• By Janine Pineo •
“Ain’t no easy way, no, there ain’t no easy way out.”
The song from Black Rebel Motorcycle Club rang through my head as I stood in the midst of the pole beans, a claustrophobia-inducing tangle if ever there was one.
You certainly can’t run, skip or even walk your way out. You have to duck, sidle and maneuver.
It’s about the same next to the pumpkin portion. The jungle thins out a bit between the peppers and the potatoes, but by the time you walk by the broccoli, you are balancing on the edge of the pathway, teetering near the soft hill of soil sheltering the potato roots.
One might think things look less menacing over in the cucumber patch, but I did a swan dive into the Boothby Blondes that would have made Harold Lloyd applaud. Actually, he might have been appalled, for I squashed a perfectly fine cucumber on my descent and ended up with – gasp! – a scratch. Mostly, however, I was worried about my nose because I felt it scrape along a vine and I could just picture myself with a telltale mark on the end of my proboscis.
Ah, the magnificence of the August garden.
My annual tightrope performance has been quite productive so far, resulting in dozens of quarts of string beans and pickles. Snow pea production has been horrendously vigorous, netting bag after bag for freezing. Peppers have been chopped and frozen, and since I have such a fine crop of celery, I am even trying to freeze some of that for winter stews. We’ll see how it turns out.
My summer squash have been a bit belligerent. The plants are smaller than in years past, and while there have been numerous, enormous blossoms, few have resulted in fruit. It was so poor for the first couple of weeks in August – usually massive squash-picking time – that I was taking the surplus squash off the hands of a co-worker so I could make various dishes and a batch of pickles because I felt so squash-deprived. It wasn’t until two weekends ago that I got my first basketful of squash and a flurry of cooking ensued.
Which brings us to my yearly ode to the much-maligned summer squash, be it of the yellow persuasion or a dreaded zucchini. My mantra is: Try it, you’ll like it.
Borrowed from what has become a favorite cookbook – “The Classic Zucchini Cookbook” by Nancy C. Ralston, Marynor Jordan and Andrea Chesman – are these recipes for zucchini and yellow summer squash. The gratinee is deceptively simple and can be dressed up however you like. The chocolate cake is dense, moist and downright decadent.
May your zucchini be fruitful and multiply.
2 medium-size zucchini, thinly sliced
2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped or sliced
2 onions, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup butter
1 cup dry bread crumbs (about 4 slices)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
Cover the bottom of the dish with a layer of zucchini, followed by tomatoes, then onions. Season with salt and pepper and dot with butter. Continue to layer in the dish until all ingredients are used. Sprinkle the crumbs on top.
Bake the gratinee, uncovered, until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Serve hot.
Recommendation: Chopped basil is an excellent addition to the layers (and I have been using just basil myself). Other options include oregano and minced garlic, in whatever combination makes you happy. Also, you may substitute olive oil in place of the butter, drizzling it over the layers instead. And you may want to consider cheese: I’ve been using about one-half cup of mozzarella in the middle of layering and I have substituted grated parmesan cheese for the bread crumbs. In my latest version, I also mixed the bread crumbs with some parmesan, which gave the crumbs a bit of oomph.
As for the layering order, I’ve done zucchini, onion, tomato, mozzarella (salt and pepper whenever you get a notion), zucchini, onion, tomato (ditto on salt and pepper), zucchini, crumbs. For even more color, I’ve substituted the middle layer of zucchini with a layer of yellow summer squash.
My versions seem to take about 45 minutes to cook until tender.
As for seeding the tomatoes, I can’t stand the waste, so I don’t bother. All I get is a gratinee with a bit of liquid bubbling about.
Deep, Dark Chocolate Zucchini Cake
4 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate
1/2 cup canola oil
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/3 cup buttermilk
3 cups grated zucchini or summer squash
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans (if you want to make a frosted layer cake) or one 13-by-9-inch cake pan.
Combine the baking chocolate and oil. Melt the mixture in a saucepan over low heat or in a microwaveable bowl in the microwave. Stir when melted.
In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until light. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and chocolate mixture. Add the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the buttermilk and beat until just combined. Fold in zucchini.
Divide batter evenly if using two pans. Bake for 40 minutes or until tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
Cool for 10 minutes and invert onto wire racks if using two pans for layer cake. Cool completely before frosting with your favorite flavor.
Recommendation: Forget the frosting. This incredibly rich cake doesn’t need it. Instead, if you must, try serving with a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream. Otherwise, enjoy it plain – if such a word can even be used to describe this dessert.
First published in the Bangor Daily News in August 2006.