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Overrun by a bountiful harvest?


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Garden Vegetable Lasagna

Jim Lennon (Brenner-Lennon)

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Zucchini and Olive Enchiladas

Scott Peterson

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By Karin Welzel
Wednesday, September 6, 2006

The oversupply of zucchini this time of year causes something similar to a relay race -- one person passing the "baton" to another, who passes it on to another, and to another, seemingly forever.

Late-season zucchini can be as large as a loaf of Italian bread, with tough skin and chewy big seeds.

The Italians, however, take advantage of the abundant harvest, says Rita Venturino, director of Rita Venturino's Italian Table cooking school in Richland.

"Nothing is wasted," she says. "They stuff the flowers, they marinate the squash and fry it. And the Sicilians make preserves for pastries. Back in peasant days, fruits and vegetables from the garden were an inexpensive way to fill the stomach."

Little has changed, she says.

"I use them in minestrone soup. You can shred them and make them into fritters, like potato pancakes, or chop them up for risotto."

And deep-fried zucchini is among the most popular appetizers at Pittsburgh-area restaurants and taverns.

Grilling zucchini is popular among Americans. Grilled zucchini is featured in a fresh salad with feta cheese and mint in "Cheese: From Fondue to Cheesecake," edited by Fiona Beckett (Ryland, Peters & Small, $24.95) laced with a simple dressing of extra-virgin olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice and crushed fresh garlic.

In "Williams-Sonoma Lifestyles Backyard Barbecues" (Time-Life Books, $14.95), recipe developer Phillip Stephen Schulz adorns grilled marinated zucchini with a green sauce made of olive oil, lemon juice, shallot, capers, white pepper, anchovies, fresh parsley and basil.

Oven roasting also is an option that has caught on over the past decade. Cut the zucchini crosswise into sections, toss lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with fresh thyme or another favorite herb. Bake in a heavy roasting pan -- with other vegetables, if desired -- in a 375-degree oven for about 50 minutes. (Cooking times for other vegetables will vary.) Serve hot as a side dish, or let cool and toss the pieces with homemade croutons in a vinaigrette for a late-summer salad.

Venturino likes to saute zucchini with garlic and pignoli nuts. Strips can be packed into jars and marinated in a pickling solution.

"People don't realize there's more to them than just frying them," she says.

Zucchini has a short shelf life, she says. They should be kept refrigerated until being used. Because the squash has a high water content, add them last to cooked dishes, such as soups and sautes, otherwise they will become too soft and unpalatable.

"Don't let them get moldy," she says. "They have a gadzillion uses. If you know your way around the kitchen, you can incorporate them into a lot of cookbook recipes."

Consider quiche, gratins, stuff and bake, casseroles, as part of pasta primavera, fillings for quesadillas and burritos, vegetable stews, lasagna and marinated for antipasti. Slices or spears are great to dip, either in a mayo- or sour cream-based mixture or a hot cheese fondue.

The next time you make stuffed or deep-dish pizza, chop or shred zucchini for flavor and color in the filling.

James McNair, a prolific cookbook author, mixes zucchini with onion, pancetta, garlic and several cheeses and adds a homemade pizza sauce to make his Zucchini-Stuffed Deep-Dish Pizza, Chicago Style, from "New Pizza: Foolproof Techniques and Fabulous Recipes" (Chronicle Books, $19.95 paperback).

Or, simply slice zucchini and use it as a topping -- raw or sauteed -- for pizza, bruschetta or focaccia.

Zucchini has its sweet uses, too. Shredded or finely minced, it can be integrated into sweet bread and cake batters, as well as cookie, bread and brownie doughs.

If the zucchini pile still is growing, says Venturino, do as the Sicilians do: make preserves.

"Sicilians love sweets, so they manage to use the preserves in a lot of their desserts, especially as a filling." Her recipes includes rosewater, which adds aroma as well as a flowery flavor.

A popular use for zucchini preserves is as a filling for spongecake -- use a cream filling for the second layer to counteract the jam's intense sweetness, she says.

