August 17, 2017

Poised Under Damocles Squash

A basket of summer squash

Janine Pineo Photo | A basket of summer squash

• By Janine Pineo •

Who can forget the season’s first large tomato, a bigger-than-a-softball Big Zac bursting at the seams?

Or the first regal purple eggplant?

Or a bumper crop of cantaloupe?

Or 21 quarts of beans, 4 quarts of sour pickles, 5 quarts of mustard pickles and nearly 5 quarts of bread and butter pickles?

Add in a large zucchini casserole with fresh onions and garlic layered with olive oil, Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses – and eggplant and yellow squash for good measure. Serve it with spaghetti covered in a sauce full of diced squash.

And for dessert, two sweets loaded with zucchini and yellow squash.

Rather a productive weekend, if I do say so my exhausted self.

By the time we sat down to dinner that Sunday, I realized every dish had some form of squash in it, with the exception of the potato salad, which boasted a healthy level of cucumbers. Even the desserts were full of squash.

But then, one must be creative when one has planted 20 types of summer squash. Two or three hills per variety.

You do the math; I’d rather not.

But she who eats the chocolate zucchini bread laughs last,
I say. It may be an insane laugh, but at least it comes with chocolate.

Throw in a cake full of yellow squash that tastes a whole lot like a decadent carrot cake, and I say that the world doesn’t have enough squash.

This is exactly why I adore summer squash. I admit I got a bit carried away this year when I ordered 20 varieties – I usually get 15 – but with names such as Flying Saucers, Lolita, Costata Romanesco and the promising Horn of Plenty, how could I resist?

The key is to keep picking them when they are small – 4 to 5 inches long – then you don’t have to contend with baseball-bat-sized fruit.

Much.

There always seem to be a few that miss detection. Those ones I grate and either use immediately, or I measure it and freeze it for use over the winter. Or you can go the pickle route and make relish.

Growing summer squash couldn’t be easier. Decent soil, full sun and a fair amount of rain and you will have a good crop of squash. They aren’t picky.

I do tend to pamper my plants a wee bit. I had a couple of seasons when cucumber beetles attacked my newborn plants, stunting their growth and ultimately damaging the fruit. I tried spraying hot pepper wax, but it inevitably would rain within a day or two of my spraying, which necessitated more spraying. I decided to cover the row with wire hoops and a floating row cover until the plants flowered and have had amazing results since then. With black plastic mulch squelching the weeds, keeping in the moisture and warming the soil, I’ve got a recipe for plants that grow chest-high and produce like mad for weeks.

Which reminds me, I have produce to pick.

But before I go, I leave you with a couple of recipes that may tempt you to head to the nearest produce stand if you don’t grow your own squash. A visit from that neighbor who tries every summer to give you squash might even be welcomed with these delights awaiting you.

The recipes are adapted from “The Classic Zucchini Cookbook” by Nancy C. Ralston, Marynor Jordan and Andrea Chesman. It uses squash in the most intriguing yet practical recipes I’ve ever seen.

Bon appetit!

Chocolate Zucchini Bread
Makes 2 loaves

13/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups grated zucchini
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2cup unsweetened cocoa powder
11/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup chocolate chips (optional)
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease and flour two 5-by-9-inch loaf pans.

Combine the sugar, eggs and oil in a large bowl. Beat (by hand works fine) until well-blended. Stir in the zucchini and vanilla.

Sift together flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda, baking powder and cinnamon. Add the flour mixture to the zucchini mixture and stir just until blended. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts.

Pour the batter into the pans and bake for one hour or until a tester inserted in the centers comes out clean.

Cool on wire racks for 10 minutes before removing from pans to cool completely.

Squice Cake
Serves 8-12

3 cups grated yellow squash
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup canola oil
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Combine the squash and salt in a colander. Toss to mix and set aside to drain for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans or one 9-by-13-inch baking pan.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, cloves and nutmeg.

In large mixing bowl, combine the oil, sugar, eggs, lemon zest and beat (by hand works well) until well-combined. Squeeze any excess moisture from the squash and add to the sugar mixture along with the vanilla and almond extracts.

Stir in the flour mixture and mix until just smooth. Pour into cake pan or pans.
Bake for 30-35 minutes for 9-inch pan, 40-45 minutes for 9-by-13-inch pan or until tester inserted near center comes out clean.

Cool on a wire rack. Remove from pan or pans after 10 minutes if you want to frost the cake.

Tips: It is important to let the squash and salt sit for 30 minutes and then squeeze out the excess moisture. Otherwise there will be too much moisture.
I used orange zest instead of lemon and it tasted superb. I also left out the almond extract.

The cookbook recommends frosting with a cream cheese frosting, much like you would carrot cake, but this cake is so sweet that it is completely unnecessary. However, if you must frost it …

Cream Cheese Frosting
Makes about 2 cups

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2-21/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Beat together the cream cheese, butter and vanilla. Add 2 cups of the sugar and beat until smooth. If the frosting is too thin, add the additional 1/2 cup sugar and beat until smooth.

Spread evenly over the cooled cake.

First published in the Bangor Daily News in August 2005.