BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO
Diners having lunch on the deck overlooking the Peconic River.
“And thus the people every year
in the valley of humid July
did sacrifice themselves
to the long green phallic god
and eat and eat and eat.
They’re coming, they’re on us,
the long striped gourds, the silky
babies, the hairy adolescents,
the lumpy vast adults
like the trunks of green elephants.
Recite fifty zucchini recipes!
Get rid of old friends: they too
have gardens and full trunks.
Look for newcomers: befriend
them in the post office, unload
on them and run. Stop tourists
in the street. Take truckloads
to Boston. Give to your Red Cross.
Beg on the highway: please
take my zucchini, I have a crippled
mother at home with heartburn.”
Excerpt from “Attack of the Squash People” by Marge Piercy
Squash in its many varieties, shapes, colors and flavors creates a beautiful scene at the farm stands of the North Fork and its appearance conjures up the look, smell and feel of fall. Squash is an ancient vegetable native to Central and South America and has been cultivated for 10,000 years. Along with corn and beans, squash is one of the “Three Sisters” planted by Native Americans. The cornstalk provided support for the climbing beans and shade for the squash and the squash provided ground cover to limit weed growth. Summer squash is harvested as immature fruit in late summer and winter squash is mature fruit with a tougher skin and denser texture. The prolific growth of squash (especially zucchini) in our gardens sometimes gives it a bad rap. Sort of like bluefish, it is a favorite to give away, but not quite so exciting to receive. Squash is inexpensive and healthy, and lends itself to many delicious recipes. When overcooked and handled improperly, it can be one of the least favorite vegetables, but the many squash varieties also lend themselves to impressive dishes. Here are some suggestions:
MEATLOAF-STUFFED Zucchini BOATS
Purchase 4 large zucchini, trim the ends of, and split them in two lengthwise. Cut around the seeds with a small knife, leaving a 1/4-inch wall. Scoop out the insides with a spoon and reserve the pulp. Chop 2 cups of onion and 1 tablespoon garlic. Coarsely chop the zucchini pulp and combine with the onion and garlic. Add 1/4 cup chopped basil and 1 tablespoon chopped oregano to this mixture. Heat a large sautÃ pan and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. SautÃ the onion mixture until vegetables are soft and drain them in a colander. Place 1 1/2 pounds of ground meatloaf mix (beef, pork, veal) in a bowl and add 2 eggs, 1 cup of Italian seasoned breadcrumbs, 1/4 cup grated fresh carrot and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Add 1 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. When the sautÃ ed onion and zucchini has cooled enough to handle, add it to the meat mixture and combine thoroughly. Stuff the zucchini boats and place them on a sheet pan. Spoon 1 cup of marinara sauce (a commercial jarred sauce is OK) over the stuffed zucchini and roast in a 350-degree oven for 40 minutes, or until meatloaf is fully cooked. Remove from the oven and top each boat with a slice of mozzarella cheese. Return to the oven for 10 minutes and serve with extra marinara sauce.
Zucchini Fritters AND Pan-Fried Chicken
Purchase 8 pieces of chicken, preferably thighs and legs. Soak them in 2 cups of buttermilk for 2 hours. Meanwhile, trim the ends off of 6 medium-sized zucchini. Grate them into a colander using the large holes on a box grater. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon coarse salt and let rest for 30 minutes. Combine 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a bowl. Whisk in 1/2 cup beer and 1 egg. Place the drained zucchini in a towel and squeeze out all of the moisture. Fold it into the batter along with 4 ounces of diced soft goat cheese. Heat a large sautÃ pan and add 1/2 cup of canola oil (about a half-inch deep). Dredge the chicken pieces in seasoned flour and brown in the hot oil. When golden on both sides, remove them to a sheet pan and place in a 325-degree oven to finish cooking. This should take about 45 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer reads 165 degrees. While the chicken is cooking, scrape any burnt drippings out of the sautÃ pan and add a little canola oil if necessary. When hot, drop spoonfuls of the zucchini fritter batter into the pan and cook until golden on both sides (about 5 minutes). Remove and keep warm for service with the chicken.
Butternut Squash Ravioli with Mushroom Sage Sauce
Purchase a package of 50 wonton wrappers and one large butternut squash. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Spray a sheet pan with no-stick and place the squash cut side down on the pan. Roast at 350 degrees about 45 minutes or until tender. When cool enough to handle, scoop out the squash into a bowl and mash until smooth. Mix in 2 tablespoons butter, 1/2 teaspoon allspice, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 2 teaspoons cinnamon and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Season with 1 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Place wonton wrappers on a clean surface and brush with beaten egg white. Place 1 tablespoon of squash filling on each wrapper and cover with another wonton wrapper, sealing it around the edges with a dinner fork. If not cooking right away, place ravioli in the freezer. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil and add 1 teaspoon of salt. Drop the ravioli in the boiling water and cook about 4 minutes and remove. Drain and kaeep in a warm oven. Melt 1/2 cup butter in a large sautÃ pan and add 12 fresh sage leaves. When they become crisp, remove and set aside. Add 1/2 cup minced shallots. Cook at high heat for 3 minutes and add 2 cups of sliced crimini mushrooms, 2 cups of sliced shiitake mushrooms and 1/4 cup chopped parsley. Cook until mushrooms are brown and add 1 cup of red wine. Cook for 5 minutes and add 1 cup heavy cream. Cook until slightly thickened and season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour sauce over warm ravioli and garnish with crispy sage leaves.
Spaghetti Squash with Zucchini, Red Onion and Tomatoes
Split 2 spaghetti squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and spray a sheet pan with no-stick. Put the squash halves cut side down on the sheet pan and place in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes, or until just cooked. Remove from the oven and cool. Using a dinner fork, scrape out the strands of “spaghetti” into a bowl and set aside. Heat a large sautÃ pan and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add 1 sliced red onion, 4 cups of diced zucchini and 2 cups of diced fresh plum tomatoes. Season with 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 2 teaspoons coarse salt, 1 teaspoon pepper and 1/2 cup of chopped basil. SautÃ until vegetables are soft and add 1 cup of pitted kalamata olives. Toss sauce with the spaghetti squash and serve. If desired, grate Parmesan cheese over all.
John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. E-mail: [email protected].