On zucchini and other squashes

Have you had enough zucchini lately? I think, by the number that I have had on my back porch in the past couple of months, this must be the best year ever for it. And although I enjoy zucchini bread, zucchini fritters, stuffed zucchini blossoms and stuffed zucchini, please do not drop off any more. All kidding aside, zucchini is a very healthful food.

Originally from Central America, this fruit — yes, it is a fruit, not a vegetable — is quite easy to grow in our area. All it needs is a good supply of water and a lot of sunshine. Well, we have had plenty of sunshine this year, and there was almost enough water, so gardeners did not have to pull the hose very often.

The zucchini fruit can easily reach 3 feet in length and 6 inches in diameter. When they are that size, they are just not as flavorful as they are at 8 or 10 inches, the preferred size. No, I will not share some of my zucchini recipes today. I am sure that you have more than enough of your own. Although, as I researched, what I found most interesting were comments on how they were cooked around the world.

In Egypt they may be cooked with tomato sauce, garlic and fried onions. (I wonder if my Mom ever went to Egypt, because that was one of her favorite ways to cook them.)

The French use their zucchini, the courgette, as the main ingredient in their national vegetable dish, ratatouille. I am sure that every family in France has its own recipe for this stew of summer fruits and vegetables. The Turks shred their zucchini and make delicious pancakes. The shredded zucchini is mixed with eggs and flour and lightly fried in olive oil. Sounds a lot like our zucchini fritters, doesn’t it? And in many parts of the world, the beautiful yellow flowers become appetizers filled with cream cheese and a whole lot of other things.

If you happen to be at the Auburn Farmers Market — and if you like good food, you should visit there often — go to Bob Horsford’s stand at the far end. Bob has some of the most delicious round squash. They are great for stuffing. How do you do that? Use your imagination.

Let’s move on, because there are a whole lot of different choices to consider this time of year. As I have said many times in this column, acorn squash is by far my favorite. It is available nearly throughout the year. It is a very dark green, often with orange striping. Avoid buying if they are too orange, because they will be tougher and fibrous. The flesh is somewhere between orange and yellow, with a nut-like flavor. This very versatile squash can be baked, steamed, roasted or cut into chunks and sauteed with potatoes and onions. My favorite method is to halve it, take the seeds out, brush with butter, sprinkle with cinnamon and add a couple of tablespoons of sherry and microwave for five or six minutes. I’ve a florist friend in Nova Scotia whose children turned their noses when she put acorns on the table — until she added maple syrup, baked and added a dollop of ice cream. Talk about versatile!

Relatively new in our markets is the delicata squash. It’s also known as the sweet potato squash, because when it is cooked it has a flavor similar to sweet potatoes. It is long, as much as 8 to 10 inches, and generally about 4 inches across. I find the smaller ones to be a good size for stuffing and single servings. This tubular squash is pale yellow with bright green stripes. The skin is edible after cooking.

And then there is the ever popular spaghetti squash. I tried it a few times, because everyone was talking about it, and it really did not impress me — until I found some recipes on the Food Network and “America’s Test Kitchen.” If you can do it with regular spaghetti, you can do it with spaghetti squash.

So now you have the whole winter ahead of you to find your favorite squash so that when the catalogs come out in February, you will know which seeds to buy to get sowing in March.

Be well!

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