Zucchini is an immature fruit, the swollen ovary of the zucchini flower, and not, as most people think, a vegetable. This type of squash was first produced in Italy after being introduced to squash from the New World (so says Wikipedia).
Most of us like to pick them when they are under eight inches in length, when the seeds are still soft and immature, but zucchini can grow up to three feet long. Zucchini is usually served cooked and can be prepared using a variety of cooking techniques, including steamed, boiled, grilled, stuffed and baked, barbecued, fried, or incorporated in other recipes such as cakes, cookies, breads, and soufflés. Its flowers can be eaten stuffed and are a delicacy when deep-fried, as tempura.
The zucchini has a delicate flavour and requires little more than quick cooking with butter or olive oil, with or without fresh herbs. The skin is left in place. Quick cooking in oil or butter allows the fruit to partially boil and steam, with the juices concentrated in the final moments of frying. Zucchini can also be eaten raw, sliced or shredded in a cold salad, as well as lightly cooked in hot salads, as in Thai or Vietnamese recipes.
There are many home-gardeners out there asking what to do with their prolific zucchini crops. Here are two ideas. Using some fresh and some canned ingredients, try the chili recipe below. It’s a snap to throw together and will keep you craving it for days. If you like beans in your chili, garbanzos right out of the can are great in this. Blueberries and zucchini baked into little loaves are a perfect way to use up zucchini and to start freezing treats for school lunches during the colder months. This recipe is moist and freezes well.
Blueberry Zucchini Bread
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup vegetable oil
3 tsp. vanilla extract
2- 1/4 cups white sugar
2 cups shredded zucchini
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tbsp. cinnamon
1 pint fresh blueberries
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease 4 mini-loaf pans.
In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, oil, vanilla, and sugar. Fold in the zucchini. Beat in the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon. Gently fold in the blueberries.
Transfer to the prepared mini-loaf pans. Bake 50 minutes in the preheated oven, or until a knife inserted in the centre of a loaf comes out clean. Cool 20 minutes in pans, then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely.
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1- 1/2 pounds ground turkey
1 (1 ounce) package taco seasoning mix
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. chili pepper flakes (or chili spice)
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 (14.5 ounce) can beef broth
1 (7 ounce) can salsa (I use my own)
1 (14.5 ounce) can crushed tomatoes, or coarsely chopped tomatoes packed in purée
1 (7 ounce) can chopped green chili peppers
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, diced
3 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 cup sour cream
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large stock pot over medium-high heat. Crumble turkey into the pot, stirring with a wooden spoon to break apart as much as possible. Season with taco seasoning mix, coriander, oregano, chili flakes (or chili spice) and tomato paste, and mix until meat is evenly coated with seasonings. Continue cooking, reducing heat if necessary, until turkey is well browned.
Pour in beef broth, and simmer to reduce liquid slightly, about 5 minutes. Add salsa, tomatoes and green chilies, and continue cooking at a moderate simmer for 10 minutes. Adjust the thickness at any time you feel necessary by adding water.
While chili is still cooking, heat one tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook onion and green bell pepper, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until onion is translucent and bell pepper is lightly browned. Add onion and bell pepper to the chili, and continue cooking at a very low simmer.
In the same skillet, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Add the zucchini, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until lightly browned. Add the zucchini to the chili, reduce heat, and continue cooking 15 minutes more. Again, adjust the consistency with water as needed.
Ladle chili into serving bowls. Top with sour cream, green onion, and cheddar cheese, and serve.
Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist.