While most locally grown vegetables have a fleeting season (blink and you might miss asparagus, spinach or sweet peas at your farm stand), zucchini season never seems to end. On Long Island, plants start producing squash in late July, and keep on producing until October's first frost.
I am not immune to zucchini fatigue, a condition many cooks suffer from after eating months of grilled zucchini, zucchini risotto, zucchini stuffed with couscous and sausage, and chocolate-zucchini cake. In Septembers past, I would avoid piles of the stuff at the market while browsing for broccoli and cauliflower. If a neighbor dropped by with a basket of surplus zucchini, I'd sneak it into the compost heap when no one was looking.
But since Hurricane Irene blew through Long Island, I'm considering zucchini anew. Corn and tomato crops took a serious hit on the East End. Likewise affected were leafy greens such as kale and collards. With fewer local vegetables to choose from, it would be unwise to turn up my nose at a vegetable that weathered the storm.
Nutritionally, zucchini has a lot to offer. It's low in calories (29 per cup), while rich in vitamins A, C and K, and in potassium, magnesium, calcium and iron. Nutritionally and flavorwise, there is little difference between the smooth green, striated and yellow varieties.
Most of zucchini's nutrients are in the skin, so I never peel it before using. Smaller zucchini (4 to 6 inches long and no more than 2 inches in diameter) are tastier and less watery than squashes the size of baseball bats. Look for unblemished specimens without nicks and cuts -- they will go bad quickly around those spots. Freshly picked zucchini will keep in the refrigerator, stored in a plastic bag to keep in moisture, for up to a week.
Zucchini offers versatility, too. There aren't many vegetables that lend themselves to such a variety of preparations. Playing around with some recipes for zucchini pancakes reminded me of zucchini's many uses. For a recent dinner, I combined shredded zucchini with flour, egg and water before pan-frying the batter. The simple recipe allowed the zucchini's sweetness to shine. As an accompaniment to roasted chicken, these fresh-tasting cakes couldn't be beat.
SAVORY ZUCCHINI PANCAKES
1 1/2 cups (about 8 3/4 ounces) coarsely grated zucchini
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 large egg
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
Ground black pepper
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Lemon wedges for serving
1. Combine zucchini, flour, egg, water, salt and pepper to taste in a large mixing bowl.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Spoon tablespoonfuls of zucchini mixture into pan and cook, turning once, until both sides are golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes in all. Repeat with remaining oil and batter.
3. Serve immediately with lemon wedges on the side.
Makes 4 side-dish servings.