September 22, 2014

Appreciating the underdog: Versatile zucchini

Bucket of Zuccini!

Come summertime there is always one crop that prolifically fills the garden and more often than not, that super sized crop is zucchini. When blessed with this bounty, gardeners, finding themselves thus burdened, ponder and plot how to share their excess squash.

Often the baskets on neighboring doorsteps is the best option. Unsuspecting neighbors arise to find a mystery basket filled with a momentous mound of smooth green fruits, some nearly as hefty as a child-sized baseball bat.

But have no fear if you have been so gifted. Zucchini of all shapes and sizes make a delightful summer ingredient, especially when freshly picked. The small squashes are colorful and crispy, perfect for adding raw to salads, or served thinly sliced as a raw zucchini carpaccio, showered  with fresh parmesan cheese and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. Petite zucchini add interest to a crudité tray, or a bit of flavor to Vietnamese summer rolls.

Medium, mid-size zucchini can be transformed into a light, luscious lasagna. Slice the zucchini  into rounds and layer with fresh tomato slices, basil and buffalo mozzarella. Bake until the cheese melts and vegetables are softened.

Those gigantic specimens are perfect for grating and baking into wonderfully moist breads, cakes and muffins, as well as savory soups.

Filled with vitamin C and lutein, zucchini helps protect the eyes. The vitamin C content may also help minimize bruising  as well as providing relief from asthma symptoms. Bright green zucchini skin is rich in beta carotene, a powerful antioxidant  which helps to protect cells and ward off free radicals. Low in calories and high in water content, zucchini is an excellent ingredient for those wanting healthy choices while on a weight reduction program.

If you find yourself blessed with an abundance of beautiful summer zucchini, welcome the opportunity to incorporate these tasty, natural squash into your delicious life!

 

Summer Zucchini Soup

Serves 4-6.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

3 medium celery stalks, washed, trimmed, chopped (use the leaves too)

1 sweet onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

1 bay leaf

2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme

1 extra humongous zucchini or two medium, washed and chopped

3 cups good quality chicken or vegetable stock

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, cut into thin shreds

 

In a stock pot, melt butter with olive oil over medium/low heat. Saute celery, onion, and garlic with thyme leaves and bay leaf until softened.

Turn heat up slightly and add zucchini. Cook until zucchini is just a bit browned.  Season with salt and pepper.

Add the stock and simmer for 10 minutes. Discard the bay leaf. Remove from heat and let cool for several minutes. In a blender or food processor, puree the soup in batches until very smooth.

Return the soup to the stock pot and reheat gently. When ready to serve, ladle into soup dishes and garnish with fresh basil shreds. You could further gild the lily by adding a swirl of sour cream, a sprinkle of parmesan cheese, a few crisp croutons or a few cubes of raw zucchini and a bit of cayenne pepper.

 

Robin Glowa, HHC, AADP is a food and wellness professional. She is certified in holistic health counseling by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and Columbia University Teacher’s College. She specializes in teaching healthy cooking classes for students of all ages, utilizing simple, delicious recipes and natural , healthy ingredients. For more information go to www.theconsciouscook.net