Thursday, August 1, 2013

Gardeners' holidays: Squashmas

Of all the quarter-days and cross-quarter days in the calendar, August 1 is probably the easiest to assign a Gardeners' Holiday to. In fact, this is actually the one date that already sort of was a gardeners' holiday, since it used to be celebrated as Lammas, which is short for "loaf mass," a celebration of the first grain harvest. In our yard, however, we don't grow grain: we grow zucchini and tomatoes. And right now, we're growing a lot of zucchini and tomatoes.

Everything you see here was picked in the past week. The little yellow tomatoes in the bowl are Sun Golds, which are always the first to ripen; in addition to being early bloomers, they're immensely productive, and so sweet you could almost eat them like grapes. (This isn't even all of them we've picked in the last week; at least another pint went into the salad we had for dinner on Tuesday, and we used still more in a salsa last Sunday.) The one larger tomato is, I believe, a Moreton; that's an early-season variety we bought at the Rutgers plant sale for the first time this year, so I don't know yet how it tastes. And those five monster squash you see all came off just two plants, both of the Raven variety.

In theory, this gardener's holiday could be tomato-centric, but I have three reasons for choosing to focus on the zucchini instead. First, our zucchini production is currently at its peak, while tomato production is just ramping up; we're getting a lot of those early little cherry tomatoes, but the Moreton is the first full-size one we've harvested this year. Second, there's already a precedent for holding a zucchini-based holiday in early August: August 8 has been celebrated for some years now as Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor's Porch Day (or, more properly, Night). And third, we've got even more zucchini to use up than we have tomatoes.

Fortunately, there's no shortage of ways to use this versatile squash. (Hey, we wouldn't devote 9 square feet of our precious garden space to it if we didn't have lots of uses for it.) One of our standard summertime recipes is Linguini Aglio Olio with Zucchini, from Nava Atlas's Vegetariana; basically, you just sauté a whole bunch of garlic in olive oil, then add thinly sliced zucchini and cook until tender; then toss it with the pasta and season it. We've also tried, and enjoyed, the Disappearing Zucchini Orzo from Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (you can get the recipe on her website). Kingsolver also has a Zucchini Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe that we haven't tried yet, since we usually prefer to stick with our traditional zucchini bread, which we know will always be a hit.

For tonight's festivities, however, we're trying something new. One of our finds at this year's library book sale was a copy of The Starving Student's Vegetarian Cookbook, and while it didn't turn out to have that many recipes that looked interesting, we did find a promising one for Zucchini Parmesana. This is very much like the classic Eggplant Parmesan, except you use zucchini, and instead of breading it first, you just layer it in the pan with onion, pasta sauce, and cheese, and then add the seasoned bread crumbs on top. You repeat these layers twice, then drizzle with melted butter and bake for an hour at 350—which shouldn't be at all unpleasant, since the weather today is an unseasonably cool 70 degrees. The recipe calls for pasta sauce out of a jar (in fact, it says to use the entire jar), but since we don't have any in the house, Brian is currently whipping up a batch of homemade sauce, which will have the advantage of using up a few stray tomatoes and mushrooms we had sitting around. Then we can just add some homemade bread to round off our zucchini-based dinner.

Then, just to make sure we celebrate the occasion to its fullest (and use up those monster squash), we'll probably top it off with a zucchini-based dessert. We're signed up to bring baked goods to the Minstrel concert tomorrow night, so we'll most likely whip up a couple of loaves of zucchini bread, cut up most of it for the hungry concert-goers, and then snag the remainder for ourselves. And if that still doesn't use up all those zucchini, well, maybe our neighbors would like some. Or maybe they'll get some whether they like it or not. ;-)
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