Miriam's Garden: Simple, straightforward zucchini

We ate our first home-grown zucchini during the blackout that resulted from the huge storm that hit June 29. I cooked the zucchini with sliced kosher hot dogs and a can of Heinz vegetarian baked beans. It was hard to find it among the weenies and beanies, but I'm a compulsive vegetable-pusher. I also added a small cut-up red onion. Some red onion was left raw for garnish. Beer was the beverage.

You try to cook something tonier and more complex when you're working by candlelight surrounded by nervous dogs. We loved every bite. But we couldn't really see the food. Note to husband: Please pick up bulbs for those little flashlights.

Anyway, the four summer squash plants and we and all critters survived the storm, thankfully with no damage. Our electricity came on around 1 a.m. Before that, we'd fallen asleep listening to the radio as the Pirates whipped the Cardinals in sweltering St. Louis.

The storm was fierce and the winds blew open a garden gate. Of course, the deer trounced right in and dined on yellow transparent apples, and checked out what they could munch on for the next time.

Note to deer: That gate is permanently closed. There will be no next time. Go eat the apples that have fallen in the driveway.

I have written before about how much I love zucchini and summer squash, and I still feel that way. Nothing has changed. Enjoy them small, pick them often and plant more for later in the summer because at some point, they will become victims of the squash borer and the cucumber beetle. You won't feel so devastated if you know that there's a new crop in the works.

As squash grow, we keep them protected with white row cover for as long as possible. When the plants flower they need to be pollinated so the squash can form. I don't really want to do this by hand, although I have heard that you can. I prefer the bees do it. Also as the plants get larger, my husband has to keep enlarging the row cover tents or the squash get squashed.

So at some point, the covers come off. The squash plants are now waving in the hot breeze. They're looking pretty good, although around midday, the plants will wilt.

They're like the possum playing dead, which really does happen. They wilt and sag convincing me that they're dead. And I figure I will have to pull them out and throw them over the fence for the deer. Then after a refreshing watering and a cooler night, they're all tall and perky once more.

This year, I'm growing 'Dundoo' zucchini from Seeds of Change. This squash is winning all my garden prizes, hardly wilting, producing glossy, green zukes. Except, weirdly, the second sowing has not germinated. I'm also growing 'Tigress' zucchini, 'Yellow Straight Slick' summer squash, and 'Sunbeam,' a yellow zucchini, all from Johnny's Selected Seeds. The heat and drought has slowed all garden growth, but I pick a squash or three every couple of days.

The best zucchini and summer squash recipes are simple and straightforward. I often slice it and saute it in olive oil with minced or sliced garlic and sliced sweet onion. When it's nearly tender, I add some form of tomatoes, cover the pan and let it simmer about 5 minutes. When tender, it gets a shower of slivered basil. I've been making variations of this for years, sometimes with cherry tomatoes, sometimes with quartered small tomatoes, sometimes with fat chunks of sloppy home-grown ones, which make the juiciest, most satisfying dish. I also serve it as a sauce on pasta and/or add chickpeas to make the dish heartier.

My buddy China Millman sent me a tip, which I think would work really well with slightly larger squash than I have at the moment, but I'm anxious to try it.

She wrote: "I don't know that I have a favorite zucchini recipe, but in culinary school, they had us halve the zucchini, pull out the seeds with a spoon and discard, and then slice and saute. I had never thought much of the vegetable before, but this was revelatory -- the delicate flavor or the zucchini was intensified, and it had an excellent texture, soft, but not at all mushy. I do break with that recipe in one way -- we were supposed to saute the squash gently, but I like to do it over high heat, so that there's a little bit of browning. Sauteed zucchini with whatever herbs I have around (tarragon is a particularly good match) is one of my favorite summer side dishes."

Thanks, China. I do have some tarragon in the herb bed. I'm going to be making this soon. Many times, I hope, this garden season.

Squash with Garlic and Marjoram

PG tested

  • 2 each small zucchini and yellow summer squash, (about 6 ounces each), ends trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh marjoram or thyme

Thinly slice squash using food processor fitted with slicing disc.

In large nonstick skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and crushed red pepper and cook, stirring often, about 7 minutes, until tender. Add squash and sprinkle with salt; toss to mix well. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes until squash starts to exude some liquid. Reduce heat, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes, until the squash is very tender.

Remove from heat. Stir in marjoram or thyme, and season with a little more salt, if needed. Serve hot. Makes 4 servings.

-- Miriam Rubin

Silky Savory Summer Sour Cream Flan

PG tested

"Zucchini and corn grow together," writes Ian Knauer, in his new book, "The Farm." "It only makes sense that they go so well together. Here, their natural sweetness is balanced by the slight tang of the sour cream in a decadent egg custard that is similar to a crustless quiche. This is a great lunch or light dinner when paired with a simple salad and a glass of crisp white wine. It also makes for a stellar brunch dish that is both satisfying and summery."

  • 2 medium zucchini
  • 3 ears corn, shucked, silk removed
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 7 large eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream (I used reduced-fat)
  • 1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 6 squash flowers (optional)

Halve zucchini lengthwise, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices. Cut kernels from corncobs.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with a rack in the middle.

Cook onion and garlic in oil in 10-inch cast-iron or ovenproof nonstick skillet (I used a 10-inch, heavy All-Clad skillet that was 2 inches deep) over medium-high heat until lightly browned, about 6 minutes. Add zucchini, corn, 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally until zucchini is very soft, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together eggs, sour cream, parmesan, remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Pour egg mixture evenly over vegetables. Remove skillet from heat. Tear squash flowers (if using) and place evenly over the custard.

Transfer skillet to oven and bake until the flan is just set in center, 20 to 30 minutes.

Remove the flan from oven and let stand 5 minutes before serving. It will be slightly loose, but it will hold together when cut into slices.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

-- Adapted from "The Farm: Rustic Recipes for a year of Incredible Food" by Ian Knauer (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012, $30)

Miriam Rubin: mmmrubin@gmail.com.


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