What to do with Monster Zucchini

It happens so easily. The busy-ness of life makes it a little hard to stay on top of what’s going on in the garden. Before we know it, the basil is flowering like crazy, the tomatoes are falling over, and the zucchinis are so huge we start offering them apologetically to friends and neighbors. So many times I have been offered them myself, with an “I don’t know if you can do anything with this, but if you want it, you can have it.”

Well, I am of the mind to accept any offers of fresh produce or someone’s “garden weeds”. If it came from the earth, thank you very much, I will find something to do with it. And so, over the years, I’ve developed many lovely ways to use up mountains of flowering basil, (and I even use the flowers, but NOT in pesto!), overripe or green tomatoes, purslane, lamb’s quarters, amaranth, and overgrown squashes. So, monster zucchini are a bit of a specialty of mine.

It’s a good thing. My job as a cook at The Jackson Wellsprings, this summer/fall has had me dealing with squashes just about every day that I’ve been in the kitchen. Because I am kind of a back up cook, I get to deal with all the things that the other cooks don’t have time to tackle. Which for me is pretty ideal. I love surprising people with all the fun things I can do with the gifts of the garden.

How I Process a Huge Zucchini

First of all, it depends on HOW huge the zucchini is. Once they get to be the size of the one in this photo (taken of The Lovely Alexis, Wellsprings office staff extraordinaire), the skins and seeds are quite tough and woody, and are best removed. I read on someone’s blog that they have successfully roasted woody zucchini seeds like pumpkin seeds, which is great! But I don’t usually bother roasting pumpkin seeds or other squash seeds unless I know there’s someone besides me who will eat them. They’re not usually that appealing to me. Texture issues.

The seeds-turning-to-wood thing does happen in stages, and with practice I have come to recognize when the seedy/spongy part of the zucchini can still be yummy. As a rule of thumb, a zucchini that’s about half the size as the one in the photo will probably not need to be peeled and gutted (seeds and spongy parts removed).

Anything bigger than that, I cut into half, straight through its midsection (not lengthwise), and then trim off the ends of the squash so they are easy to stand up on a cutting board and cut off the peels with a sharp knife. If the peel is only very slightly tough, I leave the zucchini whole, lay it down on the cutting board and use a potato peeler to remove it.

As to whether or not to remove the seeds and spongy part, if the spongy part is beginning to separate from the flesh of the zucchini, it means that it’s not so usable, and neither are the seeds. But if the spongy part does not pull away easily, used in the right way, it’s still somewhat tasty, and the seeds are somewhat usable. “Somewhat” is the key word here. I like to minimize the presence/impact of the “somewhat usable” part by cutting the zucchini into quartered sections and trimming out about half of the spongy/seedy part. It’s a little lazy of me, maybe, but it works, and it wastes less of the squash.

From this point, the zucchini can either be roasted, grilled, sautéed, or grated. We’ll get to the roasted, grilled, or sautéed part soon. If grating for a recipe, it can be done by hand, or with a grating attachment of a food processor. If you have a large box grater it’s much easier than one of those flimsy small ones. (Something to consider buying if you don’t have one.)

Dealing with grating attachments is another thing I’m a little lazy about, but I have arthritis. My grating-by-hand stamina is not quite what it once was. So, what I normally end up doing when I’m using a monster squash is grating about half of it by hand and then pureeing the rest. That way the cake or whatever else will still have some of the nice texture that grating provides. Some people say that it’s necessary to drain freshly grated zucchini for zucchini cake, or it will be too sticky, but with the recipes I’ve developed I’ve never had a problem with this.

Zucchini Bread/Cake (scaled down)
Adjust the sweetness level as you like— the more sugar you decide to add, the more cake-like the result will be!

I’ve been making cakes for the Wellsprings Cafe that are this recipe x 10! So I can use up a lot of zucchini at once!

1 cup grated zucchini
1 1/2 cups unbleached flour (or gluten free flour)
1 egg (or 1 tablespoon flax meal mixed with 2 tablespoons water, let sit for 10 minutes, and stir)
2/3 cup grapeseed oil, plain olive oil (not extra virgin), melted coconut oil, or melted butter
1/2- 3/4cup sugar (depending on how sweet you want it)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup lightly toasted walnuts or pecans, chopped as you like them (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In a dry food processor, or in a sifter, mix together the cinnamon, baking soda, salt, and flour, and set aside. In a medium or large bowl, mix together the grated zucchini, sugar, oil or melted butter, and egg. Then add the dry mixture and stir until smooth and well incorporated, then stir in the nuts, if using. Scape the batter into an oiled 8×8 bake pan, or a loaf pan, and bake for 15 minutes. Turn the pan around and bake for another 15, then check to see if it is done by poking a fork into the middle of the cake to see if it comes out clean. If it doesn’t, bake for another 5-15 minutes and check again.

Zucchini Potato Hash Cakes

This is something Rhiannon and I made a lot together in the canyon. Kiva, Southern girl that she is, loves potato hash, potato cakes, or anything like that. So this was a fun way to please her, and we love them too! And there’s infinite variations, have fun playing around with adding different herbs, spices or grated root veggies! If you take some extra time to salt and drain the zucchini it will come out best, but I don’t always seem to have the time, and it’s still yummy. The key, when using potatoes, is to boil them so that they’re about half way cooked. They’re easier to grate than raw potatoes this way, and the cakes cook up in a jiffy. If you boil them too long, though, the texture and flavor won’t be as appealing to fussy people like me who are aware of the differences in these things.

