Zucchini for the Freezer

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‘Tis the season of zucchini – the time of year when gardeners are tired of the zucchini bounty and are happy to give friends, neighbors and random passersby their extra squash. I got so tired of my plant taking up most of my garden space that I took the whole thing out and planted a fall garden. More on that in another post.

I have mentioned dealing with all the zucchini in several posts. Can you tell that zucchini has been preoccupying me just a bit? Some of the harvest played a starring roll in lemon zucchini muffins and some featured prominently in pasta dishes or side dishes. And then the rest of it…

Most of the harvest ended up in the freezer, in the form of bags of shredded zucchini. Ready and waiting for me to make zucchini bread and muffins or to sauté to make a quick batch of zucchini pesto for pasta. When I’m not so tired of the blessed vegetable.

DSC_0349I have a ready stash now, stacked in the freezer in ziplock bags. Over the years I have develop a process that works for me and makes the most of precious freezer space. First, shred the zucchini, either by hand or with a food processor. For ease of filling, line a glass or other straight-sided container with a quart-sized ziplock bag, folding the top edge back over the glass. Fill the bag with about two cups of zucchini shreds. You can measure the first one and then fill the others to the same height as the first. I use two cups because that is what most of my recipes call for, and it fills the bag nicely.

DSC_0359Press all the air out of the bags and seal them tightly. Flatten the bags as much as possible, spreading the zucchini shreds out to the very edges of the bags. Label each bag with the contents and the date. Don’t skip the labeling or you will be stuck puzzling over the contents in January, when the contents are frosty and your memory is fuzzy. Freeze the bags flat, and then store them on their sides, like books in a shelf.

When you are ready to use the zucchini, the bags thaw in just a few hours on the counter. Or dip the sealed bag briefly in hot water until the zucchini is thawed enough to use. Or throw the frozen zucchini block right into boiling soup or pasta sauce.

What is your favorite way of dealing with garden abundance?

Summer Days and School Days

School started this week in our area. Calvin started ninth grade this year – the dreaded and exciting high school. Though he has been in the same school district since kindergarten, and he has always started school this early in August, it still seems insanely early to me.

School, when the summer cicadas and katydids are still singing? School, when it is still blazing hot? Well, not this year, but I’m not complaining at all about the beautiful weather. School, when we are still eating summer produce in all its glory?

DSC_0053Though the school year is in full swing, and our activities feel like fall, I am hanging onto summer at least a few more weeks. The fall spices, pumpkins and apples can wait a while, as far as I’m concerned. Summer is still here and I’m hanging on to it – long days, garden vegetables, lemonade and all.

Summer cooking for me has involved a lot of zucchini this year, and not quite as many tomatoes as usual. It all comes down to what is doing well in the garden. We have had spotty success with tomatoes for the past few years, so this spring we decided to give the soil a rest from tomato plants and raise them in pots.

Well, that was a failure – we had a grand total of eight cherry tomatoes and one larger one. The plants just never took off in the pots, and the deer took care of most of the fruit we did get on the vines. To top off the season, a deer ate two of the plants down to stubs. I bagged the whole experiment in mid July. I am trying a second, fall crop of tomatoes, but in the garden this time, behind the lattice fence that was supposed to keep out the rabbits. It seems to be doing a fine job deterring the deer too.

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We have had good luck with zucchini this year, at least. I have one plant, count it, one. It currently is taking over the garden. We have had several huge zucchini that escaped our notice under the insanely huge leaves. One weighed three pounds and the other was over four. There really was nothing to do with those but shred them, since they were so big. They found their way into zucchini tots, lemon zucchini muffins and the freezer. We have had a lot of smaller zucchini too, using those on pizza, and in zucchini chips and zucchini planks.

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Calvin’s first week of school is just about over. I think it calls for a celebration, which in our house usually means something special from the kitchen. I wonder if he’d go for zucchini cake? Probably not. Guess it’s time to break out the chocolate.