"Or, if you like really sweet spreads, put it on a big chunk of ciabatta or a toasted bagel. This fills the ticket."

Zucchini Preserves

This recipe is from Rita Venturino, of Rita Venturino's Italian Table cooking school in Richland. She suggests using late-season zucchini -- "beyond its time" -- instead of small, tender, young vegetables. Look for rosewater in specialty food stores; it can be found at Pennsylvania Macaroni and Stamoolis Bros. in the Strip District.

  • 2 pounds large ripe zucchini
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • Water
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 cups rosewater

Peel the zucchini and remove the seeds. Cut the flesh in 1/2-inch cubes. Place in a colander and sprinkle with the salt. Let stand for 1 hour to drain.

Rinse the salt from the zucchini and gently squeeze it to remove excess liquid. Put the zucchini in a large bowl and cover with water. Soak for 12 hours, changing the water 3 times. Drain and squeeze the zucchini.

Place the zucchini in a large saucepan and add the sugar, rosewater and 1 cup water. Simmer for 50 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until the syrup is thickened and the zucchini is clear in color.

Let cool. Store tightly covered in the refrigerator.

Makes 5-6 cups, about 3 pounds.

Zucchini and Olive Enchiladas

This recipe is from "The Gourmet Potluck: Show-Stopping Recipes for the Buffet Table" by Beth Hensperger (Ten Speed Press, $18.95). The sauce can be made as long as two days ahead, and the enchiladas can be assembled as long as 12 hours ahead and refrigerated.

The author writes, "My mother has been making these delightfully unique vegetarian enchiladas as long as I can remember. I think the recipe might have even come from Sunset magazine a few decades ago. This casserole cannot be frozen before cooking because the fresh zucchini will become too watery and the tortillas will disintegrate, so make it the day you are going to eat it."

  • 24 fresh yellow or white corn tortillas
  • 3 pounds zucchini, coarsely shredded
  • 2 cans (2 1/2 ounces each) sliced black olives
  • 8 cups (about 2 pounds) shredded cheddar cheese or a mixture of cheddar and Monterey Jack
  • 1 pint (2 cups) sour cream, for garnish, optional
  • 1/2 cup minced cilantro, for garnish

For the Chunky Tomato and Bell Pepper Sauce:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 sweet (bell) peppers, any color, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 2 cans (15 ounces) tomato sauce
  • 2 cans (16 ounces each) whole tomatoes in juice, broken up
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 scant tablespoons chile powder
  • 2 teaspoons dried marjoram
  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/3 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Pinch of salt

You will need two (3-quart) oval or 13- by 9-inch casseroles for this recipe.

To prepare the sauce: Heat the olive oil in a 3-quart pan over medium heat. Add the onion and sweet peppers and saute until soft, for about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, tomato sauce, tomatoes, bay leaf, chile powder, marjoram, sugar, basil, cumin, cayenne and salt. Stir to combine. Simmer for 30 minutes, until thickened, stirring occasionally. Remove the bay leaf.

If making ahead, cool and refrigerate. Just before assembling the enchiladas, warm over medium heat until hot.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

To assemble the enchiladas, place the casseroles by a work surface. Dip 1 tortilla in the hot tomato sauce for as long as 1 minute to soften it. Put the tortilla on a plate and place a heaping 1/2 cup of the zucchini, a few sliced olives and 3 tablespoons of cheese in the middle. Roll the tortilla up and place it seam-side down in one of the casseroles. Repeat to fill the remaining tortillas, laying them side by side in the casseroles. Pour the sauce over the tortillas and sprinkle the top with the remaining cheese.

If making ahead, the enchiladas can be covered and refrigerated at this point for as long as 12 hours. Allow the casseroles to return to room temperature before baking, for about 1 hour.

Bake the casseroles, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes, until bubbling hot. Serve hot from the oven, or warm, with the sour cream and cilantro in serving bowls on the side.

