Zucchini

Anyone who has planted zucchini squash will know what the “abundant” means.  It is one vegetable that, once planted, resembles Jack’s beanstalk.  That is, the zucchini vine never stops growing, so the problem is now, “what do we do with them all?

Why we might wonder why such a plethora of vegetables doesn’t exist with hard to find shiitake mushrooms, or French truffles, for example.  But since we’re blessed, or stuck, as the case may be, with plenty of zucchini, it might be helpful to know how to use the great quantity that’s available during the summer.

Food historians tell us that zucchini came from the New World, and from here to the Old World in the sixteenth century after discovery of the Americas by Europeans.  The minute it arrived in Italy, the rest, as we say, is history.  It was first discovered in Northeast Mexico as a domesticated plant, and later in the Midwestern United States.  It was first introduced in the Mediterranean in the sixteenth century.

The Italian not only gave the squash variety its commonly known name, but they have developed dozens of ways to cook zucchini.  Both the Italian and the French have created so many wonderful ways to eat zucchini it would be impossible to list them all.  I learned one way while eating at a restaurant in France a while ago.  The waiter brought us a dish he wanted us to try, which turned out to be the zucchini flower stuffed with ricotta cheese and French truffles, then deep fried.  I would never have thought of the dish, but the taste was out of this world.  Another variation of this dish has the zucchini flower filled only with ricotta cheese.  One of the cookbooks I’ve read on teh fubject adds the flower to Italian rissoto.

The further east you travel the more ingenious the recipe become.  In the Levant, cooks everywhere in those countries use a special scoop, which looks very much like an apple corer, but it is longer and narrower, and scoops out the core of the zucchini without piercing the skin.  When I visited my family recently, I was helping my mother by coring the zucchini, and by accident pierced the skin of the squash.  My mother looked at me, shaking her head almost in sorrow, and took the corer away from me.”An you call yourself a chef,” she said.  “You can’t even core a Koosa without ruining it.”

Once the zucchini is hollowed out, it is filled with meat and rice and onions, then boiled in tomato sauce, with mint, salt, pepper and garlic.  Two of these are enough to feed a hungry farm worker.

When buying zucchini, look for the ones that have a glossy green skin and should feel firm.  Flabby zucchini are a no-no, as these are too old for good cooking.  The smaller and skinnier the zucchini, the better the taste, because, as usual, these have fewer seeds in them.  There is no need to peel the zucchini, but when you wash it check the skin to see if any grins of sand have grown into the skin.

There is many ways to enjoy zucchini and this dish is a favorite in my restaurant.

Zucchini Gratin

serves 4

6           baby zucchini

12         ounce frozen soy protein crumbled

4           tablespoons olive oil

1           medium onion, chopped

4           cloves garlic, mashed

4           tablespoons corn starch

4           cups skim milk

1/4       cup chopped fresh tarragon

1/4       teaspoons ginger powder

1/8       teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1/2       cup pine nuts, toasted

salt and pepper to taste

-In a deep pot, bring salted water to a boil.

-Cut the zucchini lengthwise in half and drop zucchini in the boiling water.  Boil for 5 minutes.

-Remove the zucchini from the water and scoop out the inside of zucchini with a teaspoon.

-Place the zucchini halves, cut side up, in a greased baking pan.

To make the stuffing:

-Heat the olive oil in a pan and saute the onion for couple of minutes.  Add one mashed clove of garlic and the soy protein.  Stir and then add the salt and the pepper.  Cook for couple of minutes.  Remove from the heat and set aside.

To make the sauce:

-In a heavy saucepan, mix the corn starch with 4 tablespoons of water and mix well.

-Add the milk, the garlic, the tarragon, the nutmeg and salt.  Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the sauce slightly thickens.

To assemble:

-Divide stuffing between the zucchini halves.

-Pour the sauce over the stuffed zucchini.

-Bake in a 375 degree oven for 30 minutes.  Sprinkle with the toasted pine nuts and serve.

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