I used to chuckle at jokes about zucchini winding up on neighbors’ doorsteps in the middle of the night. And about zucchini baseball bats. Then a terrible thing happened.
Zucchini disappeared from my garden. It simply wouldn’t grow. The fickle plants collapsed and died, or produced a few flowers but no squash. This happened two years in a row. Instead of being overwhelmed by too much, I had none. And that was bad. I had to buy zucchini, which was humiliating.
This year, the zucchini is back, without explanation or apology. A single plant is producing freely. And I am pulling out the old zucchini recipes. Not even zucchini from the farmers market, where I had bought mine for the last two years, can rival zucchini cooked within seconds of picking.
I’ll let a few grow big enough for stuffing. They’re for the steamed stuffed zucchini that I learned to make ages ago in a cooking class at the China House in Pasadena. Run by people from Shanghai, that restaurant no longer exists. Too bad, because the food was wonderful. The squash is stuffed whole with pork and vegetables, then steamed and sliced. Extra stuffing is shaped into meatballs and steamed alongside, then combined with a sauce. Sounds complicated, but it wasn’t too hard for a beginner at Chinese cooking.
The easiest and fastest way to cook zucchini is in the microwave. Cut the squash in half lengthwise, season it with a little olive oil, salt, freshly ground pepper, some herbs and perhaps Parmesan cheese, then microwave it for 3 minutes. That’s for one squash; more may take longer. As soon as the zucchini can be pierced with a paring knife, it is done. The same thing in the regular oven takes longer, and the zucchini dries out.
Just-picked young zucchini is so sweet and fresh it shouldn’t be overwhelmed with seasoning. I like it sliced paper thin, then quickly sauteed with a small amount of garlic and onion, just enough to complement the flavor.
Most backyard growers raise tomatoes too. Those are needed for a zucchini frittata and for c alabacitas con queso , a Mexican-style dish of squash, tomatoes and corn topped with cheese. ( Calabacitas means little squash--zucchini--as opposed to calabaza , which is a big squash, such as pumpkin.)
An excellent recipe for a zucchini gratin appeared in a Junior League of Pasadena Cookbook called “Dining by Design.” (Published a couple of years ago, the same book has recipes for a glazed lemon zucchini bread with pecans, a corn and zucchini quesadilla, couscous with zucchini and a vegetable chili that contains zucchini, so it’s a good reference work for squash growers.)
When I tried the gratin out on guests, they all wanted the recipe. Once, I used the pale striped zucchini instead of the dark green-skinned variety, but zucchini varieties apparently aren’t interchangeable and the dish didn’t turn out well. In other words, there’s no substitute for plain, old-fashioned backyard zucchini.