Stick with me to the end and I’ll share some zucchini dinner ideas with you.

After five days in St. Louis hanging out with mystery writers at Bouchercon, I came home with a recharged imagination and chaos in the garden. Seemed that summer ended in my absence. The pea plants turned yellow; leftover pods shriveled on the vine. Barren Roma tomato vines withered into dried brown tentacles. The last of the spinach leaves were riddled with moth holes, and the zucchini leaves had mildewed. So on the first day of autumn, I cleared away the detritus and harvested all the veggie booty I could find. Here’s the loot:

Those #$*% zucchini again. Again! The biggest ones there are 5 – 8 pounders, and the summer squash that never quite got off the ground started going crazy.

I tried to do my best by the harvest. Zucchini risotto. Another gallon of zucchini marinara. 5 loaves of zucchini bread. Zucchini on pizza. Zucchini sticks. Zucchini egg cups. I even bought this awesome spiral slicer and we had zucchini “noodles” with olive oil and meatballs.

By Saturday – a full three weeks later after that harvest – we’d lost any semblance of desire for zucchini. But there were two monsters left.  So I gathered the Kids and the pumpkin-carving tools and told them to go ahead and crush the courgettes.

Meet Daphne and Velma, the fruits of their labors, our first jack-‘o-zucchini lanterns:

A creative end to the zucchini problem.

I used to have a couple zucchini around year-round to add to stir fry or pasta sauce or to saute with garlic as a side dish with fish or steak – my kitchen was very predictable this way. I’d never been faced with, literally, hundreds of pounds of zucchini to either eat or toss over the course of some months. I’m quite proud of the variety of zucchini-based meals we got out of the stuff. The biggest lesson, though, from Summer Year One of the new garden is a better understanding of what the “eating seasonally” concept is about. Not a bittersweet, “Bummer! I can’t have (insert vegetable here) until next year?” as I imagined it would be. The reality is actually, “Yippie! I get to cook with something new! I hope I have a taste for (insert same vegetable here) by next year!

As promised, here are some zucchini recipes and meal ideas for you to try.

Here’s my recipe for fried zucchini sticks. It’s vegetarian and you can make it gluten-free depending on the type of flour you choose. Works great as a tempura-type batter, and you can also cook onion rings and sweet potato slices. Oh, and you can also make your own fish sticks with this batter.

  • Mash zucchini and cut into 4-6 in long spears about 1/4″ thick. Set on a paper towel and set aside
  • Make your batter. Measure 1 cup flour into a mixing bowl. Quinoa flour is a fine gluten-free substitute. Slowly pour 1 cup chilled soda water into the flour, and whisk together until you get an evenly mixed, viscous mixture.
  • Add spices to the mixture. I’ve been doing lots of black pepper, garlic powder, pinches of tumeric and curry spice, and cumin. Feel free to experiment with your favorite.
  • Now pour enough grapeseed oil to cover your skillet about 1/4″ deep and heat on medium-high. (I like grapeseed oil because it’s got a nice flavor, not too overpowering, and has a higher smoke point than olive oil. You can use what you like) I put a single drop of water on the hot oil. If the oil sizzles, it’s hot enough. Please be careful to NOT get splattered by hot oil. (alternately you can just dump a big bottle of oil in a dutch oven and deep-fry, but that’s not necessary.)
  • Use tongs to dip each zucchini spear in the batter and then place gently in the hot oil. Don’t crowd the spears. When they’re golden brown on one side, flip them over and cook until the undersides are also golden brown. Total cooking time is about 7 minutes.
  • Gently pull out of the oil and drain on a paper towels. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and dip in ranch dressing or marinara sauce.

The zucchini sticks are a perfect dinner with a bowl of clam chowder.

Zucchini marinara

  • Don’t throw away that leftover fried zucchini oil. Save it until the next day, heat it up again, and add the following finely diced: 2 carrots, 2 celery stalks, and a yellow onion, along with 2 minced cloves of garlic.
  • Cook on low heat for 10 minutes or so. Add two pounds of shredded zucchini and 1/4 pounds minced mushrooms. Cook together for another 10 minutes.
  • Add a 26-oz box Pomi chopped tomatoes. Stir and bring to a simmer.
  • I add a handful chopped basil and chopped Italian parsley for extra flavor and salt and pepper to taste. . . I especially love freshly ground lemon pepper in this sauce.
  • Simmer on low heat. Let cool. I partition the sauce into zip-lock freezer bags and store to pull out for quick dinners.

The sauce on it’s own is vegetarian and gluten-free. It’s great over spiral-slice zucchini noodles, cooked rice, or noodles. Other dinner suggestions:

  • This sauce makes a great eggplant parmesan with Trader Joe’s brand breaded eggplant. You can do the same with chicken.
  • Turn it into meat sauce by adding to browned ground beef. Cook some noodles and make a simple spaghetti.
  • Use instead of tomato sauce as a pizza topping.
  • Turn into pork ragu by adding sauce to a seasoned and browned pork loin. Cover and cook on low heat until the center of the loin is at 160 degrees F. (The more slowly you cook this, the more easily the meat will shred). Serve with wide egg noodles and a dot of sour cream Or give it some zing by adding seeded poblano peppers to the mixture then serve over brown rice topped with a little Jack cheese.

Bon appetit!