Every spring as I’m starting work in the vegetable garden– hours upon hours spent planting seeds, weeding, building garden boxes, mulching, composting, transplanting, watering, and generally siting around impatiently waiting for something to grow– I tell myself that this year, this year, is the year I won’t let any of my harvest go to waste.
I can picture it: Walking the garden every day checking for cucumbers that are ready to be picked (and made into a delicious salad). I’ll turn bushels of green beans into snacks. Tomatoes will be turned into salsa and sauce and, of course, breakfast. I’ll pickle everything.
And, listen, I have a pretty big garden, so even during my laziest summer I eat a lot of my own veggies, but last year in particular I might find time to make one meal a week with food from the garden and the rest went to the chickens, or to friends, or sat on my counter until it basically turned into a science experiment.
Other than the delicious peach jam I made, and some peppers I canned with friends, I didn’t manage to preserve one thing from my garden.
This year, I vowed it would be different, and guys, so far? Not ONE zucchini has gone to waste. Even when I forgot to go out to the garden for a couple of days and a handful of them went from being normal-size zucchini to 8-pound monstrosities that were twice the size of my chickens.
The trick was finding a couple of very simple recipes I could make without a fuss (and keep on hand), plus finding a few other fun zucchini-based dishes that I was excited to try. Here are my current favorites:
Sautéed Spicy Veggie Mix
I grow zucchini, onions, and garlic in the garden, so I always have plenty of those on hand and use them for the base of this veggie mix. I’ll almost always throw in some mushrooms, and a red or green pepper if I have one on hand. I sauté the mix until cooked but still crunchy and throw in some fajita-style seasoning (either from a packet, or a combo of chili powder, cumin, cayenne, salt and pepper).
This is my all-around veggie mix. I make a huge batch that often lasts 3-4 days, and throw it in fajita shells with some avocado and salsa for dinner. Or mix it in with eggs for a spicy veggie scramble. (Sometimes I even put those eggs on corn chips and call it dinner.)
I’ve been hearing about zucchini “noodles” for years, an let me just say this… generally I’m not into that thing where someone takes a food I love and then makes a version of it that looks vaguely the same but uses totally different ingredients and calls it something like “healthy spaghetti.” Just no. I come from a long line of loud Italians, do not mess with my pasta people.
So I’m strongly in the “let pasta be pasta and let zucchini be zucchini” camp, and yet…
One of my good friends recommended using a julienne peeler on a zucchini, sautéing the noodles, and mixing with a little sauce…
It’s delicious. I mean, it doesn’t taste like actual spaghetti, but I like zucchini and I also like things in a red-sauce with parm on top, so… win-win. And I’m pretty sure this is actually faster than cooking pasta noodles. You really only need to sauté the zucchini for maybe 2 minutes. Possibly less. And you really don’t need any fancy kitchen equipment to make a zucchini noodle… a julienne peeler works fine, takes up as much space as a carrot peeler, and is just as easy to use.
And, while we’re on the “let’s pretend that subbing zucchini for pasta is a legit thing to do” train… I did also try a zucchini lasagna by thinly slicing a zuc (with a knife) and layering it with a cheese (ricotta, parm, and egg) and a red sauce, and then baking at 375 for 45 mins.
And it was also actually pretty good. I mean, it’s no substitute for my grandma’s lasagna, but it’s a great way to use up a large zucchini, and lasagana makes the best leftovers, so this fed me for a solid 4 days.
Caramelized Zucchini and Basil Pasta (with Actual Pasta)
So, this one isn’t exactly “quick and easy” but it’s also one of the best zucchini-based things I’ve cooked this summer…
If you’re looking at that picture like, “where’s the zucchini??” YEAH. IT’S THE SAUCE. Basically you caramelize a whole zucchini, add some lemon juice and fresh basil, toss with pasta, and it’s pretty damn tasty. Here’s the legit recipe.
Zucchini Nests w/ Fried Egg
Okay, also not as quick and easy as my Spicy Veggie Mix, but one Sunday morning as I was staring at the four extra-large zucchinis on my counter wondering how in the hell I was going to eat them all, I remembered this video I’d seen on Instagram of a sweet-potato cake topped with a fried egg, and it occurred to me I might be able to do the same thing with some of my zucchini.
I basically just used the exact same recipe, but subbed zucchini for the sweet potato, and it was pretty delicious.
I don’t know that I’d go to that much trouble regularly, but every once in a while I like to make myself a nice Sunday brunch using things from the garden, and this recipe was absolutely perfect for that.
And, there are a lot of other recipes I haven’t tried yet… a roasted zucchini and corn salad is on my list (once my sweet corn is ready to harvest) and, of course, zucchini bread.
But mostly I’m sticking to the recipes that a quick and easy and provide a lot of meals throughout the week, so I can focus my attention on other things. You know, like how to preserve the 150 heads of garlic I just harvested from the garden…