YOU KNOW HOW the vegetable garden goes. One day, there are just two green beans ready to pick, and then there are 62 all at once. Famine, and then feast.
Some of that can be moderated by growing different varieties with different days to maturity or with smaller succession sowings of each crop. But no matter how much planning, it’s not a predictable assembly line—and neither is what you’ll get each week if you subscribe to a farm share or CSA. Like: hello, radishes every week, plus more kale than I can keep up with.
So what to do with whatever produce comes your way? Cookbook author and food writer Alexandra Stafford offered some tactical advice and also prepared us for the onslaught of zucchini with creative and delicious recipes.
Ali creates the Alexandra’s Kitchen website and companion e-newsletter at alexandracooks.com—and a whole extra, free, weekly seasonal email, too, called the Farm Share Newsletter, which is giving me more ideas each week for what to do with what the garden, the CSA, and the local farmstand have to offer. She’s the author of the hit book “Bread Toast Crumbs.”
Plus: Enter to win a copy of the book by commenting in the box near the bottom of the page. Over at Ali’s website, there will be a second chance to win by copying/pasting your comment there, too.
Read along as you listen to the July 18, 2022 edition of my public-radio show and podcast using the player below. You can subscribe to all future editions on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) or Spotify or Stitcher (and browse my archive of podcasts here).
zucchini ideas and more, with ali stafford
Margaret Roach: Hi, Ali. So boy, you stay busy. You’ve got the two newsletters now. The Farm Share one is so fun.
Alexandra Stafford: The Farm Share one is so fun. This has been a passion, honestly, for, basically since I first joined a CSA, which was now…I think it’s about 16 years ago. But I remember when I first got it thinking it was so much fun. I so enjoyed the experience, but I was also like, “What do I do with all of these radishes? What is a kohlrabi and how do I make meals out of all of these greens?”
And so over the years, I mean, just like it’s with anything, you kind of develop strategies. But I really find it fun. I find the weekly challenge of how to make the most of what you get just fun, and it’s kind of like a puzzle and it feels so good when you use everything or give it away, you know? Or give it away, you know?
Margaret: Right. I get both your regular Alexandra’s Kitchen email, which I wouldn’t be without, and I’ve shared with so many people over the years, but also this Farm Share Newsletter that you have on Substack.
And I don’t know how you do it, but those videos, you have 419,000 Instagram followers. How the heck did that happen? Isn’t it funny? And it’s your videos: I think it’s the videos that did it [laughter].
Ali: I mean, Instagram is a mystery. I never know what people are going to like and what people aren’t going to like. But I enjoy doing, especially, the recipes that sort of show how to make vegetable-focused meals. I mean, as you know, I’m not a vegetarian, but recipes that use a lot of produce, especially the seasonal produce, and recipes that are mostly simple. People don’t want to spend, especially in the summer, too much time at the stove top or with the oven on. So anything that’s sort of quick, but fresh, and uses the produce that you have is, I don’t know, what brings me joy.
Margaret: Yeah. So let’s just… Like I spoke about a little bit in the intro, what’s the challenge at this time of year? Whether it’s your garden that’s not producing on a predictable schedule [laughter], or it’s your CSA arriving with all those damn radishes? So what’s the sort of… What’s the challenge we’re facing?
Ali: Right. And you said it. You touched on a few of the things, but I feel like the three sort of issues that farm share subscribers or CSA subscribers or gardeners face is you get a lot of produce all at once. So you have the issue of storing it. You also get a lot of one vegetable at once or you get not enough of another. Like often, I’ll just get a tiny head of broccoli or a small bundle of turnips. Or you get an odd vegetable that people are like, “What do I do with this?”
And then, I think the last challenge is that you don’t have the variety that you do if you are shopping at a farmer’s market or the grocery store. You get what you get, and you have to be creative. And it’s hard because you get these waves of produce where you get tons of greens or tons of radishes. So you’re sort of faced with the same produce over and over again. So you have to be creative or you’ll just get really bored, and you won’t want to deal with the contents. So I think those are the issues.