Zucchini Abundance

It is that time of year again, when the zucchinis are big and the harvest is bountiful. If you have a garden of your own, or you know someone who grows zucchini, you are probably trying to think up ways to use it all. And if you aren’t so lucky, find a farmers’ market and buy some. Zucchini season is here!

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Try making Oven Crisped Zucchini.

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Or pick up a few summer tomatoes and make Lemon Pasta with Zucchini Ribbons.

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Or, for something sweet, make Lemon Zucchini Muffins.

What’s your favorite zucchini recipe?

One Zucchini and Three Tomatoes Lead to Pizza

 

Last Saturday we were trying to decide what we wanted to make for dinner. We didn’t really want to go to the store, and we wanted to make something new and different. We decided on pizza, but we wanted to change up the toppings to make something more interesting than our usual pepperoni or pesto pizza.

Part of cooking, and coming up with new recipes, is thinking about what you know how to do and how you can change it. This doesn’t always work if you are trying to change a baking recipe, since the ratios and chemistry matter – but with pizza or most dinner recipes, you don’t have to be as careful. Start by looking through pantry and fridge to see what you have on hand.

Our kitchen search uncovered one zucchini, a few small garden tomatoes, garlic paste, part of a container of fresh mozzarella pearls, a small chunk of part-skim mozzarella and a big chunk of Parmesan (Sam’s is a great place to get this for a great price).

The garlic paste was left over from our anniversary dinner at a tapas restaurant (Modesto for you St. Louis readers – definitely worth a trip). One of the dishes we ordered was fried garlic. We had expected to get a plate of chopped garlic that had been cooked with oil. We were surprised when we got several skewers filled with deep fried whole garlic cloves. They were sweet and nutty, but with a definite garlic kick when smeared on bread. We ate about three cloves each and had at least 20 to take home. I mashed them with a fork, and froze the resulting paste to use later – tripled bagged to keep the aromas from invading the freezer.

The paste was too thick to spread on our soft dough, so I mixed it with a little olive oil, but it was still too stiff. I didn’t want to add more oil, so I added a bit of white wine. Then I added some grated Parmesan for flavor, which made it too thick again. More wine and it was ready to spread.

We topped the garlic paste with thin slices of the zucchini and tomatoes. I wanted to avoid any possibility of crunchy zucchini, so after I sliced it, I spread it in a single layer on a plate and microwaved it for a couple of minutes, until the slices were starting to soften. We topped the veggies with a scattering of mozzarella pearls and a thin layer of grated part-skim mozzarella. A dusting of Parmesan and it was ready for the oven.

 

The pizza surpassed our expectations by a mile. The edges of each zucchini slice crisped, and the cheese on top of them browned – resulting in zucchini chips right on top of our pizza. The garlic sauce was the star of the show, though. Even after baking at high heat we could taste the wine, which added a nice flavor dimension. The garlic was a definite presence, but not overpowering. I am definitely going to experiment with roasting a head of garlic or sautéing minced garlic in olive oil to try to recreate the garlic paste without having to deep fry it.

The next time you are looking for ways to bring some interest to your meals, let the inner adventurer free. Think about dishes you have had in restaurants, or recipes you have read. Use the contents of your fridge, pantry and freezer for inspiration. You never know what new favorites you might create.

And a New Recipe is Born – Zucchini Pesto Pasta

Last Saturday we wanted an easy dinner that we all would like. Calvin is willing to try more foods every day and we are trying to foster his adventurous side. We planned to make pesto pasta with the leftover pesto from making Pesto Three Cheese Pizza. We had several zucchini in the fridge, so I decided a side of Parmesan Crusted Zucchini Chips would be good too. All three of us were in the kitchen, which sometimes makes for interesting dishes.

Calvin and I were slicing the zucchini in the food processor and we ended up with almost a whole sliced zucchini that wouldn’t fit on our baking sheets. I didn’t want to waste it, but we certainly had enough zucchini chips without it. I suggested we sauté it in some olive oil and add it to our pasta, but Calvin wanted to make pesto out of it. We compromised, mincing the zucchini in the food processor and then sautéing it with some garlic.

