Summer squash is so fast-growing that it is probable all gardeners have missed that one zucchini hiding, secretly increasing in size, under the squash plant's equally fast-growing foliage. We're getting to that time of year when zucchini bread recipes become very popular; the time when proof of true friendship is ready acceptance of giveaway zucchini.
Squash blossoms are such a staple in Mexico they are available in cans. Last summer here in Utah, I saw several booths selling bags of squash blossoms at the Farmer's Market. On occasion Ranui Gardens CSA will bless me with a few.
If you are picking your own zucchini blossoms, choose males. (See sidebar, "How to sex a zucchini.") I rinse them well, check for any lingering bugs and pat them dry with a towel. I'll tuck a piece of melty cheese inside and shake them inside a bag with rice flour, seasoned with salt, pepper and paprika. Sautéed in a bit of oil and served warm, they are absolutely dreamy. I have a friend who simply fills the blossoms with fresh mozzarella and gives them a minute in the microwave. Charlie Trotter suggests stuffing squash blossoms with crabmeat and steaming them. Chopped and lightly sautéed, try them in quesadillas, and in egg, pasta and rice dishes.
Squash is part of the genus curcubita. We call them vegetables, but squash is really fruit, the growing, ripening flower of the plant's blossom. Over 7,000 years old, squash originated in the American continents, and made its way to Europe via the conquistadors. Native Americans taught us about squash. Zucchini (diminutive for zucca—which means squash—in Italian) emigrated back from Italy in the 1920s.
If you haven't already, branch out and try unfamiliar, new-to-you varieties of summer squash. Look for different colors, shapes and outside appearance. Zucchini with slightly raised ribs, or oval or round contours have a juicier (vs. watery) flavor and meatier texture than commercial zucchini. Yellow crookneck squash has definitive bumps is a favorite that should not be ignored. Choose scallop or pattypan squash, which come in both yellow and green shades, with their flying saucer shape and scalloped edges. Cook summer squash with the skin intact because the peel holds most of tender squash's flavor and nutrition—vitamin C, folate and magnesium.
A classic raw food recipe features zucchini cut in spaghetti-like strands with a spiral-slice kitchen gadget, served with raw tomato sauce.
Thinly sliced fresh garden summer squash (try several varieties) arranged on a platter and sprinkled with lemon juice and fruity olive oil needs just salt and pepper and slices of Parmesan cheese to become squash 'carpaccio.'
Dry heat, like grilling, roasting and sautéing instead of steaming or boiling, best preserves and showcases the flavor of summer squash. You want to cook only until just tender and crisp— the smaller the cut, the shorter the cooking time.
For grilling, cut squash in ¼-inch (or a bit wider) ribbons and toss with olive oil and salt and pepper. Use a stovetop grill pan or one made for the propane grill so the ribbons don't disappear between the grill racks. Grill on high heat not much more than a minute on each side, aiming for distinct grill marks without cooking the squash through.
I'll make squash blossom soup, using zucchini as the soup's base and showcasing blossoms for texture and delicate subtle flavor.
If your garden grows a surprise extra-large zucchini or someone drops a dirigible on your doorstep, hollow it out and stuff it and bake it, much like you would a bell pepper. Or say thank you with a loaf of chocolate zucchini bread. u
CATALYST welcomes Letty Flatt to our family of writers. Letty earned a degree from the French Culinary Institute in New York and attended Ecole-Lenôtre in Plaisir-Grignon in France. Letty has been following the vegetarian way of eating for 35 years. She is the executive pastry chef at Deer Valley Resort and the author of Chocolate Snowball.
Squash blossom soup
Cotija cheese is somewhat salty and doesn't really melt. Find it in the grocery store near other Mexican-style cheese, or in a Latino market. Feta cheese is a suitable alternative.
1 tablespoon canola or grapeseed oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 cups grated zucchini
3 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup cilantro or parsley leaves
Dash cayenne pepper
20-30 medium squash blossoms (6-7 ounces)
Real Salt or sea salt
1/2 cup crumbled cotija cheese
1/4 cup lightly toasted pumpkin seeds
In a large saucepan, heat the oil on medium heat and sauté the onion and garlic for about 5 minutes. Add the zucchini and broth, cilantro and cayenne. Cover and simmer 10 minutes, until the zucchini is soft. Puree in a blender, or with an immersion blender. While the zucchini is cooking, rinse the squash blossoms and cut the petals into wide slices.
When the zucchini has been pureed, stir in the squash flowers. Cover and cook about 5 minutes. Remove a portion of the blossoms and puree the remainder into the zucchini mixture. Return the reserved blossoms to the pot. Season to taste with sea salt and more cayenne.
Serve garnished with garnishes of crumbled cheese, pumpkin seeds or slices of avocado, if you wish.
Makes 4-6 servings.
How to sex a zucchini
By picking them you can slow down the production of fruit. Each plant bears male and female flowers. If you harvest mostly male blossoms from the plant, leaving one or two to pollinate the female, your plant will continue to develop squash. Identify female flowers by the slight swelling at their base, which will develop into the squash fruit. The male flower has a slender, longer stem and a stamen in the flower's center. Peek inside the flowers and you can easily see which is male and which is female.