How to stuff a wild zucchini

The zucchini have gone completely wild this year. It didn’t start out that way; they were actually slow to grow. I planted the 4″ starts the second week of May; by the third week of June they’d barely doubled in size.

So I worked a handful of Dr. Earth into the soil and got the drip irrigation going. Drip, drop, drip, drop, 1 gallon psi for 30 minutes every other day. With a week 3 foot high stems sporting dinner plate-sized leaves waved high in the air. One day I found a monstrous 3 pound zucchini I swear hadn’t existed the day before.

I went away the second week of July and, returning home, discovered the zucchini had gone completely wild. They’d snuck out of their raised bed, crowded out the cucumber and spinach, and sported platter-sized leaves. Hidden underneath were dozens of tastefully-sized baby zucchini . . . dinner! I’d just been reading the Southwest Airlines flight magazine featuring this recipe for zucchini carpaccio recipe, so we were on. I didn’t worry too much about arranging the thinly sliced squash in lovely pattern on the plate, just sliced, sprinkled drizzled, and ate – and it was so good! Dinner from the garden – a fantasy coming true. We’ve made it several time since, occasionally using white balsamic vinegar and leaving out the olive oil and lemon, depending on what’s handy.

Then we started harvesting zucchini blossoms – they’ve starred in over a dozen meals over the last 8 weeks – and they really are the best part of the plant.  We’ve eaten them stuffed with mozzarella and chives, dredged in egg and panko, and sauteed. Unstuffed but otherwise battered and fried, Kid Two’s favorite. Stuffed with tuna salad, dredged in beer batter, and sauteed – this for a dinner with the Big Boss.

They also make a perfect pizza topping – the finishing touch on layers of pizzaiola sauce, a bland of finely diced mushrooms, zucchini, and green onion, and a little mozzarella cheese.  Or a great addition to the prosciutto – arugula – fontina combination. Either way, elegant and a bit gourmet.

And of course, they make fantastic quesadillas.

By now is was the beginning of August and I’d grown two more awkward-sized fruit. I was over the carpaccio. And, neglecting to harvest in time, I found that moldy zucchini smell really bad – not as bad as skunk, with with a similar earthiness. They were growing faster than we could eat them – what to do? If I could make pickles from red onion, I thought, I could certainly make pickles from zucchini. I bought some canning jars and a manual and spent several days turning the monster z’s into dill zucchini pickles and the smaller ones into spiced bread-and butter styles zucchini pickles. There are three dozen jars sitting on the counter mocking me as I type – holiday gift, anyone?

By the time I’d finished pickling all the zucchini there was – as you know – more zucchini to harvest. This time I made zucchini marinara; yellow onion, celery, and garlic sauteed in olive oil. Add roughly chopped zucchini. Cook together, then add tomato paste and vegetable stock. Simmer slowly together for an hour or so, let cool, and puree the whole mess in a blender. I froze quart-sized bags of the sauce and have been pulling it out to toss with pasta periodically – it’s actually really handy to have.

But still – more zucchini! Just when I was ready to break down and make loaves of zucchini bread, my parents sent me this recipe for stuffed zucchini they picked up at the grocery store. It was an excellent call on their part; stuffed zucchini “boats” turned out to be a perfect entree. The idea is simple – slice your z lengthwise. Hollow out the inside and cook it together with meat and/or vegetables. While your mixture is cooking – here’s the important part – bake the shell. Soft is better. Pile your mixture back in the zucchini boat, top with cheese, and heat through. Serve on top of your favorite grain. I’ve made them with Italian sausage and mushrooms, similar to the recipe, on top of pasta. I made them Mexican-style with poblano peppers, onion, corn, and carnitas, topped with queso fundido and served on rice. I made a vegetarian version with carrots, garlic, and a little cheese serve on top of orzo that had been tossed with olive oil and parmesan cheese. It’s kind of a go-anywhere, do-anything dish I don’t think I can get tired of.

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