1 cup grated zucchini
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup grated, half-way boiled potato
1 medium onion, diced rather small and sautéed lightly with 1/2 teaspoon salt in 1-2 tablespoons grapeseed or coconut oil
2 teaspoons dried dill weed
1/2-1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

Ghee or unrefined coconut oil, for frying the cakes

In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the salt and the grated zucchini. If you have time, put this in a colander set over a bowl, press it every now and then and squeeze out the water, about 10-20 minutes. Either way, mix the grated (or grated and drained) zucchini with the grated half-way boiled potato and the sautéed onion, dill, cumin, and paprika. If you drained the zucchini, add a little extra salt.

Heat a large, preferably cast iron skillet, and add the ghee or coconut oil, about 2-3 tablespoons. (Have two pans going at once if feeding more than 2 people.) Once the oil is hot, spread it evenly over the pan and then add dollops of the squash-potato mixture to the pan, flattening them with a spatula and tilting the pan again so that the oil gets under the edges of all the cakes a little bit. There should be a little space around each cake so that they brown properly.

Cook the cakes on each side until well browned and tender, about 3-4 minutes for each side. Serve with fried eggs, sour cream, applesauce, some fresh arugula or salad, salsa, sauerkraut… whatever you like!
Little chunks of Jarlsberg cheese can be added to each cake, too, as they’re frying… sooo yummy!

Roasted Monster Zucchini

It was funny, the day that I finally got around to roasting the beautiful monster in the photo. This zucchini had been sitting on top of the Wellsprings deli case for at least 2 weeks, where it had gotten a lot of attention. Lots of admiration, just for being so big, and many vocalized wonderings, about whether it was too big to cook, or not. Once I finally cooked it, people went crazy over the smell, and I gave everyone in the office a little taste. They couldn’t believe how yummy it was. And to be honest, even I was surprised. It had been quite a while since I’d cooked such a big squash, and I’d never oven roasted one before. SO good!

You can eat roasted monster zucchini just the way it is, or use it in many different recipes. I’ll share a few of my favorites, after this one.

One large baking sheet won’t be enough to roast a real monster. You’ll need at least two or three, maybe even four.

1 giant zucchini
Extra virgin olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
salt
Dried oregano or dill weed

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Cut off the peel of the zucchini as described above, cut it in half lengthwise, and remove the spongy, seedy core. Cut the remaining squash into half-moon slices about 3/4” thick. Pile the slices onto large baking sheets. ( If you don’t have stainless steel pans, line the pans with parchment first.) Pour at least a few tablespoons of olive oil over each pan of slices, splash them with a few tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, salt them generously, and sprinkle with a few teaspoons of dried oregano or dill (again, this is per pan). Toss everything together with your hands so that the oil and and everything else is well mixed, then spread the slices out so that there’s a little room around each piece of squash.

Roast until the slices are tender but not mushy. Ideally, they will be a little browned around the edges when done. Eat with fried or scrambled eggs, melted cheese, meat or fish, salad, rice, whatever you like! Or use for one of the following recipes.

Monster Zucchini Melt

Extra virgin olive oil and 4-5 cloves garlic
Sourdough bread slices
Jarlsberg or your favorite melting cheese
roasted or sautéed red peppers or sautéed mushrooms
Roasted Monster Zucchini
Fresh basil leaves
fresh arugula or baby arugula

Mince the garlic and pour a bunch of extra virgin olive oil over it. Paint the bread lightly on both sides with the garlic oil. Heat a 12” pan (preferably cast iron) to medium, add the bread and toast it on one side. Warm the zucchini slices in another pan. Flip the toast over and put some cheese on half the slices, followed by the peppers or mushrooms and the zucchini, and the basil leaves. Cover the cheese and vegetables with the other slice of toast as soon as it’s toasted on both sides. Serve on warmed plates with arugula leaves on the side.

Variation: Pasta with Monster Zucchini

Substitute any cooked pasta for the toasted bread, and use all the same ingredients, only cutting the cheese into small cubes instead of slices, or substituting crumbled feta for the Jarlsberg. Toss the pasta with all the ingredients, and pour the garlic oil over everything, and toss again. Taste for salt, and add some freshly ground black pepper and some grated lemon rind.

Zucchini Babaganoush

I heard that one of the Wellsprings interns, Rhapsody, made some “Zucchini Hummus” for a dinner party. But after I asked for further info, I found that it was really more like Zucchini Babaganoush, which I’ve made before, a long time ago, but forgotten about, so it was a nice reminder. Thank you Rhapsody! Her method sounds pretty similar to mine.

3 cups Roasted Monster Zucchini
1/3-1/2 cup tahini (to taste)
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
2-4 slices raw lemon, seeds removed, minced (rind included) (Or, use 2-4 slices Preserved Lemon, and don’t add any salt until you taste it without)
Extra lemon juice
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, or toasted sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
2-3 cloves raw garlic
1-2 teaspoons dill weed

Purée all ingredients but the oil in a food processor, using the lower amounts of dill, lemon, garlic, tahini. Taste, decide if you want to add some or all of the extra oil, and adjust anything else you want a little more of: lemon, garlic, tahini, salt, paprika, etc. Eat on grilled toast, with raw or roasted veggies, crackers, tortillas or tortilla chips, etc, etc! Oh my yum!

More things to do with Roasted Monster Squash:

Make Ratatouille
Make Moussaka (a Mediterranean casserole, usually made with eggplant)
Add to any rice & beans or chile-type dish
Put in quesadillas
Use as a topping for homemade pizza
Layer it into your next lasagna, or use it as a substitute for the layers of noodles
Chop it up and put it in a curry
Dice it and put it in quiche with ham, cheese and/or spinach or basil leaves or pesto
Put it in a tempeh sandwich with some fresh tender greens

 

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