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Zucchini

As we are at the peak of the summer squash season, I am looking forward to the coming months when we can look forward to several months of winter squash. Let’s start with some of the summer squash that we are now enjoying. First of all, we call them "summer squash" because it is at this time of year that they are most abundant. Do you know that a single zucchini seed can grow into a plant that can produce 6 to 8 pounds of squash? Imagine what you can do with a packet of 50 seeds — 300 or 400 pounds! Your neighbors might be quite unhappy with you!

With today’s greenhouses, plant breeding and shipping methods, nearly all squash is available year-round. They are just like flowers. If you want lily of the valley in November, we can find it for you. But shipping from Israel or any other place might raise the price out of reach. Of course, it is not nearly that bad with vegetables and fruit, but lily of the valley is a good example.

What makes a summer squash a summer squash? Excepting for patty pan and 8-ball squash, most have a thin skin and soft flesh, and can be eaten raw, just like a cucumber. Of course, they can be cooked; there are literally thousands of recipes out there. While zucchini is the most commonly grown in our area, green types are much more popular than the yellow ones. Both taste the same and are interchangeable in recipes; cooking the two together will add a lot of color to your dish.

Here is my favorite zucchini appetizer for a summer evening. Take two or three long, narrow zucchinis, split them lengthwise and then slice into 1/4-inch pieces and set aside. In a bowl beat 4 eggs, a generous tablespoon of fresh Italian parsley, a dozen fresh basil leaves, chopped, a teaspoon of dried oregano, 2 cloves of finely minced garlic, a cup of water and mix well. Now add a cup of flour to the batter. When mixed, it should look like pancake batter. Now add your zucchini and mix to be sure it is all coated. Heat half an inch of oil in a skillet. It should be very hot, just before smoking, so that the batter does not soak up the oil and become greasy. Now drop dollops of 2 or 3 tablespoons into the oil, turn over once and then place onto layers of paper towels, again to remove excess oil.

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Before we leave summer squash, a word about patty pan squash: This one is generally served when it is only 2 or 3 inches across. I recently saw a French recipe where, once cooked, the stem is removed and the flesh scooped out, finely chopped and flavored with garlic or any number of other herbs or flavorings and then stuffed back in, and the stem cap put back on. It's delicious, and a nice presentation for this fascinating round squash that is available in green, yellow or white. Interested? Stop by Bob Horsford’s stand at the Auburn Farmers Market. He always has a lot of summer squash types, including patty pan.

Now, let’s look at winter squash. Local ones will be appearing at the farmers markets before too long. Of course, the supermarkets have acorn, butternut, delicata and spaghetti types nearly year-round from farms in Mexico and California and heaven knows where else. Maybe it is just me, but I think that the locally grown ones taste better and are more tender.

Cooking is absolutely simple, especially for the delicata and acorns. Split the delicata lengthwise and the acorn top to bottom. Scoop out the seeds and fiber. Thinly coat the flesh with butter, dust with cinnamon and add a couple of tablespoons of sweet vermouth or sherry and microwave until tender, five or six minutes. Delicious.

Spaghetti squash is a wonderful, mild-tasting squash, making it ideal for matching up with sauces such as tomato, pesto, garlic and butter. To cook, quickly cut in half, scoop out the seeds and place cut side down in a microwave safe dish, and add a little water. Cook time will vary, according to squash size and your microwave. Scoop out the strands and serve with your choice of sauces.

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Carmen Cosentino operates Cosentino's Florist with his daughter, Jessica. He was elected to the National Floriculture Hall of Fame in 1998, and in 2008, received the Tommy Bright award for lifetime achievements in floral education. In 2016, Carmen and Jessica were presented Teleflora's Tom Butler Award, naming Cosentino's the florist of the year at the company's annual meeting in Hawaii. Carmen can be reached at cosenti@aol.com or (315) 253-5316.

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