When the zucchini “pesto” was softened and starting to brown on the bottom, we added it to the hot pasta, along with a spoonful of pesto and a splash of olive oil. A quick toss and we were ready to customize our individual servings. Our pesto pasta is usually hot pasta stirred together with fresh pesto, diced mozzarella, tomatoes (sun-dried or fresh, depending on the season), cooked chicken and Parmesan cheese.

This time Rich and I had found fresh mozzarella pearls at the store. I wondered if Calvin would eat them, since he has only eaten regular, part-skim mozzarella. He surprised us by eating the pearls with no hesitation, popping them into his mouth like popcorn. Calvin had his zucchini pesto pasta with mozzarella pearls and Parmesan cheese. Rich and I added chopped garden tomatoes and cooked chicken.

Calvin couldn’t stop talking about our new dish, and how he had the idea for the zucchini pesto. He ate two big helpings and finished off the leftovers the next day. Not bad for a picky eater who looks at most vegetables with suspicion. New recipes and kitchen innovations don’t have to be totally groundbreaking to be keepers. Let loose in the kitchen and see what you come up with.

Zucchini Pesto Pasta
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 4-6

This is the perfect weeknight dinner – you can prepare your ingredients in the time it takes to cook the pasta. It is also a great way to use leftover chicken from another meal. Or you can leave the chicken out to make it a vegetarian dish. Mix the pasta with the toppings right in the serving bowl to save on dishes.

¾ pound dried pasta (choose a short, stubby shape that will hold the sauce, like bowties, elbows, rotini or a similar shape)
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided (you may not need all of the olive oil)
1-3 cloves garlic, minced (we used three)
1 small zucchini, minced finely by hand or in a food processor
2 tablespoons basil pesto, homemade or commercial
1-2 cups chopped, cooked chicken
1 cup fresh mozzarella pearls, or diced mozzarella cheese
1-2 medium tomatoes, diced
Parmesan cheese, for serving

Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add pasta when it comes to a full rolling boil and cook according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. When oil is hot, reduce the heat to low and add the minced garlic. Cook garlic, stirring often, until it is soft, but not browned. Add a bit more olive oil (up to a tablespoon) if the garlic starts sticking to the pan or looking dry. Once the garlic is soft, add the zucchini to the garlic mixture. Increase the heat to medium and cook the zucchini, stirring frequently, until soft and just starting to brown. It should start to resemble light green pesto as the zucchini softens.

The basil pesto is on the left and the zucchini pesto is on the right.

While the pasta and zucchini cook, assemble the rest of the ingredients. When pasta is cooked, drain and pour into a large serving bowl. Use a larger bowl than you think you need so you have room to toss the pasta. Add the cooked zucchini mixture and the pesto and toss pasta gently to distribute. If pasta looks dry, add up to a tablespoon of olive oil and toss again. Add chicken, mozzarella and tomatoes and toss gently. Serve immediately, with Parmesan cheese for topping. This reheats well in the microwave if you have leftovers.

Download the recipe here.

Zucchini Tots

After a four-month lull, my freelance work is picking up again. I am excited to bring in a little money, though, like all parents, I am working out how to find time to fit it all in. Even working part-time, it is still a juggling act.

My blog entries probably will reflect the need to make quick dinners, at least during the week. I always find time to cook, though, and my weekends always include time for playing in the kitchen, so there won’t be any lack of fun kitchen projects. Homemade ice cream cones, anyone? I’m still working on that one, but I hope to be able to post it sometime this summer.

Zucchini Tots fall into the easy weeknight recipe category. Think tater tots, but better, and not fried. They take a few minutes of prep work – mostly grating the zucchini – but they bake for only 15 minutes, and they are fabulous. Zucchini, cheese, bread crumbs and garlic – what’s not to like? Pair them with anything from baked chicken to hamburgers. They are a great way to use up the summer zucchini bounty.

