By Amanda Stone
CARTHAGE, Mo. —
Zucchini is my go-to vegetable. Technically it’s a fruit, but it’s generally prepared in a savory way. So, we refer to it as a vegetable.
It’s great to have on hand for a quick side dish. No muss, no fuss. Chop it up, sautŽ it with some olive oil, and you’re good to go. If I’m feeling fancy, I’ll throw in some red bell peppers or diced tomatoes for color. And a sprinkle of shredded cheese makes it more appealing for my kiddo.
If only growing zucchini was as simple as preparing it. The wretched squash beetles make it difficult to grow zucchini in this neck of the woods. I’ve mentioned them several times, but that’s how dreadful they are. I could go on and on. They are an organic gardener’s nemesis. Because the bugs bore into the stem of a plant and lay eggs, one has no idea they have invaded until it’s too late. Once you spot a creepy gray beetle, it’s over.
This is a case where I just know I’m missing something. There are zucchini aplenty at farmers markets, roadside stands and even rummage sales. Please give me your secrets, zucchini whisperers.
I was able to get a few zucchini from my plant. Under my ever watchful eye, my zucchini weren’t allowed to grow to gargantuan proportions. But they grow so fast. One day you spot a zucchini and get excited. If you go out of town for the weekend, the next thing you know it’s enormous. They’re best when small, but there are plenty of ways to salvage them if they become massive while hidden under the plant’s shading leaves.
Bigger isn’t better with zucchini. The seeds become big, too. The outer peel becomes woody. It can even get kind of stringy, like its larger squash cousins. Suddenly, the simple zucchini has become labor intensive. At the market, purchase the smaller, tender zucchini. If you let one go unnoticed in your garden, try these recipes geared toward the more sizable harvest. Both recipes happen to be great for kids.
Slice a large zucchini into 3/4-inch slices. Brush each slice with olive oil and grill or broil for a few minutes, just until tender. Make sure to oil the grill or pan, and preheat. The zucchini rounds are the “crust” of your little pizzas. Spread a little pizza sauce or pesto on each slice. Use your favorite toppings sparingly, otherwise the “crust” will get mushy. Pop the pizzas back on the grill or under the broiler until the cheese is melted and bubbly.
I like pesto, tomato and mozzarella, but the sky’s the limit. Letting the kids assemble their own pizzas helps them forget they’re eating zucchini and not the real thing. Zucchini can be easily substituted with eggplant in this recipe, too.
Using medium to large zucchini, slice each in half lengthwise. Scoop out about a 1/2-inch of the middle pulp. Don’t get too enthusiastic; you still want plenty of zucchini intact for the “boat.” Place the zucchinis on a pan. Drizzle each with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes or just until tender.
Next is the part where your zucchini can easily go from side dish to main dish. You can make it a sophisticated appetizer by dotting it with halved cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, olives, basil and a generous drizzle of olive oil. Or let the kids help with the fillings. Think of the boats as pizza crusts, sandwich bread or taco shells. Fill them with the usuals for a twist on family favorites.
Increase the oven temperature to 450 degrees. Pop the filled zucchini boats back into the oven for 10-15 minutes or until cheese is melted and filling is golden.
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