Vail Simply Seasonal: Zucchini is the garden’s king of versatility
The vegetable gardener knows that zucchini is almost always a sure winner. Once it gets started, there’s no stopping it. An abundant crop, with a mild, pleasant taste, it’s easy to like, and can be used in a wide variety of ways.Zucchini originated in South America and the Aztecs have been cultivating it for centuries. The plant is known, however, as an Italian vegetable. Its name literally means small green, eaten green. It is a member of the cucumber and melon family. Christopher Columbus is credited with bringing zucchini seeds to the New World and Americans have been growing and eating it ever since.The French scorned zucchini, claiming the flavor too bland but the mild taste actually allows zucchini to be the most versatile harvest of the garden. Eaten as a vegetable, it can be steamed, sauted, grilled, roasted or stuffed and baked. It complements all proteins and will often show up in stir-fry, casseroles or soups. You can bake with zucchini – breakfast breads, muffins, and combined with chocolate, zucchini makes a deliciously moist cake.”You can eat the brilliant yellow flowers that grow from the zucchini plant, too,” said Jeremy Kittelson, executive chef at Restaurant Avondale, “Use them as an edible garnish, or as a special treat, stuff the blossoms with soft cheese and deep fry. They’re delicious as an appetizer or side dish.”By September, you may have had enough zucchini, but if your garden still has the fresh squash, invite some friends over, and enjoy Indian summer with these tasty appetizers.Stuffed zucchini blossoms1 cup goat cheese1/2 cup ricotta1 Tablespoon chopped chives2 teaspoons chopped chervil1 Tablespoon chopped parsley1 teaspoon chopped thyme1 Tablespoon roasted garlic, mashed20 squash blossomsBring cheeses to room temperature. Mix thoroughly with remaining ingredients. Gently stuff blossoms, leaving enough room to twist the ends together and enclose filling completely. Heat one inch vegetable oil to 350-degrees. Dip blossoms into tempura batter and immediately drop into hot oil. Fry till golden and crispy, about 2 minutes. Serve immediately with tomato guazetto sauce for dipping. Makes 20 appetizers.Tempura batter1 cup flour1/2 cup cornstarch1/4 teaspoon baking powder1 teaspoon salt1 cup club sodaPlace all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix well. Place the club soda in another mixing bowl. Slowly add dry mix, stirring. Do not overmix, batter will be lumpy. Use immediately. Yield 3 cups. Zucchini fritters2 pounds zucchini, washed1 Tablespoon salt1/4 cup chopped parsley1/2 Tablespoon chopped mintPinch cayenne pepper1 egg3 Tablespoons flour1/2 cup ricotta cheeseGrate zucchini on largest side of box grater. Mix with salt and place in colander. Let sit for 10 minutes. Place zucchini in a clean, dry kitchen towel (or cheesecloth) and squeeze water out. The zucchini should be almost completely dry. Place in a bowl and add cheese, eggs, herbs, spices. Mix well. Fold in flour. Heat oil to 350. Drop rounded tablespoons into oil and fry until golden and crispy about 2 minutes. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately with Tomato Guazetto sauce. Yield 20 appetizers.Tomato guazetto sauce5 pounds ripe, roma tomatoes, halved1 head garlic, chopped1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil1/2 Tablespoon salt1 teaspoon black pepperHeat olive oil in a deep skillet on medium-high heat. When hot, toss in garlic & stir. When garlic starts to caramelize, toss in tomatoes and salt and pepper. Stir occasionally as sauce comes to a boil. Remove from heat. Let stand to thicken slightly. When cool, place mix in a food processor and pulse briefly – leave the sauce slightly chunky. Adjust seasoning to taste. Use as a sauce for pasta, pizza or grilled chicken or fish. Makes 1 quart.Sue Barham is the marketing director for Larkspur Restaurant and Restaurant Avondale. Larkspur, (larkspurvail.com) at the base of Vail Mountain, has been serving American Classics with a fresh interpretation since 1999. Avondale, (avondalerestaurant.com) opened in September 2008 in the Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa and features a West Coast inspired, market driven menu.