In August, zucchini starts to show up in western South Dakota by the bunches. Farmers bring their stash to town in white plastic grocery bags. Neighbors pick their crop and go door-to-door in a friendly (and sometimes desperate) act of sharing.
“Do you know anyone who keeps their car doors unlocked?” one weathered farmer asked me in jest with a grin a few weeks ago.
I didn’t catch on at first.
“What do you mean?” I asked him.
“I need somewhere to put all of these zucchini and squash!” he said.
I love this time of year for the zucchini, but on another hand, I dread it. That’s because my family finds this pulpy green vegetable disgusting. I am snagged between accepting our friends’ and neighbors’ acts of goodwill to share and my family’s groans and eye rolls whenever I bring one (or more) of the green buggers home. My family detests zucchini so much that on a recent road trip to Wyoming, they invented an A-B-C game in which they rolled through each letter of the alphabet, taking turns coming up with adjectives to describe the green monster. “Awful!” one would say. “Blech!” another would say. I was the only one of our family of four to counteract the bad with the good. I came up with nice words like “Delicious” and “Outstanding.”
Much as my family dislikes it, zucchini is fun. It is totally good at being sneaky. It wears the imposter hat with ease. Grate it and stir it into a quickbread mix for an extra-moist breakfast delectable, and no one will be the wiser. “This banana bread is so good!” they’ll say, and they’ll ask for more.
A friend of mine, not knowing my husband hated zucchini, once convinced him to try her No Apple Apple Pie. He never would have tried it had he known what it was called or what was in it. In the moment, he was being polite.
“You love pie, don’t you?” my friend asked.
“I do,” my husband replied.
“Then try this!” she said. “You’ll love it.
He did, and it wasn’t half-bad.
That is, until he learned it was called No Apple Apple pie and the substitute for apple was zucchini.
One of the reasons why my husband hates zucchini is not because of the taste (though that is another reason) but because it is an imposter. “If you want to make an apple pie,” he’ll say, “just make an apple pie!”
My husband believes that zucchini, like its squash cousin, is a food that requires flavoring for it to taste like anything. In other words, it is a food that can’t stand on its own.
“If you add brown sugar, it tastes like brown sugar,” he’ll say. “If you add garlic and parmesan, it tastes like garlic and parmesan.”
I have encountered very few foods that are as controversial as zucchini. It’s one of those foods you either love or hate; there seems to be no middle ground.
So, what do you do in the height of zucchini season when three-quarters of your family hates the stuff and kind friends and neighbors so kindly want to share their abundance?
You accept their goodwill offerings with a smile, say thank-you, and get to cooking. Your family will roll their eyes at you. They’ll look in the fridge and say, “What is THAT?!” But if you’re sneaky, you can feed them the most delicious muffins that will have them coming back to the breakfast bar again and again.
Here are 4 ways to cook with zucchini:
1. Zucchini muffins (from Williams-Sonoma)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/3 cup canola oil or almond oil
1/4 cup orange marmalade
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 zucchini, 4 oz. total, shredded and drained on paper towels
3/4 cup dark raisins or dried sweet cherries
1/4 cup pecans or almonds, chopped
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease 10 standard muffin cups with butter or butter-flavored nonstick cooking spray. In a bowl, stir flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon together.
In a separate bowl, whisk eggs together with oil, marmalade, vanilla and zucchini until well mixed. Add the flour mixture in three additions and beat until just evenly smooth and moistened. Stir in raisins and nuts. Batter will be stiff.
Spoon the batter into muffin cups, filling no more than three-fourths each. Bake 17-20 minutes, until the muffins are golden and springy to the touch, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer pan to a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes.
2. Zucchini Sugar Cream Pie
Zucchini – peel enough to make 1 1/2 cups.
Cook 5 mins in microwave
Combine in blender:
1 cup sugar
3 TBSP flour
1/2 TBSP melted butter
1 cup evaporated milk
1 tsp vanilla
Pour into an unbaked pie shell; top with cinnamon.
Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Lower oven temp to 350 degrees and bake for 10 more minutes or until done. (It will set a little after its out of the oven.) This also freezes well.
3. Zucchini apple salad (from allrecipes.com)
1 pound zucchini, diced
3 eaches apples, diced
½ green bell pepper, diced
½ red onion, chopped
⅓ cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon white sugar
1 teaspoon dried basil
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
Combine zucchini, apples, green bell pepper, and onion in a bowl. Whisk vegetable oil, vinegar, sugar, basil, salt, and black pepper together in a separate bowl; drizzle over zucchini-apple mixture. Toss to coat.
4. Zucchini Chicken Casserole (adapted from family friend Debbie Sudbury)
6 cups sliced zucchini
4 chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
1-2 TBSPs olive oil
1 pkg Stove Top stuffing mix, chicken flavor
1 medium onion
1 cup sour cream
1 can cream of chicken soup
Boil zucchini in small amount of water until tender; drain. Sautee chicken (I season mine with an all purpose seasoning, like Cavender’s All Purpose Greek Seasoning) in olive oil until no longer pink; set aside. Mix soup, sour cream, onion in a medium-sized bowl.
Grease a 9×13 pan. Place 1/2 of stuffing mix on the bottom of the pan. Add a layer of zucchini. Add soup mixture on top of zucchini, then chicken on top of soup mixture. End with stuffing mix on top.
Bake at 350 degrees for 1/2 hour.
What are your favorite ways to use zucchini? I’d love to know, even if I’m only cooking for myself!