Zucchini handling

Zucchini bagged

What to do with too many zucchini or summer squash is a recurring topic on gardening websites, blogs and forums. In the years when I have a zucchini glut (which is not a given, there were years when the striped cucumber beetle wipes out all the plants) I find myself looking for new recipes that use a lot of zucchini – we are talking baskets and baskets full. Continue reading

One hot oven, two spreads

Spreads

Starting to plan the garden (finally!) also means using up what’s in the freezer. And that contains several bags of frozen grated zucchini from last year’s bumper crop, more than I could possibly turn into zucchini pancakes without getting really tired of them. Continue reading

Round and lonely survivors

Calamities are part of gardening reality but I still cannot get used to it, and probably never will. Last year there were no eggplants due to flea beetles. This year, several dozen cucumber, summer squash and melon seedlings died on me, either chewed into oblivion by the striped cucumber beetle, or killed later by the bacterial wilt that the beetles transmit. The latest victim to the disease were the Hubbard squashes, which had grown as tall as the fence and just started to set fruit. I pulled the entire patch last week. Don’t mention it. Two cucumber plants are just hanging in there. I am trying not to get my hopes up too high for cucumber salad.

None of the gardeners I spoke to around here seems to have the same troubles. Driving by a pumpkin patch yesterday and seeing that field of healthy verdure made me jealous. Yet I should not forget that unlike many other parts of the country, we had plenty of rain here in northeast Pennsylvania. We are very fortunate; there could be many more failed crops.

And, there is a consolation prize in my garden! A friend of a friend had given me two plants of Tondo di Piacenza, an Italian heirloom zucchini. Although the beetles are populating them as well, the plants seem to be resistant (so far) and I am picking one or two beautiful round zucchini every other day. They are great for stuffing but now that I have more than just a couple, I can finally make my Zucchini Quiche with Goat Feta that I have been craving all summer.

Maybe I will switch to growing Tondo di Piacenza next year. But next year there might be no trouble with striped cucumber beetles, and some other calamity will hit a different crop. You never know.

Zucchini glut? I wish

Usually in July I try to find new zucchini recipes. Not this year. The cucumber family in my garden has taken a terrible beating. Between zucchini, cucumbers and my beloved Charentais melons (no sorbet this year, alas), I lost more than 25 seedlings to the striped cucumber beetle. Not only does it eat the plants, it also transmits bacterial wilt, a disease that makes plants collapse overnight and against which there is no cure.

I thought the worst was over but yesterday I found my only surviving zucchini plant spread out in a sad wilted mass, full of blossoms and baby zucchini. The zucchini are perfectly fine to eat, and since we won’t have zucchini for a while, the pilaf I made with them tasted quite special. The next set of seedlings is just ready for transplanting, and who knows whether they will even make it that far.

I made a promise to myself: never to complain about too many zucchini ever again!

Quinoa Zucchini Pilaf

This can also be made with regular zucchini, in which case the seeds should be removed.

1 cup quinoa

Salt

6 to 8 baby zucchini, or 1 medium zucchini

1 cup cherry tomatoes

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

Freshly ground black pepper

4 ounces crumbled feta

1/2 preserved lemon, rind only, finely chopped

3 to 4 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

1. Wash the quinoa thoroughly in cold water at least twice. Drain in a fine sieve.

2. Put the quinoa in a small saucepan with 1.5 cups water. Salt lightly and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook until the water has been completely absorbed, about 15 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

3. Dice the zucchini and halve the tomatoes. Heat the olive oil in a wide medium pot or a skillet and cook the garlic for 1 minute, do not let it brown. Add the zucchini and cook until it just starts to brown at the edges, stirring often.

4. Add the to tomatoes and cook for about 7 minutes, until most of their juice has evaporated.
Transfer to a large bowl.  Add the quinoa, feta, lemon rind and basil. Toss and season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 4 servings

Vanishing seeds

As a gardener, you experience all types of failures. What just happened to me with the cucumber, summer squash and Charentais melon seeds qualifies for the funny category although it is also rather annoying, because I started the seeds late already due to cold weather, and now I have to buy seedlings in order to get an early summer crop.

After the seeds showed no sign of germination after more than a week, I put the tray with the jiffy pots in the oven with the light turned on, and a heating pad underneath to speed things up. A big red sign said, “Do not use oven and leave light on”. The oven smelled like a greenhouse but except for a couple of lonely melon seedlings, no results.

So this morning I decided to start all over again, emptying out all the pots and sifting through the soil. I found several melon seeds that had not germinated, I suspect due to lack of heat. But I could not believe my eyes when the rest of the pots contained no seeds whatsoever! Then it dawned on me – one sunny day last week, I had put the tray outside on the patio table, and the birds must have eaten them.

A small consolation: there is still one jar of Golden Zucchini Chutney in the pantry. I made it for the first time last year instead of the Zucchini Relish I usually make. The recipe is adapted from Preserving by Oded Schwartz. We eat the chutney with any type of Indian food.

