How to put summer’s bountiful baby zucchini to good use

(Photo by Meg Lessard)

Zucchini – the wee baby ones – are my favorite summer vegetable. Forget the big bland baseball bats left sneakily on doorsteps and in unlocked cars; I’m talking about the ones that you have to dig through the bin for, at farmstand or farmers’ market. The perfect specimens are well-worth the hunt: tender, nutty and sweet. I tend to like variety in my diet, lots of it; but I eat zucchini all season long, when I can find it like that.

Unlike other gardeners, I could never grow it, so I don’t take it for granted; I treasure it. For not much money you can make lovely appetizers, sides or whole meals out of a few little zukes. Here are a few of my favorite things to do with them:

Sometimes I sauté slices with onion and maybe garlic and tomato, coat lengthwise slices in olive oil and grill them or cut them into French-fry shapes, dust with flour and fry. When I have a little extra time I like to stuff them, making boats by cutting them in half lengthwise and hollowing out the middle, then making a stuffing for them by sautéing the insides, chopped, with onion and garlic and adding rice or bread crumbs and/or ground savory meat like lamb or pork – whatever’s handy.

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The smallest ones are great raw, cut into thin slices then halved or quartered, in a green lentil salad with feta, or in a tossed green salad – or just marinated in olive oil, lemon and/or white wine vinegar, a hint of garlic and an herb or two; zucchini love fresh basil and mint.

One of the simplest sides – great when you are cooking other things, or outside grilling and don’t feel like fussing – is one that I learned from my Sicilian mother-in-law: You cut them into lengthwise wedges two or three inches long, steam until tender, then toss with a smashed garlic clove that you remove before serving, tossing gently with salt, pepper and olive oil. Fresh basil is nice with this, or basil oil instead of olive oil if you have it. Make sure that you have crusty bread on hand to dip in the tasty oil.

Last week I had a tiny solitary zucchini in the fridge, and my son and I made a killer chocolate zucchini loaf, studded with chocolate chips and addictive: a keeper.

August 8 is National Sneak Some Zucchini onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Day; but, instead of that, find some little tender ones and keep them all to yourself! Fortunately they’re not hard to find. Look for zucchini at the Migliorelli farmstands in Red Hook or Rhinebeck or at the weekly farmers’ markets in Kingston (Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.) or Rhinebeck (Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.). Check (845) 757-3276 or www.migliorelli.com. Theirs are my favorites; try their lovely “Lita” variety with its interesting flavor.

I also like the Wonderland Farm Market on Route 308 in Rhinebeck, call (845) 876-6760 or (845) 876-4981; Davenport Farms in Stone Ridge, (845) 687-0051 or www.davenportfarms.com; Gill Farm Market in Hurley, (845) 338-0788, and Wallkill View Farm in New Paltz, (845) 255-8050 or www.wallkillviewfarmmarket.com. The Saugerties Farmers’ Market from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays is another good source.

Here are some recipes for you to try:

Zucchini Frittata

This should be served with good-quality crusty bread for soaking up the zucchini-infused oil. This frittata is one of those things, like a fine ratatouille, that is equally delicious hot out of the oven or cold out of the fridge – or even at room temperature, sandwiched in crusty bread for a tasty pack-along lunch. Serves four as dinner, more as a snack.

1 ¼ pounds zucchini (about four medium), cut about ¼ inch thick
3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 clove garlic, crushed with garlic crusher
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, torn up, slivered or chopped
6 large eggs
2 tablespoons milk (I use two percent fat, but any kind is fine, skim to whole)
¼ teaspoon Tabasco
1/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat two tablespoons of the olive oil in a ten-inch heatproof pan, cast-iron if you have it. Sauté zucchini slices about 15 to 20 minutes over medium/low heat, sprinkling with a touch of salt, until soft with golden parts. Some parts will be brown, some more raw, but all tender. Remove from heat; add garlic and basil and let cool about ten minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, place all remaining ingredients and mix well. Add cooled zucchini mixture to bowl and mix in. Reheat pan, at medium/low again, with additional one to two tablespoons oil. (I prefer two for this dish, but if you are watching calories, one is plenty.)

Preheat broiler and put oven rack on top shelf. Put egg and zucchini mixture into pan and cook until edges are set. Then broil until top is set and golden brown. My oven takes exactly two minutes, but check after one in case yours broils hotter.

Cool for ten minutes or longer. Cut into wedges to serve.

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