I got the recipe from The Baking Circle, which is King Arthur Flour’s online community forum. Check it out sometime if you have any interest in baking at all. It is a great place for ordinary baking folks to share recipes and tips and hints about baking everything from cookies to croissants. The woman who posted this recipe gave me permission to share it, and she has had it so long that she doesn’t remember where she got it. Thanks for sharing, mrscindy!

I doubled the recipe when I made them and the three of us ate all but the last four. They are that good.

Zucchini Tots
Adapted by The Cook’s Life
From mrscindy via King Arthur Flour’s Baking Circle
Yield 12 mini tots, easy to double

The original recipe called for cheddar cheese, but I thought Parmesan was a better fit. Feel free to substitute any cheese you like in these.

1 cup zucchini, grated (about 1 small zucchini)
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
¼ cup regular or panko
 breadcrumbs
Salt
Pepper
Additional Parmesan cheese for serving

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a mini muffin tin.

Grate the zucchini onto a clean dish towel.

Wring as much of the liquid as possible out of the zucchini. In a medium bowl, combine the zucchini with the egg, garlic, cheese and bread crumbs. Add salt and pepper to taste – I added just a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. It will seem like there isn’t enough liquid, but keep mixing and everything will come together.

Fill each muffin cup to the top.

Pack the mixture into the muffin cups as tightly as possible to help them stay in one piece after they are baked. Bake for 15-18 minutes in the preheated oven, until the edges of the tops are golden brown.

Gently run a knife around the edges of each tot and ease them out of the cups. A few will fall apart, but most will stay together. Serve hot, with additional cheese, if desired. These are best right out of the oven – they lose their crispness upon storage.

Download the recipe here.

Zucchini Muffins

I think I have mentioned that my parents grow a large garden. It is my dad’s baby more than my mom’s, but she is out there, doing plenty of the watering, weeding and planting. She just doesn’t get into it as much as Dad does. Vegetable gardening is Dad’s passion (one of them) and Mom prefers the flowers, I think.

We can count on coming home with a bounty of vegetables almost any time we visit my parents during the gardening season (which we totally appreciate!). We were at their house a few weekends ago and the zucchini was growing like gangbusters. They had several on the counter, waiting for us to take home, and we found several more in the garden when we walked out for our customary tour. One had grown overnight into baseball bat size, as zucchini tends to do. We took them all, from babies to bats.

I decided that zucchini muffins or bread were in order. I paged through cookbooks and found a recipe I liked. Of course it only called for one cup of zucchini. I needed something that called for pounds of zucchini. But I settled for doubling the recipe.

The muffins were very good, though I was adapting a bread recipe and should have watched them more closely. They got a little brown on the bottoms and were a little dry. But they were tasty and I am going to make them again, maybe today. The bat sized zucchini grated into six cups and a slightly smaller one came out to five. I froze several bags of grated zucchini, ready for recipes. And we have eaten zucchini at least every other night with dinner for the last two weeks. I think we are down to two zucchini in the fridge. Any takers?

Whole Wheat Zucchini Muffins
Adapted by The Cook’s Life
From “Country Baking” by Ken Haedrich
Makes 12 muffins, easy to double

The original recipe was for bread, baked in an 8 ½ by 4 ½ inch loaf pan. Baking time was 50 minutes.

1 2/3 cups white whole wheat flour
2/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoons cinnamon
2 eggs
1/3 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice (optional, I didn’t use it)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup grated zucchini (don’t peel it and don’t squeeze it dry, you want all the moisture)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease 12 muffin cups. Mix the white whole wheat flour, the all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a medium bowl.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs; then add the oil, brown sugar, lemon juice (if using) and vanilla. Mix well, then add the zucchini and mix again.

Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and mix gently until all the flour is mixed in and there are no dry streaks. Do not beat. Batter will be very thick.

Divide the batter evenly between the muffin cups. Bake 15-18 minutes, or until the centers are firm when pressed or a toothpick inserted in the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

Cool the muffins in the pan on a rack for 5-10 minutes, then remove from the pan and let cool on the rack. The muffins will get moister the next day from the zucchini. Store in an airtight container for a few days or freeze for longer storage.

 Download the recipe here.