Golden Zucchini Chutney

3½ pounds golden zucchini

3½ tablespoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon corn oil

3 tablespoons black mustard seeds

1½ tablespoons freshly ground coriander

1 dried medium-hot red chili

1½ tablespoons turmeric

4 large onions, halved I thinly sliced

7 large carrots, peeled and grated

8 ounces candied ginger, finely chopped

6 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

5 cups apple vinegar

1¾ cups sugar

You also need:

A canning pot, or a very large stockpot

6 1-pint canning jars

6 bands

6 new (unused) lids

1. Cut the squash (do not peel if using organic) in half lengthwise and scrape out any seeds. Cut into ½-inch cubes.

2. Place the squash in a colander and sprinkle with half of the salt. Let stand for one hour. Rinse under cold water and drain well.

4. Heat the oil in a large non-corrosive pot. Add the mustard seeds, coriander and chili and fry until the mustard seeds pop and the spices release their flavors. Add the turmeric and stir.

5. Add the squash with all of the remaining ingredients except the sugar and the remaining salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 25 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft.

6. Add the sugar and salt and simmer for 1 to 1¼ hours, until most of the liquid has disappeared and the chutney as a thick consistency. Remove the chili.

7. Fill into sterilized canning jars and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. Let sit for 2 months before opening.

Makes 6 1-pint jars

Cold spring, antsy days

I am antsy because I have not seeded anything in the garden yet. It was too cold, too wet, too windy, or all of the above, and during the few suitable days, I was away. Having 75 strawberry plants in the refrigerator waiting to be planted in the new strawberry patch is no relaxing perspective neither. My records of previous years show me that by mid-April I would already have the second crop of lettuce, spinach, peas, and radishes in the ground.

Frankly, a few days won’t matter now, as there is still plenty of stuff in the freezer. Also, the herb seedlings are doing well, so that’s a start. To stop myself from pacing up and down and looking at the weather forecast every hour, I made my Zucchini Quiche for dinner on Saturday, albeit with two variations – yeasted crust and regular feta.

I used Deborah Madison’s recipe for Yeasted Tart Dough with Olive Oil from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone but only with half of the amount. For ½ egg, beat 1 egg and divide it in half, using the rest for another purpose. Reheat leftovers in the oven (a few minutes under the broiler set on low will do), not in the microwave, where the crust will become soggy.

Zucchini Quiche with Yeasted Crust

Crust:

1 teaspoon active dry yeast

¼ teaspoon sugar

¼ cup lukewarm water

1½ tablespoons light olive oil

½ beaten egg

Pinch of salt

1 cup flour

Filling:

Click here

1. Stir the yeast with the sugar and the water until the yeast is dissolved. Let stand for 10 minutes until it foams.

2. Mix the olive oil with the egg and the salt. Stir in the yeast mixture.

3. Add the flour, starting with ¾ cup and knead to a smooth dough that detaches from the bowl. The dough should be slightly tacky.

4. Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover. Let rise for 45 minutes.

5. Prepare the filling as described here.

6. Preheat the oven to 375 C.

7. On a floured surface roll out the dough in a circle large enough to fit a 9-inch pie dish (not a deep dish) with a ½-inch edge. Pat the edge all around to even out the height and trim as necessary. You can use the trimmings to patch other places, it won’t show in the baked quiche.

7. Spread the filling over the dough and even it out with a spatula. Bake the quiche in the preheated oven for 35 minutes.

Whipping up dinner

A frantic Monday at work. Honestly, if I did not have veggies in the garden that need to be picked and that took so much time getting to this stage, I would have fetched takeout (don’t get me wrong, we do have takeout pizza every now and then), or I would have made something else, definitely something with much less veggies.

While the dough was rising, I picked and prepared the vegetables for the filling. It took me a while to switch gears, but then I thoroughly enjoyed being in the kitchen and improvising this vegetable torta. I also found use for an almost full container of ricotta that was nearing expiration. The recipe for the yeast dough is from my favorite cookbook, or I should better say: my cooking bible, Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

Tonight was another proof, cooking can be great relaxation. And what I like about this blog is that before, I rarely wrote things down when improvising, so that very often I could not remember how much I used. Now I can because I am taking notes!

Summer Vegetable Torta with Zucchini, Eggplant and Tomatoes

Dough:

2 teaspoons active dry yeast

½ teaspoon sugar

½ cup warm water

1 egg

3 tablespoons olive oil

Pinch of salt

1¾ cups flour

Filling:

1 medium zucchini

1 medium eggplant

20 cherry tomatoes

2 garlic cloves

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 eggs

12 ounces ricotta

½ packed cup fresh basil leaves

Salt

Pepper

1. Mix yeast with sugar and water and let stand for 5-10 minutes until it foams. Lightly beat the egg and mix with the olive oil in a bowl (I use the KitchenAid for this). Add the yeast mixture and the flour and knead on low until the dough is smooth and elastic. Shape the dough into a ball.

