An interesting phenomenon happens this time of year in gardens across the Midwest. What started as one tiny summer squash plant, has become a torment, pumping out green vegetables faster than any kitchen can handle. Even the most prepared gardener is overwhelmed with how zucchini grow this time of year. “Zucchini Overload” has begun.
In our garden, we carefully watch the first baby summer squash grow. Every year that first zucchini is carefully tended, inch by inch until we can’t take it any longer. Out of the garden it goes and into a pan sautéed plain with butter and salt. The next few are eaten the same, the featured main course of our early summer meals. We crave the simple flavors and bright green color. By the fourth or fifth though we’ve had our fill of main dishes and are on to summer squash desserts—cakes, muffins, breads. Zucchini is excellent with chocolate.
There’s only so much dessert one can justify eating because it has a vegetable. Now we enter what I call Stage 1 Overload: Creativity. We start our own version of Iron Chef, secret ingredient: summer squash. The cookbooks and imagination come out to find the most creative ways to use the now 1-2 zucchini the garden is producing every week. Pickled, French fried, raw over eggs, in eggs, under eggs. I even made zucchini pie once while caught in creativity stage. It’s exactly like apple—without the apple. One has to look no further than the Pinterest boards right now to see we’re at the height of Stage 1 creative zucchini overload.
In another few weeks the last of the creativity will dwindle and gardeners will enter Stage 2 Overload: The Great Zucchini Giveaway. At the same time our garden is uncontrollably spouting summer squash, so are the gardens of our friends and family. In Stage 2, I start sending my dinner party guests home with zucchini instead of leftovers. My in-laws sneak a grocery bag full in the back of our car, which only balances the grocery bag full we tried to share with them. Greg’s even been known to leave a pile on the counter in the break room at work tagged with a FREE sign, hoping for any remaining non-gardeners who aren’t experiencing overload too.
When all the giveaway options have been exhausted, Stage 3 Overload begins. Stage 3 is known only as The Forfeit. After carefully picking now 3-4 zucchini a week for most of the summer, gardeners finally give up. The slender green squash of early summer become overgrown, heavy logs. Some in our garden have reached 2 feet in length and nearly 6 inches around. Too big for a sauté pan. Too many cups for a batch of muffins. The zucchini plant is victorious in finally getting to grow fruit to its full potential. I forfeit. There’s only so much zucchini one little kitchen can keep up with.
The mammoth squash are picked and tossed in the compost pile to become next year’s soil. Last year’s fruit will be the dirt that—come next spring—we’ll carefully plant our small leafy zucchini plant in again. We’ll anticipate the first one… watch it tenderly grow… forgetting all about the overload about to begin again.
If you haven’t given away or forfeited your zucchini this year, here’s two more recipes to add to your creative list of resources:
Roasted Zucchini with Tomatoes, Feta & Parmesan
Adapted from The Proud Italian Cook
3 zucchini – 6-8” in length
¼ cup feta cheese, crumbled
2 Roma tomatoes, thinly sliced
¼ cup basil, roughly chopped
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons Italian Seasoning
salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Trim ends from zucchini and slice each lengthwise. Scoop out any seeds using a spoon and place on a lightly greased baking sheet.
2. Sprinkle feta in an even layer down the center of the zucchini. Top each with a layer of tomatoes and basil. Sprinkle with parmesan and seasonings.
3. Bake 30 minutes or until cheese is melted and zucchini is fork tender. Turn oven to broil and place baking sheet under broiler until parmesan forms a golden brown crust, about 3 minutes.
Adapted from Big Girls Small Kitchen
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 ½ cups of grated zucchini
salt and pepper
4 slices bread
2 Tablespoons butter
¼ cup of sharp cheddar cheese, cut into ½” cubes
1. Heat oil in a small skillet. Add zucchini and salt and pepper. Sauté until moisture is mostly gone and edges of zucchini begin to brown, about 5 minutes.
2. While zucchini is cooking, preheat Panini press. Butter one side of each slice of bread. Spoon ¼ cup of the zucchini mixture on a slice of bread, buttered side out. Add ½ of the cheese cubes. Top with another slice buttered side out. Repeat with the other slices.
3. Place on Panini press for 4-5 minutes or until cheese is melted and slices are toasted and golden brown.