It begins so optimistically, with dreams of delicate stuffed squash flowers and tender, tiny zucchini. But as the vines run rampant, reality soon sets in. Truth is, zucchini bread loses its charm after the 40th loaf.
Several chefs have an answer: take the squash deliciously upscale. Put it in Thai curries, elegant salads and basil-flecked gratins.
At Palo Alto, Calif.'s Bistro Elan, Ambjorn Lindskog bakes thinly sliced green and yellow squashes in a ring mold, mixing in a little Gruyere and a dab of pesto or salsa verde for added flavor. Sprinkle in fresh herbs or breadcrumbs, tossed in browned, melted butter. Just don't overpower the zucchini, he says. "You want it to be a zucchini, not something else."
Zucchini also makes a marvelous base for salads. Lindskog sautes paper-thin slices with garlic, then mixes them with corn kernels and fresh fava or cranberry beans. Dress the mixture with shallots, olive oil and lemon juice, and serve it at room temperature, perhaps with a little pancetta.
"That," he says, "could be a nice little salad."
Farina Kingsley, too, has some ideas for raising zucchini's profile. The co-author of "Organic Marin," a new cookbook that celebrates Marin's farmers and chefs, slices zucchini into delicate ribbons, then tosses it with a lemony vinaigrette, fresh tomatoes, feta and olives. She also suggests trying other combinations, such as baby arugula and shaved parmesan.
"I cook a lot of Asian stir-fries and vegetarian curries with zucchini," says Kingsley, who teaches at San Francisco's Tante Marie Cooking School. "The zucchini really soaks up wonderful curry flavors."
But sometimes the simplest treatments are the most effective.
The consensus at the farmers market at San Jose, Calif.'s Santana Row is simple grilling, 5 or 6 minutes worth. Deborah Madison's favorite zucchini recipes -- which are sprinkled through her cookbook, "Local Flavors" -- are also the most straightforward.
Madison cooks zucchini slowly, thinly sliced, in a little olive oil, then lavishes fresh herbs over the surface.
"The zucchini gets golden," she says, "and the more you cook it, the more its real flavor comes out. I put a shower of herbs on it and lots of other little things -- a little Parmesan, dabs of goat cheese, crisped bread crumbs to give it a little bit of a crunch. I make it all the time without even looking at a recipe, and serve it with a yogurt sauce with garlic and dill."
Green Curry Shrimp With Zucchini
1 tablespoon green curry paste
3 garlic cloves
2 cups coconut milk
4 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 teaspoons light brown sugar
4 tablespoons corn oil, divided
2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
3 cups zucchini or yellow squash, cut into 1/4-inch half-rounds
1 1/2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tablespoons Thai or Italian basil leaves, thinly sliced
Steamed rice, for serving
In a blender or food processor, mix 2 tablespoons of water, the green curry paste and garlic, and blend until smooth.
Combine the coconut milk, fish sauce, lime juice and brown sugar; set aside.
Heat a large saute pan until very hot. Add 2 tablespoons oil and saute shallots until translucent, 1 minute. Add the zucchini and stir-fry until the squash just browns, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the shallots and zucchini to a bowl.
Reheat the same pan and add 2 tablespoons of oil and saute the curry paste for several seconds. Stir in the coconut milk mixture and simmer for 5 minutes. Right before serving, stir in the shrimp and basil and cook until the shrimp turns just opaque. Stir in the zucchini and serve warm with rice.
Per serving: 250 calories, 12g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 0mg cholesterol, 970mg sodium, 13g carbohydrates, 1g fiber, 24g protein.
Shaved Zucchini and Pecorino Salad
2 medium zucchini, ends trimmed
1/2 cup pecorino, thinly shaved
3 cup baby arugula
1/2 cup toasted, sliced almonds
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon champagne vinegar
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt, pepper to taste
Using a mandoline, carefully slice zucchini lengthwise into very thin, long ribbons and place into a large bowl. Add the pecorino, arugula and almonds.
Whisk the dressing ingredients. Toss the salad just before serving.
Per serving: 320 calories, 30g total fat, 5g saturated fat, 5mg cholesterol, 180mg sodium, 6g carbohydrates, 2g fiber, 8g protein.
3 or 4 small yellow and green zucchini, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon minced shallots
2 tablespoons shredded Gruyere or parmesan, optional
1 tablespoon pesto or salsa verde
Lightly grease four small molds or mousse cups. Toss the zucchini with the shallots, cheese and pesto. Layer the zucchini slices into the molds in a spiral pattern, pressing them gently into place. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Let cool slightly, then invert onto a serving plate (or place a mousse cup on each plate).