Is there such a thing as too much zucchini?

With the exception of hideous celery root, in my view, vegetables are generally gorgeous to look at, with their gleaming colors and mix of skin textures. When eaten fresh and properly prepared, there is little better. They’re fun to experiment with in the kitchen and unqualifyingly nourishing.

But can you have too much of a really good thing? Too much of a thing as angelic as vegetables?

The maligned zucchini is the cliched veg of overabundance, spilling out of home gardens in great quantities, big as baseball bats, is the cliched veg of overabundance. You are advised to keep your car locked during zucchini season lest some gardeners get rid of their extras by sneaking a paper bag full of them into your back seat. August 8 is widely celebrated as National Sneak Some Zucchini onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Day. Gardeners grate their supply into breads, cookies and cakes that mask the zucchini’s texture and taste.

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Zucchini is one of my favorite vegetables, but unlike all other gardeners I’ve never had much luck growing it. Maybe there just wasn’t enough sun in the gardens I’ve had, but I’ve never had a surplus. And when I have been able to grow them, I pick them small and treat them in ways that bring out their mild, nutty flavor and silky texture.

More on that in a bit.

My late father grew large quantities of organic vegetables in Putney, Vermont, where I grew up, and then later in Fayetteville, Arkansas until my stepmom made him stop due to his failing health. I think my ardent admiration for vegetables comes from the quality of what was laid out nightly on my childhood dining table. My parents never were that interested in canning. When we had too many green beans or corn, they would blanch and freeze them and store them in our chest freezer to enjoy year-round.

Thanks to canning, fermenting and other preservation methods, an excess of vegetables — if you have the time to deal with them — is not usually a problem.

Everyone knows veggies are good for us; for some it’s a struggle to get that three to four servings a day, for others a joy. But some consume them to excess. Too many vegetables in the diet really can be problematic.

Low in calories and a great source of fiber, vitamins, minerals and a bit of protein, vegetables seem like the perfect food. But if you eat too much of them, at the exclusion of other protein sources, complex carbs and healthy fats, your health can suffer.

 

Veggie addiction is not as bad as other addictions or as eating too much sugar, salt or bad fats. According to bloggers, 25 grams of fiber a day is the recommended amount. If you exceed this amount by too much, you can have problems with digestive issues — from gas to bloating and worse. Too much beta carotene can turn your skin orange.

One blogger said that it’s better to seek out local seasonal produce that flourishes in your area’s ecosystem than to load up on heaping piles of random vegetables from around the world. Often, what your body needs is what is available. If you’re in a cold climate in the middle of winter, lots of raw vegetables and salads may not be what you crave, or need for best health. Hearty steaming potages made with local sustainably raised meats, broth made from their bones, and over-wintered root vegetables and greens may be what you need.

Dr. Andrew Weil says that extra veggies beyond the recommended three to four servings probably won’t hurt you. But it’s unclear how much they will help. Weil reported that researchers from China and the Harvard School of Public Health who analyzed 16 studies found that eating more than five servings of fruits and vegetables daily didn’t help the subjects live longer. The review found that the risk of death dropped five percent for each additional helping of fruits or vegetables — but only up to five helpings a day. The data also showed that the risk of death from heart disease dropped four percent for each serving of fruits and vegetables daily.

“The result doesn’t prove that eating up to five servings a day of fruits and vegetables was responsible for the decrease in deaths or that eating more than five helpings daily wasn’t beneficial,” Weil said. “It just didn’t recognize any extra benefit for consuming more than five servings a day.” The senior author of the latest analysis suggested that the body may be able to process only a certain amount of produce daily, limiting our ability to absorb additional nutrients if we eat more.

 

In any case, we’re lucky to have all we need. The catastrophic Irish potato famine of 1845 through 1849, when a late blight destroyed crops, costing the country two million souls, one million by death and the other million by emigration.

If you find yourself with too many zukes in your garden, bring out their best by picking them small. Cut them into wedges about two or three inches long, steam them until just barely tender, and toss with a lightly crushed clove of garlic for subtle flavor (remove before serving), your best olive oil, some torn fresh basil, sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Don’t skip the crusty bread for sopping up the delectable juices. This simple but scrumptious idea comes from my Sicilian ex-mother-in-law Maria. Quality fresh local zucchini is essential.

Alternatively, it makes the best frittata and is festive for scooping out and stuffing — vegetarian or meaty (for this, you can use the slightly bigger ones that were hiding under leaves when you harvested them). Use of in-season tomatoes with dishes like zucchini parmesan or ratatouille result in irresistible zucchini treatments as well. Or layer slices into your lasagna.

Spiralize zucchini (in full disclosure I haven’t yet tried this), cut it into thin quarter-rounds for salad, or slice it paper-thin lengthwise and make a fancy, lemony carpaccio. Cut it into little sticks and dip it in your favorite dip. Or dust with flour before frying it in generous olive oil. Marinate and grill it.

And of course, there’s always zucchini bread. Studded with walnuts and sweet spice, it’s perfect for an afternoon pick-me-up with tea and a friend.

I wish for you a bumper crop of too many zucchini!

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