Margaret: Yeah. And I remember, I think it is on your website, that you have sort of a tactical, sort of foundational story that tells us how to cope with that. Some three basic principles, I think, of how to cope?
Ali: Yeah. Sure. Yes. And that’s on the Substack-
Margaret: Oh, it’s on the newsletter. O.K. Sorry. I was trying to visualize where it was because I get both of your things, you know what I mean?
Ali: Yeah. No, it’s over on Substack. So the three principles I follow are: Proper storage is half the battle. A simple plan will set you free. And preserve what you can, give away what you can’t.
Ali: And yeah, I just find that as soon as you get your farm share vegetables home, you have to prep them for storage, otherwise it will go to waste. So you have to snip rubber bands, you have to trim the greens from all of the beets, the turnips, the radishes. If you don’t, the roots, they go soft. And you probably know better about that why, but I think it’s just that the greens take away energy from the root.
Margaret: Well, and also just the greens, which sometimes can be used, or often can be used, they get nasty, too, just sort of flopping around unprotected in the fridge and connected to the bulb. So yeah, it’s good both ways.
Ali: Right. And then, I’ve been storing my basil and my parsley at room temperature in just little glasses of water. That seems to be the best way to preserve those herbs.
All those greens that you’re talking about, the beets, the turnips, the carrots, onion greens, they can all be pooled together. And I have a few recipes that I use that will take care of using all of those greens at once.
And then just making sure that those… I would say the lettuces are protected in the fridge. I’ll wrap them in cloth bags or produce bags and stick them in the storage bin and make sure that the fridge is not too cold. So yeah, so that’s the first step, is storing the produce properly.
Then I always try to make a simple plan. And this is not… I just sketch it out on a little piece of paper. It does not have to be comprehensive. And it’s just to kind of help you see when you have those tender lettuces, like arugula, will… In two days, it will shrivel and it will be inedible. I find green beans, the snap peas, and the snow peas are those sort of more delicate produce items. So you want to use those earlier in the week, whereas the head of cabbage, I mean, that’ll last for weeks in the fridge. And so use those later on in the week.
So I always make just a rough meal plan, and it helps me also supplement when I am shopping at the grocery store. As I said earlier, if I have just a tiny head of broccoli and I want to make a more substantial broccoli dish, I’ll go buy a couple more heads of broccoli and just use them together.
Margaret: We should tell people that the reason she’s saying that is because she has six mouths to feed at home, not just herself [laughter]. She does not live alone. She has four children and a husband. So that’s why you might need three heads of broccoli.
Ali: And they love broccoli. It’s one vegetable that I can kind of consistently rely on. So I am often supplementing with broccoli at the store. And then the last thing I would say is preserve what you can and give away what you can’t. So even today, or on Tuesday, when I picked up my farm share, I left the head of cabbage in the bin because I already have a head of cabbage at home and we’re going away, so I know I’m not going to use it.
There’s a lot of times, at these sites, there are bins that you can leave things that you don’t think you’re going to use, or you just know that week is going to be busy. Yeah. Or give it away to neighbors.
And then, in terms of preserving, you don’t have to be a really experienced canner. I rarely process things in water baths and store them for the winter,. But I will make herb sauces and pestos, and I will freeze those in little cubes, or even just I’ll make little quick pickles for the refrigerator that are just great for snacking on. And they also will keep in the fridge for a really, really long time. I’m not sure I’ve ever thrown away a thing of pickles and I’ve really never processed it properly. So there are things you can do to preserve, even just for in the short term, that don’t require a lot of effort.
