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By Terri Hahn
Journalist 

Zucchini: The garden gift that keeps on giving

 

August 19, 2021

Anyone who has grown zucchini in Nebraska knows that a little planting goes a long way.

zucchini jokes abound and there is even a National Sneak Some zucchini Onto Your Neighbor's Porch Day (more about that later), but zucchini is really a versatile vegetable that can be prepared in a myriad of ways.

Let's start with some tips and tricks from Cami Wells, an Extension Educator in Hall County.

"Whether purchasing or picking zucchini," Wells says "choose firm, slender zucchini with a bright green color and free of wrinkled skin and soft spots."

For best quality, harvest zucchini when it is young and tender, about 6 to 8 inches long and about 2 inches in diameter. As zucchini gets longer and bigger around, it becomes tougher and develops more seeds. These larger zucchini can be used to make baked goods with zucchini such as bread and muffins; scoop out seeds and pulp with the tip of a spoon and grate.

Store unwashed zucchini in perforated plastic bags in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator; wash zucchini just before preparation. For best quality, use zucchini within about three to four days. zucchini makes a quick addition to meals as it doesn't have to be peeled!

Here are a few quick tricks with zucchini from Wells:

-- Slice, marinate (try balsamic vinegar) and grill a variety of vegetables including zucchini, asparagus, green onions, eggplant and mushrooms.

-- Cut up veggies like carrots, zucchini and potatoes and add them to your favorite meatloaf or soup recipes.

-- Take your favorite lasagna recipe and try adding different combinations of your favorite vegetables between the layers: mushrooms, spinach, broccoli, carrots, zucchini, onions or eggplant.

-- Add raw zucchini to lettuce and pasta salads.

-- Cut zucchini into sticks and serve with a dip.

-- Slice zucchini, sauté in oil over medium heat for about 5 minutes until tender crisp; toss into heated pasta sauce for a veggie-packed pasta topping.

What do you do with all of that zucchini after you have grilled, sautéed, baked and steamed all you can eat? Leave it on your neighbor's porch?

You can freeze zucchini by washing thoroughly and cutting in half-inch slices. Blanch for three minutes, cool under running water four minutes, drain and pack into freezer containers.

To freeze grated zucchini for baking, choose young tender zucchini. Wash and grate. Steam blanch in small quantities 1 to 2 minutes until translucent. Pack in measured amounts into containers, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Cool by placing the containers in cold water. Seal and freeze. If watery when thawed, discard the liquid before using the zucchini.

Oh, in case you're wondering, Sneak Some zucchini Onto Your Neighbor's Porch Day was created by Tom Roy at wellcat.com while doing years of news and talk radio.

And while we missed this year's observance on Aug. 8, it's not too late if that's really the way you want to go. But if you like your neighbors and want to keep on their good side, you can keep the zucchini for yourself and find plenty of ways to use them.

You can always share your creations with the neighbors (include the recipe!) and everyone will be happy.

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About that 'holiday'

A website dedicated to this "holiday" offers these FAQs:

Q. What kinds of zucchini are there?

A. zucchini come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. Each variety also develops its own flavor.

Q. Are zucchini flowers edible?

A. Yes, they are. They can be eaten raw or cooked.

Q. Is zucchini native to North America?

A. Yes, the plant grew wild in North America and was later taken across the Atlantic Ocean by European explorers.

Q. Does zucchini grow in limited space?

A. Yes! Certain varieties grow well in containers. Consider Cube of Butter, Max's Gold, or Astia. Use light, well-drained soil and place in full sun for best results. Be sure to water daily until the seeds sprout and then water when the top layer of soil dries, usually every day when in a sunny location but don't over-water. Fertilize once a month.

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After you've marinated it in olive oil, lemon juice and vinegar; shredded it for a vegan crust for pizza; sliced it for salads; pan-fried it with butter; and grated it into breads and muffins, consider making boats with them, says food writer Gretchen McKay.

Choose the fattest one of the bunch, slice it in half lengthwise, scoop out the flesh and stuff it with sausage, tomatoes and cheese.

"It's easy, the kids will love it and it turns something that's so often the butt of a joke into one people will appreciate," McKay says.

She used spicy Sicilian sausage for this recipes, but sweet or hot Italian sausage can be used, too. If you don't have fresh tomatoes, it's perfectly OK to used canned or even stir in a little marinara or jarred tomato sauce. You'll know the dish is done when you can easily pierce the zucchini with a fork or knife, and the cheese on top turns golden brown.

Stuffed zucchini Boats

2 large zucchini cut in half, lengthwise

1 tablespoon olive oil, divided

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, divided

1 pound mild or spicy Italian sausage

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 sweet onion, finely minced

2 large tomatoes, chopped (about 2 cups)

1 teaspoon fresh or dried oregano

1 teaspoon fresh or dried thyme

Large pinch red pepper flakes, or more to taste

1/2 cup grated Parmesan

1/2 cup shredded mozzarella

1/4 cup toasted breadcrumbs

Chopped parsley, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Using a spoon, scoop out the interior flesh from the zucchini halves, and set aside. Place the hollowed-out zucchini in baking pan, and drizzle with 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Add remaining 1/2 tablespoon olive oil to a medium-sized frying pan. When oil is hot, add sausage and cook until it starts to loose its pink color. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add onion, reserved zucchini flesh and tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper, then add oregano, thyme and red pepper. Cook until veggies are tender and fragrant, 4 to 5 minutes.

Spoon 1/4 sausage mixture into each zucchini boat. Evenly divide Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses on top, and along with toasted breadcrumbs and parsley.

Makes 4 servings.

Bake it with mushrooms and cheese for a tasty side dish.

Skillet zucchini and Mushrooms

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 green pepper, chopped

1 onion, chopped

3 zucchini, sliced

1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced or 1 (6.5 ounce) can mushrooms, drained

1/2 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese

In a large skillet, heat oil. Sauté green pepper and onion. Add zucchini and cook, covered until tender. Add mushrooms and heat through.

Spoon into a 2-quart baking dish. Sprinkle with cheese. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes or until cheese is melted. Serve hot.

Makes 6 servings.

Recipe from: Cami Wells

 

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