It was Mae West who famously said “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.” Her aphorism came to mind this last week as I was confronted by an abundance of good things.
It has become a cherished annual tradition that my best friend George and I spend several days at the end of August in reunion with our California based college roommate, Susie. She and her husband, John, install themselves at George’s house in nearby Connecticut and we see each other repeatedly. This year, I decided that it would make great sense to lure my sister and her husband from Pittsburgh to join this event, as they befriended Susie and John when they all lived in Houston in the 1980s and the four had not seen each other in 23 years. An additional benefit would be to introduce Eric to my family, as he had introduced me to his the month before in Quebec. Coupledom, after all, requires that we know each other’s families.
A group of seven congregating day after day over five days is a bit overwhelming and easily risks being “too much of a good thing.” Keeping it fresh, and not unduly burdensome, requires some thought. We addressed that risk in part with changes of context (dinner revolving from George’s to my house to a restaurant) and attempting activities beyond just conversation (afternoon at a pond, a walk through a sculpture show, etc). Whatever we did, it worked. We all, I think, felt a warm glow afterward, and no hint that the good time together was “too much”.
It was perhaps not surprising, though, that “too much of a good thing” became itself a topic of our conversation. It is late summer, and anyone with a garden knows that this is precisely the time that too much of a good thing is being produced. The avalanche of tomatoes that I most associate with summer is just beginning to roll here, but an avalanche of zucchini is already well under way. A repeated focus of our discussion was what to do with all this zucchini.
I’ve never been a huge zucchini fan. To me, it always seemed to be all volume, and no flavor. But then, my views had been shaped by the poor soggy steam table preparation I encountered in restaurants and catered events when younger, and my own generally neglectful approach to the vegetable garden. I see a nice little zucchini on the vine, and I think, “oh, I’ll pick it tomorrow, when it’s just slightly larger, the perfect light green color, crisp and subtly flavored.” When I next decide to check the vines, three days later, there lies a pale yellowish 2 pound baseball bat, full of a large seedy center, with a somewhat non-determinant flavor. Sure, I can hollow it out into a boat that is stuffed and baked with a filling, or can shred the flesh and even freeze it for winter use, but often confronted with five or six large vessels like that and unable to face processing, I feed them to my old sow, Possum, who devours them avidly.
This year, however, in part because the zucchini were one of the few crops not being eaten up by the rabbits plaguing my garden, I decided to be more attentive to harvesting at the peak moment, and to try different ways of incorporating the abundance into my diet. I started with what I consider a fail-safe: Turkish zucchini fritters (mujver), in which you shred the zucchini, salt it to extract as much liquid as possible, sautee the shredded zucchini with onion and garlic, then add to that mixture egg, flour, beyaz penir (or a similar feta-style cheese), chopped dill and parsley and some hot red pepper. You make that mixture into patties and fry in sunflower oil. Serve with yoghurt. I made this for Eric and my friend Tom one night, and even though I didn’t quite get the fritters to hold together all that well they pronounced it a resounding success.
From there, I started exploring alternatives. When on my own I made pasta sauce in which sauteed zucchini simmered in a tomato sauce. Yum. Another night, curried zucchini, loaded with cumin, coriander seed and hot pepper over rice. Also quite tasty, as zucchini absorbs the flavor of what it cooks with, and easy for a quick one person meal. I tried air frying little zucchini sticks cut on the fine setting of the mandolin, expecting something like those Belgian frites you get with mussels, but unfortunately producing a soggy mess.This led to a search for recipes for air fried zucchini. Turns out that if you cut the strips like thick french fries, roll them in flour then beaten egg then bread crumbs, they emerge from the air fryer crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. A triumph we repeated and will again.
I had vaguely remembered a dish Eric prepared last summer, which called for long strips of zucchini marinated in olive oil and lemon juice, then rolled into an almost floral presentation, drizzled with honey and dill. Hunting for it, I found this variation, using small rounds of young zucchini, with garlic added to the marinade, and in which a mix of dill, parsley, mint and chives is sprinkled on top. We’ve probably done these two recipes, in the aggregate, 8 times this month. Encountering this dish in a subsequent meal and recognizing the quest I was on, professed zucchini fan Tom suggested a bulletin entitled “Fifty Shades of Z”.
So now I like zucchini, and continue to seek out new ways to take advantage of this summer abundance. Susie has suggested stir fries, and a chickpea and zucchini stew. I welcome, in fact avidly request, your favorite suggestions as I try to vindicate Mae West’s words of wisdom.Too much of a good thing can indeed be wonderful.
WHAT’S AVAILABLE THIS WEEK:
Zucchini: pale green, small 3 for $2, medium $2 each,
black zucchini are coming
EGGS: $5/doz Less plentiful (flock has been decimated by predators) but still available
Lamb chops $14/lb, ground lamb $7/lb, riblets $10/lb., butterflied leg of lamb $14/lb, shanks $12/lb
Fresh horseradish root: $4/lb.
Garlic chives (flat leafed): $1/bunch
Shiso leaves, $1 for 10
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