Margaret: So what we’ll do is we’ll give to certain of the sort of quick pickle recipes and some of the other ideas we’ll give some links with the transcript. And then, let’s talk about the one that’s coming at us before long, or maybe already has started. The summer squash. Because that’s one where it really is like, “Oh my goodness, those things.” You can have so many and you have so many good ideas of what to do with them. And yet, a lot of us just let them sit there, and it’s a shame. Or we leave them on the vine, if we’re growing them and they get to be dirigibles. They get to be like the Goodyear Blimp or something. And that’s no good either, so…
Ali: It is actually so astonishing. Every year, I will get a zucchini baseball bat. It is amazing to me how big that they can grow. And so quickly.
Margaret: Yeah. So I think you bought a tool a number of years ago for dealing with zucchini. You sort of indulged yourself, and that sort of fascinated me. It’s almost like that Spiralizer thing that I remember used to be advertised.
Ali: Yeah. So I bought one so many years ago. Benriner’s the name of the mandoline that I have. And I bought this turning slicer. It’s a Japanese turning slicer, and this one looks ancient compared to the new ones out there that are way more high-tech, and honestly, probably better than the one I have, but it does the same job. It’s a little bit safer than using a mandoline and you just fit the zucchini in and you turn this handle and it will give you these nice long spirals.
And it’s really, actually, I think, great to have. I mean, I know there’s a whole movement of people who like to Spiralize vegetables and… But for zucchini, it’s just very practical because if you have the zucchini in those very thin strands, you can make very quick meals.
One of my favorites to do with a very thinly sliced zucchini is to just toss it with cooked spaghetti, add a lot of parsley and lemon zest, some of the pasta cooking water, I saute some garlic and shallots and add some pepper flakes, too [get the recipe]. But it’s a very simple dish. You don’t really cook the zucchini. It cooks by dumping the pasta water over it in the colander. And that’s it. And it goes back in the skillet for a minute, but it’s really just the heat of the hot spaghetti cooks the zucchini. So that’s a favorite one. I do-
Margaret: Don’t forget the Parmesan, though. We have put some Parmesan on, right? Because you know I like my cheese [laughter].
Ali: Yes, no. Oh my gosh. Yes. No.
Margaret: I think you have a video of that one too, which maybe we’ll show, so that’s good. Again, with the transcript, we’ll get all the visual inspiration. But so basically, that’s just once you’ve prepped the zucchini, it’s just like making a bowl of pasta with some very simple ingredients and boom, you add this one extra ingredient in and it really makes it more of a meal.
Ali: Yes, no, definitely. And that’s one that is really pretty quick. In the time it takes for the pasta to boil… Maybe not quite as fast, maybe a little bit more prep. But it’s very simple, saute garlic, shallots, then once the zucchini is cooked, it’s really… It comes together very quickly.
Margaret: Yeah, once the zucchini is cut from your Benriner turning slicer, AKA Spiralizer. No, and it is, with certain vegetables like that, that’s a tool that it’s great to have as opposed to trying to cut ribbons. I don’t know. I’m not so good at cutting long things like that into perfect little pieces. So anyway, so yeah. So that’s one and what… ?
Ali: That’s one. Another favorite one for, I feel like, especially just this early season zucchini, when it’s really just small and very tender, is again, cut it raw. And you can just use a knife and just cut it into little thin coins, or you can use a mandoline and cut it even more finely. But then just to toss it with salt, olive oil, lemon, Parmesan, pepper, and that’s it.
And I think some people think it’s a revelation, and it was for me, but I didn’t know that you could eat zucchini raw or summer squash raw. And when it’s sliced thinly and salted with olive oil and lemon, it’s delicious. It’s so good. So that’s a favorite for this time of year. [The recipe and video.]
Margaret: And so you say the coins, that’s when you’re cutting across the fruit. But could I also use… If I had a mandoline, could I make ribbons or something?
Ali: Yes, yes, absolutely.
Ali: And you could also use a vegetable peeler, probably, and just cut it into… I do that with carrots.
Ali: Yeah [laughter]. And I did also buy this other tool. I can’t resist.
