We’ve all heard jokes about gardeners creeping up to their neighbors’ doorsteps in the dead of the night to “give away” extra zucchini squash. There are few garden plants that produce as prolifically as zucchini. Although there are many creative recipes for fresh zukes, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the bounty. But, if you have more than you can eat right now, don’t give away all your extras. There are a bunch of things you can do with the squash so that you can enjoy it throughout the winter.
Picking and Storing Fresh Zucchini
Since zucchini is a summer squash, it has tender, thin skin. Unlike winter squash (including pumpkins and spaghetti squash) with their thick rinds, summer squash doesn’t store well. Even in the fridge, zucchini will keep for 7-10 days at best.
It’s best to pick zukes when they’re about 6-8 inches long. At that size, they’re tender and mild-tasting. As zucchini continues to grow, its flesh becomes stringier and less tasty.
Don’t bother washing them after picking. Just brush off any dirt and put the zukes in a paper bag, or in a plastic bag that is either perforated or left open. Once bagged, zucchini should be stored in the crisper of your fridge. Keep an eye on it — when zucchini starts becoming soft, it needs to be used up quickly.
Eating Fresh Zucchini
For a long time, all I did with fresh zucchini was throw it into stir-fries and chili. As you can imagine, that didn’t make much of a dent in my harvest. Not wanting to foist any more of my zukes on neighbors and coworkers, I searched online for recipes. If you’re not a foodie, you may be surprised at the incredible variety of zucchini dishes.
- Sliced in thin, long slices, it can take the place of lasagna noodles.
- Cut in half and hollowed out a bit, it becomes a “boat” that can be stuffed with pizza fillings or other toppings before roasting.
- Cut into finger-size strips and coated with breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese and spices, it becomes “zucchini fries” for a yummy appetizer, snack or side dish.
- Put through a spiralizer, it becomes high-fiber, low-carb, low-calorie noodles, which are a perfect base for Asian- and Italian-style dishes.
- Used as an ingredient in all kinds of salads.
With so many different ways to prepare it, it’s easy to incorporate zucchini into meals every day without getting tired of it. Do a little Googling or look on Pinterest for recipes.
Baking With Zucchini
If you have the freezer space, you could whip up cakes, loaves and muffins to stash away for the winter. If you already bake with zucchini, you know that it adds nutrients and texture to baked goods, and helps keep them dense and moist. If you don’t already bake with zucchini, it’s time to give it a go. I’m partial to chocolate chip zucchini loaf, but there are recipes out there to suit every taste.
Frozen zucchini isn’t at its most attractive once thawed. It’s best used as an additive to things like soups, stews, pasta sauces or chili — or in baked goods.
How you prepare zucchini for the freezer depends on how you intend to use it later. If using for baking, it’s a terrific idea to shred it up and stuff 2 cups into a freezer bag, unless you have a go-to recipe that calls for a different amount. To use it later, thaw it, drain it, drain it again, and pat it dry with a paper towel before you add it to the batter.
While grated zucchini also works well in soups and stews, sometimes it’s nice to have chunkier pieces in your dish. If that’s the route you’d like to go, you can simply chop your zukes into bite-size pieces, stuff them into a freezer bag, and toss them in the freezer. However, if you blanch them for one minute in boiling water before freezing, the thawed pieces will stay firmer than if they hadn’t been blanched.
If your freezer space is maxed out, dehydrating zucchini is a terrific option. Rachel at growagoodlife.com says that four pounds of fresh, sliced zukes shrink so much during drying that they will fit into a pint-size jar! If you have a dehydrator, it’s super easy to do this: Just clean the zucchini, slice it into ¼-inch rounds, spread the slices on the dehydrator trays, and run the dehydrator as instructed. If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can do this in an oven set to 175 degrees, too–just keep a close eye on the zucchini so that it doesn’t burn. It should take about two hours to dehydrate in the oven.
I remember the first time my mom grew zucchini. It was the ‘80s, and zucchini was absolutely exotic in our part of the world. Mom had no idea what to do with her bounty but heard about “Mock Pineapple.” It turns out that mock pineapple is still a thing. Nutshell version: Peel and cube zucchini; stuff it into jars; cover it with a mix of pineapple juice, sugar, and lemon juice; and process in a hot water bath. The zucchini takes on the flavor of the pineapple juice, but as this contemporary recipe points out, mock pineapple is best used in recipes that call for crushed pineapple, and not simply eaten out of the jar.
If mock pineapple is not your thing (confession: teenaged me refused to eat it), there are all kinds of other ways to can zucchini, including in relishes and salsas, and as pickles. That said, it’s not recommended to can plain zucchini. Because it’s a low-acid vegetable, it would need to be processed in a pressure canner, which is not recommended. Further, canned squash gets quite soft, and has limited uses.
There are so many ways to use and store this very versatile vegetable! What do you do with your extra zucchini? If we missed discussing a way to use it up, please let us know in the comments below.