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Table Talk: Zucchini infamy

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A weekly blog about food, farmers and everything in between.

Summer squash gets a bad rap. Winter squash are better off — pumpkins, butternut and acorn squash all have their places on fall and winter dinner menus. Zucchini and yellow squash, on the other hand, are a harder sell. Some people hate it, but few have strong feelings in the other direction. I can’t recall ever hearing anyone profess an undying affection for the zucchini.

But it’s worth investigation in the summer, when farms are overrun with squash. And there’s a lot to explore in the world of summer squash. We’re used to seeing the oblong green and yellow fruits, the zucchini and the yellow summer squash. But there are many other types for those who search for them.


Pattypan squash from Foggy Meadow Farm

Crooknecks look just like the name suggests — they resemble a bowling pin with a bent neck. Pattypans, on the other hand, look somewhat like flying saucers. Both varieties can be grilled, stuffed, boiled — prepared in any way that conventional varieties of squash are prepared.

Foggy Meadow Farm in Benson grows the conventional types of summer squash, but also offers other types. They, like many farms in the area, have had problems with weather this summer. Just last Tuesday, a storm flattened one of the houses that shelter the farm’s tomato plants. Miraculously, only two of around 350 plants in the house were crushed. The rest simply bowed under the weight of the fallen structure.

Still, the succession of storms and heavy rains have posed big problems for area farmers.

“We’re drowning,” says Sally Beckwith, co-owner of the farm. “There’s incredible rot.”

But her table at the Middlebury Farmers’ Market appears to have no shortage of squash. The farm only sells produce only at farmer’s markets. This week at the market, Foggy Meadow’s front table is full of pattypans, zucchini and curvy bi-color squash.

Several passing customers request the Costata Romanesca variety of zucchini, which Beckwith has on a cutting board as a sample. Costata Romanesca is an heirloom variety that is similar in shape to a conventional, dark green zucchini. But deep ridges run the length of the fruit, and its skin is striped with light and dark green. It is crunchy and tastes vaguely nutty. This variety of zucchini holds its form better than the conventional variety when cooked — according to Beckwith, it is very good for stuffing.


A cross-section of the Costata Romanesca zucchini

Beckwith apologizes to those who request the Costata Romanesca. It has been popular today, and she’s already sold out.

Some people buy the pattypans instead. Others buy the crooked, whimsical bi-color squash. Few buy the conventional zucchini.

Carolyn LaLumiere, of LaLumiere Farm in Ferrisburgh, agrees that zucchini are sometimes a hard sell. But for extreme squash skeptics, LaLumiere suggests layering sliced zucchini with cheese and baking it. Even the least adventurous kids end up enjoying this one.

And even zucchini on its own can be delicious if it is cooked well. Zucchini marinated in balsamic vinegar and grilled is a simple (and fast) way to prepare zucchini. For other simple recipes that celebrate zucchini, try these:

Fried Zucchini

Ingredients:
2 medium-sized zucchini
flour for dredging
oil for frying

1. Slice zucchini thinly. Dredge zucchini in flour, coating each side.
2. Coat a nonstick pan with oil and fry the zucchini until golden brown.
3. Drain slices and place on a paper towel to drain.
4. Serve as appetizer. Goes well with tzatziki (Greek cucumber, yogurt and garlic sauce)

Zucchini and chicken salad
Recipe courtesy Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op
Serves 4
Prep time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:
1/4 cup+1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 1/4 pounds zucchini, thinly sliced
1 pound chicken breasts, skinless and boneless
1 bunch (about 8 oz.) spinach, chopped
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
3/4 cup pecans, chopped
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

1. In a large bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Add zucchini. Toss to coat, and let marinate while cooking chicken
2. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Cook until golden brown on both sides, about 7 minutes per side. Remove from skillet, and slice thinly.
3. Toss chicken with zucchini mixture, spinach, red onion, pecans, Parmesan cheese and fresh mint.
4. Serve!

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