Ali: I know. It’s a julienne peeler. And I actually haven’t tried it on zucchini, but it worked well on carrots, as long as they’re kind of a nice size. But it’s a peeler that will cut into, instead of ribbons, it will cut it into those nice little julienne slithers, which is nice. It’s kind of fun.
Margaret: Oh, julienne peeler. I do not know this. This is interesting, huh. Well, and that’s part of it, right: to find a way where a pile of zucchini isn’t so daunting, but is something we can incorporate into a variety of meals that week, as opposed to let them either get really giant on the vine or go to waste if we got them from the CSA. You know what I mean.
Ali: Yeah, so more, I mean, I have a few other favorites I always make. I’ll always make fritters at some point, which is just shredding on a box grater, salting it. Zucchini, with some recipes, you do want to salt it to draw the moisture, because they are filled with a lot of water. And then mixing with flour and egg. You can add herbs, scallions, and then making little patties and frying them. And those are just a nice snack or a good appetizer and delicious with a yogurt sauce, like a tzatziki or even just Greek yogurt mixed with some lemon.
Margaret: Now, you said you salt. So I shred it on a box grater and then I put some salt… I have it in a bowl and I put some salt on it. What happens, exactly? Do I have to drain it then or what do I do?
Ali: So I will spread it. I have a fine mesh colander or strainer that I spread it out in, and I sprinkle the salt in and then I’ll let it sit for maybe 10 minutes. And then I’ll just go with my hands and toss it and kind of squeeze and push it against the mesh of the strainer; push out. You can also then transfer it to a tea towel and really squeeze and wring it out, if you want to get out all the liquid. Sometimes I do that, sometimes I don’t.
Margaret: O.K. All right. But I was just curious. O.K., so fritters, that sounds really good. I love potato pancakes, so that reminds me of that type of an item [laughter].
Ali: Yes. That’s a great one. I love making involtini [photo top of the page; video here], which is typically made with eggplant, thinly sliced eggplant. And I think the proper way with eggplant is to kind of fry the eggplant first and then you fill it with a ricotta filling and some lemon zest. Or you can season it however ever you want. And then you roll them up into these little coils, and then you bake them on a bed of tomato sauce all together. And it’s really delicious.
But I discovered you could do the same thing with zucchini or the yellow summer squash by, same thing, by cutting the zucchini or summer squash thinly, roasting it. Just, you’ve got to be a little bit careful. If you roast it too much, it gets crisp and brittle. And so you’ve just got to kind of keep an eye. You really just want to roast them until they’re pliable. And then you fill them with your ricotta filling, roll them up, put them in a baking dish with tomato sauce, bake it, shave Parmesan over top before serving, and that’s a really nice one.
Margaret: So involtini. See, that’s not a word that I normally hear. It’s not something that we talk about all the time. It’s not like taco, your other favorite thing.
Ali: No. So that’s a great one. Of course, there’s zucchini bread. I mean, that’s a great one to use up a lot of zucchini and it’s so good. I’m always amazed how, I mean, my kids love zucchini bread and there is a fair… I mean, I don’t want to pretend that it’s healthy. There’s a fair amount of sugar in it, but it’s still just a nice way to use it when you’re ready to turn on your oven again. I know it’s very hot in many parts of the country right now, but it’s a-
Margaret: What else is in yours, though? So there’s egg and flour and sugar and zucchini. Are there spices, or-
Ali: Some spices. I think just a little bit of cinnamon. Mine is an oil-based cake, so no butter, which I love. I tend to be drawn to oil-based quick breads and cakes. They’re much moister. Some people prefer that… butter will make actually a lighter-textured cake, but I love an oil-based cake. And my recipe, I don’t even know where I got it from originally. I got it from my Mom and I don’t know where she got it from, but you grate the zucchini and then you toss it with the flour. And so I think that helps, coating all the strands with the flour. I think it’s maybe part of the reason why it turns out well. I’m not sure why.
