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It Wouldn’t Be Summer Without ‘Em

For years, I was lucky enough to have a mailman who would take my extra zucchini. I left them by my mailbox and he would give them a home with zucchini-loving patrons on his route.

Then he retired.

Summer wouldn’t be summer without the “summer squash shuffle,” the yearly ritual of sharing the bountiful harvest with family and friends. Fortunately, finding a home for extra zucchini is a small price to pay for such a rewarding vegetable. It is hard to imagine summer meals without lightly steamed pattypans sauteed with garlic, basil and onions, or summer squash pancakes made with cornmeal. And, of course, there’s zucchini bread.

Both summer and winter squash produce dramatic and tasty edible blossoms. You can even harvest “baby” winter squash and eat them just as you would summer squash--sweet and nutty winter varieties such as Sweet Mama and Banana are delicacies picked young. But winter squash aren’t commonly eaten that way because the plants produce fewer fruits than the so-called summer varieties, and picking young ones would reduce the harvest.

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All summer squash varieties are most flavorful when the fruit is in its “adolescent” stage--just after the blossoms have withered. Their length might vary from six to nine inches; it depends on the variety, the climate and how vigorously the plant is growing.

With some varieties, baby squash a few inches long can also be a treat, but baby squash of other varieties can be bland or slightly metallic-tasting. For superior baby squash, choose Arlesa, Gold Rush, Gourmet Globe or Sunburst and pick them in the morning when they are in full bloom. Do this carefully--the babies are easily bruised. To keep them fresh, refrigerate the squash immediately and use them the same day.

Another way to use your summer squash is to allow them to become quite mature. Squash a foot long or more, if still tender, are another treat. Scoop out the seeds and stuff them or use the flesh in zucchini bread. In Cajun cooking, cooks often saute the flesh of large squash with herbs and spices until it becomes caramelized.

This soup uses copious amounts of summer squash, and it is substantial enough to have as a light supper. I serve it with corn bread and a green salad.

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GOLDEN SUMMER SQUASH CHOWDER

2 pounds young gold zucchini or summer squash

2 tablespoons oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

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3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon Herbs de Provence or dried thyme

2 1/2 cups milk

1 cup whipping cream

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1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Creme fraiche or light sour cream

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If skins are easily pierced with fingernail, squash do not need peeling. Otherwise, peel, then grate. (There should be around 8 cups.) Steam squash until tender, about 15 minutes. Mash squash and set aside.

Combine oil, onion, garlic and herbs in Dutch oven and saute over medium heat until translucent, but not brown. Remove from heat.

Add squash, milk, cream, cayenne and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until hot. Do not boil or mixture will curdle. Serve garnished with creme fraiche. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

This recipe is so versatile it has become my summer workhorse. Most often I serve these pancakes with salsa for a light dinner, but for breakfast I omit the onions and serve them with maple syrup. The same batter also makes muffins. Just fill muffin cups 2/3 full and bake at 425 degrees 20 to 25 minutes.

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ZUCCHINI PANCAKES WITH SALSA

3/4 cup sifted flour

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 tablespoon sugar

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1 1/4 cups yellow cornmeal

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg

1 cup milk

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2 tablespoons oil

1 cup grated summer squash

3 tablespoons finely chopped onion

Prepared or bottled salsa

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Stir together flour, baking powder, sugar, cornmeal and salt in medium bowl. Mix together egg, milk, oil, zucchini and onion in separate bowl and pour over dry ingredients. Lightly stir until just barely moist.

Heat and grease skillet or griddle. Cook 2 or 3 pancakes at time over medium heat until both sides are golden brown and insides are firm. Keep pancakes warm in low-temperature oven until all are cooked. Serve with salsa. Makes 8 to 10 (3-inch) pancakes.

SPICY GINGER-ZUCCHINI BREAD

3 eggs

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1 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed

1 cup oil

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

3 cups flour

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1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

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1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

2 cups grated zucchini

1/4 to 1/3 cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped

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1/2 to 1 cup raisins

1/2 cup chopped pecans

Beat eggs in large bowl. Beat in brown sugar, then oil and vanilla. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and allspice in separate bowl. Add dry ingredients to egg mixture and stir lightly. Add zucchini, ginger, raisins and pecans and stir well.

Turn into 2 well-greased (9x5-inch) loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees 45 to 60 minutes, or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Makes 2 loaves.

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