Squash and zucchini abundant right now, so how should we use it?

Locally grown squash and zucchini are abundant this time of year, at MOON Co-op Grocery, Oxford’s Farmers Market, and home gardens. The challenge is how to use all of it.

Squash has been cultivated for more than 10,000 years in Central America, possibly the oldest plant cultivated for food in the Western Hemisphere. Zucchini is actually a modern invention, bred in Italy in the late 19th century, and brought to the United States in the 1920s, probably by immigrants from Italy.

The English word squash derives from the Narragansett word askutasquash, which means “a green thing eaten raw.” Squash as a verb (to crush) and the name of the racquet sport derive from Romance languages and have no connection with the etymology of the food.

The name zucchini is not very imaginative. The first syllable comes from the Italian for squash, and “ini” means “little” in Italian.

Summer squash and zucchini were once easy to tell apart: Squash was yellow and zucchini was green. However, yellow zucchini has recently appeared at MOON Co-op Grocery and Oxford’s Farmers Market.

Yellow (or golden) zucchini is said to be sweeter than the green variety. But I can’t tell the difference. Summer squash and zucchini are similar in flavor and texture, and can be used interchangeably in recipes. So it doesn’t really matter which you have.

At a recent family reunion, my nephew made zucchini bread (actually cake) with a huge zucchini rescued from the garden. Whisk in a large bowl 1 egg, 1/4 cup local honey, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Peel, core, and grate 1 older soft apple (or 1/2 cup applesauce), and mix into the batter. Chop 1/2 cup walnuts and add to the batter.

Grate 1 pound of zucchini, squeeze out water, and add to the batter. Mix 2 cups of whole wheat flour into the batter.

Line a 9x5 inch loaf pan with parchment paper and generously grease the bottom and sides with butter. Pour the batter into the pan and bake at 350 for 55 minutes.

For crispy fried zucchini or squash, cut into disks or strips, dredge in an egg, coat with cornmeal or matzah meal (which are ground finer than breadcrumbs), and fry in grapeseed oil.

For a vegetarian main dish, thinly slice equal amounts of local tomatoes (which are in season now) with zucchini and/or squash. Place alternate slices in a baking dish. You don’t want a lot of layers, so use a baking dish large enough to hold the slices in only one or perhaps two layers.

Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of thyme on top. Bake at 450 for 20 minutes. Grate 1 cup of Parmesan cheese, sprinkle on top of the casserole, and broil for a couple of minutes until the cheese is melted and browned.

MOON Co-op Grocery is Oxford’s consumer-owned full-service grocery featuring natural, local, organic, sustainable, and Earth-friendly products. MOON Co-op, located at 516 S. Locust St. in Oxford, is open to the public every day. See it online at www.mooncoop.coop.

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