Margaret: Oh, interesting. Oh, so that’s interesting because you wouldn’t think wet and dry ingredients, you wouldn’t necessarily think that’s when you combine them, but that’s interesting.
Ali: Yeah. So that’s good. And zucchini bread freezes really well, too. So that’s a nice one to make, if you want to freeze and again, preserve for the weeks ahead.
Margaret: I’ll confess one of the things during this pandemic era, that we’ve been in for who knows how long now: We all wanted to have treats, and we wanted to not have to go to the store all the time or whatever. And a local person here makes banana bread, and it’s sold in one of the little markets nearby. And similar to the zucchini bread, it also has a bit of a dense texture, but it’s very moist and it freezes really well. And so even living alone, even having this thing that’s in there for weeks, I take a piece off every now and again.
So that’s another way to sort of preserve the harvest, so to speak, is you could make six zucchini breads and you could… What would you wrap them in for the freezer? Would you put like wax paper or some kind of-
Ali: Yeah, I would. I would do something, wax paper. You could do foil if you’re opposed to doing like a Saran wrap, you could do it in foil and then tuck them into an airtight container or an airtight bag. This recipe also… And I’m realizing I use brown sugar. I use a combination of brown sugar and white sugar. But I feel like the brown sugar does also always kind of lend a nice flavor and moistness.
You can make these into muffins, too, which is nice, especially if you want to freeze because they’re kind of already in these portable sizes.
Margaret: O.K. Oh, good. All right. So we have lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of other… I know we have a pizza and tortilla casserole and roasted pepper stuffed with zucchini. All kinds of great ideas that you have. We’ll give all the recipes but I want to ask you about some flowers so that we don’t run out of time. [Get recipe links farther down the page.]
Because I’ve never used flowers. I just let them do their thing. And it’s so funny, because when I go to a restaurant that has that… that’s one of the things I want to have seasonally, is whatever their blossom recipe is. Sometimes with a little chevre in it, or something like that.
Ali: Oh, yes. I know, if I see squash blossoms on a menu, I can’t resist. But yeah, you can stuff them with goat cheese, or with a ricotta. Often seasoned with herbs or maybe some lemon zest. And then batter them, lightly batter them. You can use a tempura batter and then you can deep fry them, or you can just kind of shallow fry them in a skillet. And they are, I mean, irresistible. I think they’re so delicious, but-
Margaret: What kind of oil would you use if you were to shallow fry them? Or would you-
Ali: I use grapeseed oil, or some sort of neutral oil. But though I hear from so many people that you can actually use olive oil to deep fry. I mean, there are differing opinions on that. But I think you ideally want to use something with a lower smoke point, and I think grapeseed oil just has a nice neutral flavor. So that’s all I use for something like that.
But if that feels like too much work, and I totally get that, you can just… So I saw on Samin Nosrat’s Instagram, and it’s her most recent post and we can link to it, but she made these quesadillas and they look so delicious. I haven’t tried it yet. I’m going to botch the name. But I think she uses Oaxaca cheese, I think.
And she puts that in the skillet first, then tops it with the squash blossoms, tops it with some sauteed zucchini and then just puts a tortilla on one side. And then once the cheese is kind of melty and crispy, kind of like that frico texture, she flips it and then lets the tortilla get a little crisp on the other side. So they’re just these sort of open-face quesadillas with the squash blossoms.
Ali: Yeah. They look really, really delicious. You can also just… I love them on pizza. I’ll put raw zucchini, maybe spread some… I love crème fraîche on pizza dough. Just spread that on the bottom of the pizza dough, topped with raw, shaved zucchini. And sometimes I’ll salt the zucchini before pizza. Again, to draw out some of the moisture so it doesn’t make the pizza dough soggy. And then, just top with the squash blossoms. And you put on a heap of squash blossoms, way more than you think, because they really shrink. And just drizzle with olive oil, salt, maybe a little garlic, and crushed red pepper flakes, and bake it. And that’s a really delicious combination.