Or, cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate. Reheat, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.

Makes 12 servings.

Zucchini, Feta and Mint Salad

This dish appears in "Cheese: From Fondue to Cheesecake" by contributing editor Fiona Beckett (Ryland, Peters & Small, $24.95). It was developed by British food writer Louise Pickford, author of more than a dozen cookbooks. She lives in Australia.

Pickford recommends serving this cool salad with grilled meat or fish.

  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
  • 6 medium zucchini
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • Handful of fresh mint leaves
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the dressing:

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 small clove garlic, crushed

Put the sesame seeds in a dry skillet and toast over medium heat until golden and aromatic. Remove from the pan, let cool and set aside until needed.

Prepare a grill for direct heat cooking.

Cut the zucchini diagonally into thick slices. Toss with 3 tablespoons olive oil and season with the sea salt and black pepper. Cook the zucchini on the grill for 2-3 minutes per side, until charred and tender. Remove and let cool.

Combine all of the dressing ingredients in a screw-top jar and shake well. Season with sea salt and pepper.

In a large bowl, place the zucchini, feta and mint. Add the dressing and toss well until evenly coated. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and serve at once.

Makes 4 servings.

Garden Vegetable Lasagna

This pasta favorite is served at the four locations of Golden Pear Cafe in Southampton, Bridgehampton and East Hampton, N.Y. The recipe is from "The Golden Pear Cafe" by proprietor Keith E. Davis (Thomas Dunne Books, $24.95).

He writes: "Years ago, when my customers asked for more vegetarian lunch entrees, I set out to make a lasagna that would include a bounty of veggies and cheeses. It's an utterly luscious and healthy meal -- and a crowd-pleasing do-ahead for any party or family dinner."

Editor's note: You can substitute more zucchini for the yellow squash.

  • 2 medium-size zucchini, ends trimmed
  • 2 medium-size yellow summer squash, ends trimmed
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 package (10 ounces) baby bello mushrooms, trimmed
  • 2 pounds ricotta cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups grated romano cheese (6 ounces)
  • 5 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (1 pound), divided
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 8 cups premium bottled tomato-basil sauce or homemade, divided
  • 1 package (8 ounces) no-boil lasagna sheets
  • 10 ounces frozen spinach, thawed and drained well

Heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Slice the zucchini and yellow squash into 1/8-inch rounds, then cut each round into 2 half-moons.

Heat the olive oil in a stockpot set over medium heat, swirling the pot to coat the surface. Add the zucchini, yellow squash and mushrooms and saute them, stirring them and shaking the pan frequently, for about 7 minutes or until softened. Remove the pot fro the heat and drain the vegetables thoroughly.

In a large bowl, combine the ricotta and romano cheeses, 3 3/4 cups mozzarella, the eggs, parsley, basil, oregano, salt and pepper. Mix well to blend.

To assemble the lasagna, pour 1 1/2 cups tomato-basil sauce into a 13- by 9-inch ovenproof baking dish. Arrange a layer of lasagna noodles over the sauce, placing the pieces side by side. Top the noodles with half of the cheese mixture, another 1 1/2 cups sauce, then half of the vegetable mixture. Top with another layer of lasagna noodles and another 1 1/2 cups sauce.

Top with the remaining cheese mixture, remaining vegetable mixture and the spinach. Completely cover the top with lasagna noodles. Top with 1 cup sauce and the remaining 1 1/4 cups mozzarella cheese. Cover the baking dish with foil, being careful not to allow the foil to rest on the top of the lasagna.

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center reads 165 degrees. Remove the boil and bake for 10 minutes more or until the cheese is browned and melted. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10-15 minutes.

To serve, heat the remaining tomato sauce in a small saucepan on the stove over medium heat. Meanwhile, cut the lasagna into squares. Spoon some of the warm sauce on each plate and top with a lasagna square. Spoon additional sauce over the lasagna, if desired.

Makes 10-12 servings.

Karin Welzel can be reached at or (412) 320-7992.

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