Those cute little patty-pans and curvy Costata Romanescos might seem adorable harbingers of mellow summer dinners now, but soon, the farmers market, your veggie box, and your home garden will be pumping out more summer squash than your kitchen can handle. Round as a cue ball, scalloped like a Super-8 movie spaceship, ridged and grooved, as dark as an alligator or shiny yellow as an August sun in Oakland, these tender-skinned members of the Cucurbitacaea family--which also includes cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, and gourds--will be with us in abundance for the next four or five months, so you might as well get the jump on what to do with them.
First, though, know how to pick them. Look for firm squash with smooth, shiny skin. Smaller is better; not tiny babies, but nothing baseball bat-sized, either. Oversized, flabby squash will be fibrous and bland, and and have too many well-developed seeds. I generally look for squash a little smaller than my forearm.
Summer squash don't look juicy, but don't be fooled: there's a lot of water in there, and you'd better do something about it if you don't want to end up with a wet mess on your plate. Zucchini does very well grilled, inside on a hot grill pan or outside on any type of grill. Cut lengthwise (or crosswise, if you're using round squash) into flat planks, not too thin, and make sure to brush each slice well with olive oil to keep it from drying up into a hard zucchini chip. Plenty of salt and pepper helps, too.
You can also use a mandoline to shave your squash into long, thin ribbons, then toss with lots of lemon juice, a shower of fresh herbs, and a drizzle of olive oil, for a crunchy-tender raw salad. You can make the excellent zucchini tea bread from The Silver Palate Cookbook, or add handfuls of grated zukes to your pancake or muffin batters. You can head overproduction off at the pass by plucking the extra flowers off your plants before they're pollinated. Stuff them with a nubbin of fresh mozzarella or goat cheese, dip them into a light batter and fry them in olive oil into irresistible crispy-molten bites. (For recipes, check out Denise Santoro Lincoln's post Zucchini Happiness: Four Ways.)
But for summer dinners, I like to make these tasty little zucchini fritters. A tomato salsa would, of course, work here, but for the moment, why not take advantage of the too many peaches you'll be buying? Dazzled by the sudden arrival of sweet-perfumed stone fruit (meaning fruit with a single central pit, like peaches, apricots, plums, and nectarines), I can't resist buying a few pieces--or five--at every stand I pass. An aprium here, three pluots there, and by the time I've taken 2 Muni buses and lugged my tote bags up the hills of Bernal to home, what I've got is more like pulp. But delicious pulp, perfect for sweet jam or savory salsa.
If you're using apricots or plums, you can leave the skins on, since they'll hardly be noticed, and in the case of the plums, they'll add another layer of tart flavor. However, the fuzzy skin on peaches is better removed. Boil up a pot of water, dunk the peaches in for a minute or two, drain and let rest until just cool enough to handle. The skins should slip right off, revealing the stained-glass color within.
Demonstrating this recipe at the Berkeley Farmers' Market last Tuesday, I got a number of questions about making this recipe wheat-free and/or gluten-free. While I haven't tested this recipe using non-wheat flour, I feel it would work just fine that way. Try it with brown rice flour, cornmeal, garbanzo bean flour, or your favorite gluten-free flour blend, then please share your experience (and recipe modifications) in the comments.
Recipe: Herbed Zucchini Fritters with Stone Fruit Salsa
Shred your way through summer's abundance of zucchini to these savory, crunchy fritters, served with a tangy peach (or apricot or plum) salsa. Lightly salting the shredded zucchini and letting the excess liquid drain off before mixing in the rest of the ingredients keeps the fritters from getting soggy. You can use any size or shape of zucchini or summer squash.
Yield: 16 fritters
Herbed Zucchini Fritters
- 1 1/2 lbs yellow peaches, or a mixture of very ripe peaches, nectarines, apricots and/or plums (about 4-5 pieces, depending on size)
- 1 scallion, finely chopped, or 1 tablespoon minced red onion
- Juice of 1 lemon or lime, or to taste
- 1 small fresh hot pepper, optional, seeded and diced
- 1 mild red pepper, such as Gypsy, seeded and diced
- Salt to taste
- A handful of basil or cilantro, stemmed and roughly chopped
Stone Fruit Salsa
- To make the fritters, grate zucchini on the large holes of a box grater (or the coarse grating disk of a food processor). Scoop grated zucchini into a colander, sprinkle with sea salt, and let drain for 10 minutes. Pick up handfuls of zucchini and squeeze vigorously to press out any extra liquid.
- In a large bowl, mix drained zucchini, carrots, herbs, and lemon zest and juice. Beat in eggs, then stir in flour, baking powder, and salt and pepper to taste. Line a plate with a double layer of paper towels or a brown paper grocery bag, for draining.
- Over medium heat, heat a wide skillet or sauté pan. Add oil to about a ¼-inch depth. Heat until a shred of fritter batter sizzles and browns quickly when added. Spoon batter by tablespoons into the pan, flattening into 3-inch rounds. Fry for 2-3 minutes per side, until well-browned on each side.
- Using a spatula, transfer finished fritters to towel-lined plate to blot up any extra oil. Serve warm topped with a spoonful of Stone Fruit Salsa.
- To make the Stone Fruit Salsa, pit and chop fruit into bite-size pieces. Toss with scallion, diced peppers, and lemon or lime juice. Add salt to taste. Just before serving, mix in basil.