Don’t Fret Over This Summer Bounty

I often see commentary on those cable food stations or in food publications where people fret
over the bounty of that ubiquitous green summer squash known by the Brits as courgette but
commonly known in the States as zucchini. What’s the deal? I would gladly take all of the
zucchini that you can grow as it usually costs $2.99 to $3.99 per pound in the 50th and I
purchase my fair share throughout the year so $free-99 is ALWAYS a great price even by the
basket load!

What’s a Courgette?

The fruit, specifically a berry of the Cucurbita pepo species… yes, once again since all squashes
are simply receptacles for seeds or botanical ovaries, they are botanically classified as berries even
if you find them in the vegetable aisle. And though zucchini sound Italian – and the zucchini
we see in the supermarket were developed in Italy in the late 19th century – all squashes were
derived originally in the Americas. The beauty of that immature “berry” that we either purchase
at the supermarket or obtain from a neighbors garden is in its versatility as they can be
consumed raw or cooked and served either as the highlight of a dish or simply as a supporting

Nutritionally speaking, zucchini by themselves are as “free” as foods come as 1 cup of sliced
zucchini will only “cost’ you about 20 calories. They also provide a good source of potassium
and Vitamin C with pyridoxine (B6), Vitamin A and magnesium. Their bulk also stretches the
stomach to trick your brain into thinking it ate more than it actually did giving you the feeling
of fullness a lot earlier than other caloric laden foods.

As Simple as it Gets

I first discussed this dish over 10 years ago when we visited Cucina Restaurant and Wine Bar in
San Anselmo and sampled their Zucchini Carpaccio. Simply prepared with grated zucchini, fresh
chopped parsley, toasted sliced almonds and Pecorino cheese. Crisp zucchini, crunchy salted
nuts, salty savory Pecorino cheese and freshness from the parsley. So simple yet so satisfying. So
to this day, I always purchase several packages of those salted sliced almonds from Trader Joe’s
just to make this dish. Though I substitute Parmigiano Reggiano for the Pecorino as I think the
umami qualities of Parmigiano highlight the fresh zucchini and parsley a little more. If you plan
on taking this simple salad to a potluck, just place the grated zucchini between paper towels to
sop moisture that’s released from the grated zucchini as once the ingredients are tossed, the
cheese will also pull water out of the zucchini and you don’t want to start with a soggy mess.

Good to Grill

My favorite cooking application involves a hot grill and leftover focaccia bread to make that
Italian bread salad, panzanella. I simply spritz zucchini that has been quartered lengthwise with
olive oil (most supermarkets sell olive in spray bottles) then dust with Italian seasoning (you
can also purchase bottled “Italian Seasoning” at all supermarkets), garlic powder and black
pepper then place then on a very hot grill to sear. The goal here is not to cook the zucchini but
rather to simply put char marks on each side. I also grill other veggies like sliced red, orange and
green peppers along with red onions and fennel bulbs to add to the salad. Once all of the veggies
have those nice grill marks, I remove them and immediately chop them into bite sized pieces
which immediately are spread over cubes of day old (or even older) baguette or focaccia in  a
large mixing bowl. I then cover the mixing bowl with cling wrap to hold in the steam from the
grilled veggies. The combination of the steam and veggie juices softens the hard cubes of bread
acting like a pseudo dressing. Once the bread and grilled veggie mixture cools, I then toss it with
rinsed capers, sliced and pitted Kalamata or Nicoise olives, rough chopped fresh tomatoes and
julienne fresh basil along with a simple balsamic vinegar and olive oil vinaigrette. This
panzanella can be served either as salad course or side dish and if you add sliced grilled chicken or
pork, it can serve as a complete salad entrée.

Split Belly Anyone?

I first sampled karniyarik or Turkish stuffed eggplant years ago at a Turkish friend’s dinner party
where he created several classic Turkish dishes from his childhood. Karniyarik translates to “split
belly” referring to the slit made in the “belly” of the eggplant to introduce the spiced herb and
meat stuffing. While the traditional karniyarik is usually fried, there’s no reason why you can’t
bake or broil the eggplant or even substitute zucchini as the stuffing “holder”. Refrigerating the
cooked meat mixture overnight makes it a lot easier to stuff the hollowed zucchini halves.
Though I’ve only included two versions of stuffing, the sky’s the limit…

Split Courgettes

1 lb. ground buffalo/bison or ground beef
1 medium minced onion
2 cloves minced garlic
Olive oil
6 to 8 medium zucchinis, halved lengthwise with core removed
Wine to deglaze pan
Salt and black pepper to taste

Italian version
1 roasted red pepper, minced
½ green pepper, minced
1 can chopped black olives
2 tsp Italian seasoning
Dry Marsala wine
Chopped fresh basil (optional)
Grated cheeses (optional)

Turkish version
¼ cup chopped green onion
¼ cup chopped fresh mint
1 & ½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp ground cumin
Sweet Marsala wine

Brown the meat in a sauce pan with a little olive oil then add the onions and garlic. If browned
bits are forming on the bottom of the pan, deglaze with the dry or sweet Marsala wine. Once
the onions are softened, add the rest of the ingredients and cook until the mixture is fragrant.
Refrigerate overnight then stuff with meat mixture and bake at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes.

Simply Prevent Overgrowth

Finally, if you’ve sampled all of my zucchini applications and are at the point where you can’t
bear to consume another tender green gourd until next summer, simply prevent their growth by
harvesting the blossoms before they turn into baby gourds.
If you’re really motivated, you can stuff the rinsed and cleaned (they can harbor insects since
they are flowers) with a variety of cheeses then batter coat them and deep fry and while stuffed
fried zucchini blossoms are delicious, they are a wee bit mendokusai (humbug) to prepare. Or
you can use the same stuffing mixture but place the stuffed blossoms in a baking dish and bake
for 10 to 15 minutes.
Then again, you can roughly chop the blossoms and sauté with garlic, onions and peppers then
place on a tortilla with a mixture of cheeses, cover with another tortilla and pan fry for zucchini
blossom quesadilla.

Don’t Bite the Garden that Feeds You

So the next time you feel overwhelmed by that green summer bounty from a neighbor’s or your
own garden, simply remember that I’m usually paying $3 to $4 a pound for those green gourds
of cooking versatility. Whether raw, grilled, sautéed, baked or broiled, zucchini can play several
roles on your dining table and on their own, won’t contribute to your own personal battle of
your bulge. And directly from the garden, they come with the best price! $FREE.99!!