you back in life, then twist again. Keep going. You must squeeze that zucchini juice out as though it were the blood of your enemies. Measure it after.

An effort to get rid of excess grated zucchini led to an improvised formula for tasty, chewy fritters made with leftover rice. Mix equal parts dried-out rice and squash. Add an egg or two to bind it, a couple big spoons of flour or cornstarch, a dash of nutmeg and maybe some chopped parsley. Fry by the spoonful in hot oil over medium-high heat.


Subterfuge


One afternoon, I was thinking about Mayans in Southern Mexico, who dry zucchinis and put them in stews. “Would it be possible to make decent carb-free ‘lasagna noodle’ by concentrating slices into a sort of zucchini leather?” I wondered. I salted half of my pile of 1/4-inch slabs, blanched the rest in lightly salted water, and spread them out on parchment paper to dry in a warm oven. A couple of hours later, the results were promising. I promptly forgot all about them.

The next morning, we discovered that several pounds of zucchini had shrunk down to exactly one sandwich bag full of very crispy, paper-thin chips. I tentatively popped one in my mouth, and then another. The blanched ones were a pretty translucent green, and had a mellower flavor. My squash-averse Beloved tried one, and got the pleasantly surprised look that blindfolded tasters always wore on TV when they learned they were drinking Sanka. A coworker pronounced them, “Actually pretty good!”

If you tell your children these are actual chips, it will damage their trust. They’ll start suspecting you of putting carob in your chocolate chip cookies. But if you’ve raised them to believe kale is a treat, or if you give the crisps a whimsical name — “Zips,” maybe? — it might just work.

Try it, and let me know how it goes. You’ve got nothing to lose, after all, except 30 or 40 pounds of waterlogged gym socks.



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