2. Spray the bowl with olive oil and turn the dough over so the upper side is coated. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise 45 minutes.

3. Halve the zucchini and remove the seeds with a small spoon. Cut into thin slices. Peel the eggplant and quarter. Cut into thin slices (I use a mandoline for slicing). Quarter the tomatoes. Chop the garlic.

4. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

5. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and cook the garlic until translucent but not browned. Add the zucchini and the eggplant and cook for 15 minutes until soft and browned in a few spots, stirring often. Add the tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes more. Remove from the stove and let cool for a few minutes.

6. Lightly beat the eggs and whisk in the ricotta until smooth. Chop the basil leaves and add to the cheese.

7. Roll out the dough on a floured surface to fit a 9-inch springform pan plus a good 2 inches coming up the sides. Line the pan with the dough and smoothen out the sides so the crust is evenly high all around.

8. Mix the veggies with the cheese and season with salt and a generous amount of black pepper. Spread the filling evenly onto the dough.

9. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until the torta is lightly browned on top and the crust is golden brown. Remove the springform rim and let the torta cool off completely.

Zucchini glut

 

Blanched zucchini for quiche

One of my creations to use up the bright yellow, buttery zucchini from the garden is zucchini quiche with goat feta. In previous years I baked and froze several quiches with zucchini straight from the garden. But this year I want to make it easier for myself (after all, it’s summer, and who wants to spend an entire Saturday afternoon toiling in a hot kitchen) so I decided to blanch the zucchini and freeze them in batches big enough for one quiche.

Zucchini Quiche with Goat Feta

Crust:

1 cup all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons cold butter

2 to 3 tablespoons ice water, as needed

Filling:

1 large (or two small) yellow zucchini

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon herbes de provence (mix of dried rosemary, basil, marjoram, and thyme)

3 eggs

8 ounces goat feta, crumbled

Freshly ground black pepper

Salt

1. Mix the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Cut in the butter and process until mixture resembles a coarse meal.

2. Add water, a tablespoon at a time, until you bring the dough together in a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic foil and refrigerate for 15 minutes, or until slightly hardened.

3. If you are not sure the zucchini haven’t been treated, peel them. Cut in half lengthwise and remove the seeds using a tomato shark or a grapefruit spoon. Slice very thinly.

4. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and add the zucchini and the herbes de provence. Toss well and cook over medium heat until the zucchini are tender and most of the liquid has evaporated. Stir frequently especially towards the end to prevent them from sticking to the bottom of the skillet.

5. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

6. Roll out the dough to a circle to fit a 9-inch pie dish (not a deep dish), preferable one with a removable bottom, and trim the edges. Bake for 10 minutes.

7. Beat the eggs and add the feta and the cooled zucchini and mix thoroughly. Season with pepper. Go easy on the salt, as the feta usually adds enough saltiness to the dish.

8. Reduce the oven heat to 375 degrees F. Bake the quiche until set and lightly browned on top, 35 to 40 minutes. Serve warm.

9. The quiche can be frozen and reheated in the oven at 300 degrees, or in the microwave.

Taking inventory

So there’s that one lonely jar of zucchini relish left over from 2009 (credit for the recipe goes to my friend Alice’s sister, Pam). In a few days I will be harvesting the first zucchini and I am determined to try out a new recipe this year – zucchini chutney for a change. Now the big question is: do we eat the last jar asap, or do I better hold on to it just in case the chutney won’t turn out that great?

In any case, here’s the recipe for that fabulous zucchini relish:

12 cups chopped zucchini, or a bit more (about 4 pounds; peel zucchini if not organic)

4 cups chopped onion

2 cups chopped green bell pepper

2 cups chopped red bell pepper

1 tablespoon dry mustard

5 tablespoons salt

2½ cups white vinegar

¾ teaspoon turmeric

¾ teaspoon nutmeg

¾ teaspoon cornstarch

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

½ teaspoon celery seed

6 cups sugar

1. Mix zucchini, onion and peppers in a large colander and set it over a big bowl of ice cubes in the fridge. Leave overnight.

2. The next day let cold water run over the mix and drain.

3. Bring all the remaining ingredients to a boil in a large pot. Add zucchini mix and cook for 30 minutes.

4. Meanwhile bring hot water to a boil in a large pot or a canning pot. The water needs to cover the jars by at least 1 inch. Before I owned a canning pot, I used a stockpot, which is fine, but to prevent the jars from bumping around and breaking, I put several dish towels on the bottom and between the jars.

5. Fill piping hot relish in sterilized jars placed on a damp kitchen towel (this prevents them from cracking). Wipe the rim of the jars with a clean damp paper towel. Close jars with brand new lids and bands immediately and process in boiling hot water bath for 20 minutes.

6. Remove from the water onto damp kitchen towels and let sit for 24 hours. Store in a dark and cool place.

Makes seven 1-pint jars