Margaret: Oh. And they just kind of collapse and become this wonderful topping.
Margaret: Huh. Interesting. So in the last minute, I just want one… I want to know, because you’ve told me about it or I’ve seen you shout it out somewhere. Zucchini fries? What [laughter]?
Ali: Yes. Yes. And that’s actually a recipe from my cookbook and this woman, her website is called Marilena’s Kitchen. She’s Greek. She does mostly Greek cooking, but she made the recipe. So that’s on her blog, so we can link to that. But yeah, you just cut the zucchini into fry-shaped sticks and you… this is from the crumbs chapter of my book, so it’s a breadcrumb coating. But you bake it. And there’s Parmesan and they get nice and crisp, but it’s not like you’re deep frying them or anything.
Margaret: All right. Well Ali, Alexandra Stafford, or Ali, as we know and love her, from alexandracooks.com. We’re out of time, but I’m so happy to have these ideas because, again, I know the glut is coming [laughter].
Ali: I know. No, it doesn’t stop. It really doesn’t stop.
Margaret: I’m definitely going to do some zucchini breads or muffins for the freezer. That’s a great idea for the winter. That would be a great thing to have for fall into winter, even.
Ali: It just feels like such a treat when you have that.
Margaret: Yeah. Well thank you for making time today. Now go make another video [laughter]. [Enjoy her videos on Instagram.]
(All photos by Alexandra Stafford; used with permission.)
zucchini recipe idea from ali stafford
- Julienne them and toss them with pasta, herbs and parmesan. Video here.
- Shave them into ribbons or coins and dress them with olive oil, lemon, & pecorino. Video here.
- Roast them, then layer them with tomato sauce, parmesan and bread crumbs.
- Sauté them with mint, basil, and pine nuts.
- Roast them, fill them, and make involtini.
- Fritter them.
- Bake them into a quick bread.
- Pickle them. Zuni Cafe Recipe.
- Stuff them into roasted peppers.
- Lasagna or tortillas casserole
- Zucchini tortillas (gluten-free)!
- Grill them and use them in grilled vegetable tacos.
- Raw, thinly shaved, salted, on pizza.
- 15 summer squash recipes
ali’s picks from around the web (+ her comments):
- Quick Zucchini and Almond Sauté (Loved this! very simple!)
- Zucchini tortillas (Made these and loved them!)
- Samin’s squash blossom quesadillas (Loved!)
- Zucchini Fries (Love!)
enter to win the ‘bread toast crumbs’ book
I’LL BUY A COPY of Alexandra Stafford’s cookbook “Bread Toast Crumbs” for one lucky reader, and Ali will do the same over at her website, so go there next. All you have to do to enter is comment in the box farther down the page, answering this question:
What’s your go-to recipe for summer squash?
No answer, or feeling shy? Just say something like “count me in,” and I will, but a reply is even better. I’ll pick a random winner after entries close at midnight Tuesday, July 26. Good luck to all.
Don’t forget: Go over to Ali’s website and copy/paste your comment there for a second chance to win.
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prefer the podcast version of the show?
MY WEEKLY public-radio show, rated a “top-5 garden podcast” by “The Guardian” newspaper in the UK, began its 13th year in March 2022. In 2016, the show won three silver medals for excellence from the Garden Writers Association. It’s produced at Robin Hood Radio, the smallest NPR station in the nation. Listen locally in the Hudson Valley (NY)-Berkshires (MA)-Litchfield Hills (CT) Mondays at 8:30 AM Eastern, rerun at 8:30 Saturdays. Or play the July 18, 2022 show using the player near the top of this transcript. You can subscribe to all future editions on iTunes/Apple Podcasts or Spotify or Stitcher (and browse my archive of podcasts here).