The Maine gardeners’ biggest enemy…
I’ve been chatting with other gardeners in our neighborhood about what keeps them awake at night, meaning all the things that can go terribly wrong after all the sweat and toil of soil preparation and planting and fertilizing and pruning. What’s your worst enemy, your biggest headache? Is it deer and rabbits or early blight or late blight, is it pepper pellagrosis or scrofulitic kale, rampant fungus, tomato bloat, bolting lettuce, aphids, mealy bugs or thrips, rutabaga rot?
No, none of these. My informal poll produced a nearly uniform answer. The biggest threat to their gardening peace of mind was zucchini*. Not just one modestly sized zucchini, mind you, but the galloping propagation of dozens of squash capable of doubling in size overnight and hiding in the shadowy depths under a canopy of leaves so that the unwary gardener, like myself, stumbles upon something he at first mistakes for a dozing porcupine or the neighbor’s overfed dachsund only to realize, OMG!, it’s a squash! Such was the case with the creature in the pic below, nicknamed Zukezilla, which, after considerable labor, has been safely rendered into four quarts of savory and velvety squash soup with minimal loss of blood.
Technically, according to Wikipedia, the zucchini is not a veggie but a fruit, “being the swollen ovary of the zucchini flower.” Swollen is the operative word here, with ovary a close second, and I wonder where else in nature fecundity achieves such rapidly explosive dimensions.
The annual ritual in these parts, so I’ve been told, is drive-by squash donations, which means hurling extra zucchinis through open windows of parked cars at Hannaford or Wal-Mart or wherever it’s easy to make a fast getaway. But over the years only the unschooled leave their windows down in such places at this time of year, so the pickings are slim. In the end, the gardener has to face the hard facts of his unbridled success in growing squash, and actually do something with all these “swollen ovaries.” Zucchini bread is tasty, but uses far too little of the squash to make much of a dent. Steamed is good, but how often? Not very.
Soup? Yes! Eat it hot or cold, freeze it, pressure can it. Here’s what I do: chop up four or five medium-sized zukes, cook slowly in two quarts of chicken or vegetable broth with a bay leaf. On the side, gently sauté a generous amount of finely chopped celery, and onion or leeks in 2-3 tbsps. of butter. After a few minutes, add in half a grated potato (for thickening) and 4 or 5 minced or pressed cloves of garlic and cook gently for another minute. Then scrape this mixture into the soup pot with the squash and mix well. Turn off the flame, add black and cayenne pepper, let the soup cool, then run through the blender until it’s very smooth. You can add a splash of milk or Half and Half, if you like.
But the funnest and tastiest zucchini dish I’ve had is right here:
Baked zucchini sticks with parmesan
These are zesty and crisp, with soft flavorful centers, and moderately addictive. You’ll need:
- 3-4 zucchinis cut into sticks – a bit larger than french fries
- 2 eggs, well-beaten
- corn meal
- plenty of grated parmesan cheese, spiced with cayenne and black pepper
Heat oven to 425°. Dip the sticks into the beaten egg, then roll in corn meal. Dip them again in the egg, and roll in the parmesan and spices and set on a baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, and serve with warmed up marinara sauce for dipping.
You can also do these fried in peanut oil or a blend of peanut and vegetable oil. In this case, mix the parmesan cheese and spices with an even amount of panko bread crumbs, fry the sticks for a few minutes, then drain on paper towels.
• Note that the word “cucumber” can be substituted for “zucchini” in much of this post, but not the recipes.
There it is, for now.