In the Garden:
Miss Zucchini is ready to go steppin' out and paint the town green!
Driving Miss Zucchini and Other Squash Tales
So what's on just about every gardener's mind at this point in the summer? I don't know about you, but one of my biggest dilemmas is what to do with all the zucchini I'm harvesting! It's a good thing they are such a versatile veggie- we eat them steamed and stir-fried, in soup and bread, in casseroles and cakes.
But then there are the ones that got away. Try as I may to pick the developing fruits when they're small and tender, there are always a few that I overlook, ripening into giant clubs lurking beneath broad leaves in the garden. Now leaving a behemoth on a zucchini plant will make it think its work is done, so I pick these monsters when I discover them, but even harvested they can be dangerous. Witness my broken screen door.
One August day I had picked a biggie and set it aside to be carried to the compost pile. But my young son found it and, taken with its mammoth size, brought it into the kitchen to "keep." Out it went, only to be sneaked back into the kitchen again behind my back. Eager just to be rid of it, but too busy to make the trek to the compost bin, I decided to let nature reclaim it with what I call my "quick and easy composting method," which incidentally drives my husband nuts.
Our kitchen has a sliding door out to a small deck beyond which the ground drops off to a wooded area. So sometimes when I have some produce past its prime and I'm feeling lazy, I simply toss it off the deck into the woods to return to the soil- or the squirrels. Now flinging a few small apples from the doorway over the deck and into the trees is no problem. But this was a big zucchini, so I opened the screen part way and wound up for a pitch worthy of Sandy Koufax. Alas, I'm not Major League material and my aim was off. Instead of going through the opening, the zucchini hit the screen and off flew the door. Imagine having to explain to your husband just how you turned the screen door into a pretzel with a giant squash!
My daughter and I had discovered a much better use for these oversize zucchinis several years earlier, when she was 7 or 8 years old. As I looked at a "Shmoo"-shaped squash (remember them from L'il Abner?) one day, I was inspired to draw a face on the narrow end and tuck it into my daughter's bed with its smiling "face" resting on her pillow. The next day "Shmoo" was in my bed! Throughout the rest of the summer, club-shaped zucchini kept popping in up in more and more unlikely places as we tried to outdo each other. I declared her the winner when, one Saturday, I spent the morning driving around doing errands. My son, still young enough to need a car seat, was home with Dad. It wasn't until I was making my last stop that I happened to glance in the backseat. It was only then that I realized I'd been carrying a passenger the entire time, for there, carefully strapped in the car seat, was a smiling zucchini, quietly enjoying the ride!
But, yes, as I mentioned we do eat them too- it's not all mayhem and madness! Perhaps my favorite way to enjoy these summer squashes is in zucchini casserole, a recipe passed down to me by my mother. In all the years I've been making this dish, I have yet to encounter anyone who didn't love it. It's perfect for a summer barbecue or potluck dinner; in fact this was my contribution to NGA's summer cookout yesterday. I've lightened the recipe some over the years, but it's still delicious!
2 pounds zucchini, chopped into chunks (or use a mix of zucchini and yellow squash)
1 small onion, chopped
1 can condensed cream of chicken soup (I use a lower fat and salt selection; use cream of celery soup for a vegetarian version)
1 cup sour cream (I use low fat)
1 cup grated carrot
8-oz package herb-seasoned stuffing mix (I use Pepperidge Farm)
1/2 cup butter, melted
Combine the chopped zucchini and onion in a steamer basket set over boiling water. Steam until just tender, about 5 minutes.
Combine condensed soup, sour cream and grated carrot in a large bowl. Add the steamed zucchini and onion and stir gently to combine.
In a separate bowl, combine the stuffing mix and melted butter. Spread half of the buttered stuffing mixture in the bottom of a 13" x 9" baking pan. Top with the squash mixture, spreading evenly. Sprinkle the remaining stuffing mixture on top.
Bake in a 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes.
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