If you've ever grown more than a couple of zucchini plants a season, chances are you've only done it once. The bounty can be overwhelming, and by summer's end, the prolific vegetables are mainstays on everyone's tables, freezers and doorsteps.
Often relegated to soggy restaurant side dishes, zucchini can be so much more. Sure, there are the run-of-the-mill quick breads, cookies and chocolate cakes or fried appetizers, stuffed boats and soups. But have you ever pondered pasta, pickles or tarts?
Now's the time to start being a zucchini advocate, if you aren't one already. The small, fresh summer squash is abundantly available in gardens and at farmers markets, and is best when picked before it gets too big. Zucchini is considered "baby squash" when it's 2 to 4 inches long and less than 6 ounces.
On the other end of the spectrum, a squash is considered "large" when it weighs more than a pound; when that big, it is best stuffed or used in dessert. As the squash get larger, the flavor gets more bitter. In other words, you wouldn't want to eat the world's largest zucchini, grown by a New York farmer. It was 69 1/2 inches long.
Want to spice things up a bit? Use herbs and spices to dress up summer squash. Dill, pepper, basil, marjoram, chives and mint are well-suited to squash, and it's also good cooked with garlic, onions and tomatoes.
Make room for zucchini between the broccoli and carrots on the raw vegetable platter. It also is good steamed, grilled and fried, and its mild flavor lends itself to stir-fries, pastas and soups. Be creative; what have you got to lose? It's not like you'll run out.
Nicole Hvidsten is at firstname.lastname@example.org.