Since Monday’s post on my apathy for zucchini, several readers have chimed in with suggestions, some that reminded me of a few worthwhile preparations. If you haven’t seen the comments, check them out for a zucchini-cake recipe.
It’s worth, noting too, that two recipes accompanying this week’s A la Carte story on dehydrating food called for zucchini, illustrating one of the vegetable’s strengths: It takes on the flavor of whatever you pair it with.
But these reminders couldn’t keep me from uttering a firm “no” last night when my mother-in-law asked me if I wanted two extraneous squash. She looked a little surprised, but I was out there cutting short a few young zucchini lives, after all, by picking the blossoms with the small fruits still attached. And I’d already unloaded a zucchini on a friend who doesn’t have a garden.
I guess I can bring them to my parents this weekend, as they don’t have a garden either. Those opportunities for sharing will become fewer as the summer waxes and just about everyone with a little planting space will have more zucchini than they can handle.
Those sinister squash aside, swapping garden produce can be a satisfying pastime. As gardeners exchange tips, they often find that what grows well in one area of the valley doesn’t in another location. Plus, it helps ensure variety in the kitchen. I recently traded cheddar cauliflower for a friend’s fennel and cherries from my tree for raspberries from her brambles.
It was a great trade for me because the single fennel plant installed in my garden two summers ago failed to flourish. Pity because I love this underused bulb, featured in a November 2007 story.
Local farmer Suzy Fry told me she plants fennel at the growing season’s tail end because it can take a frost and is prone to bolting in hot weather. For that reason, Fry Family Farm has fennel through the Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market‘s closing day in November.
My friend tried almost the same technique, I think, but her fennel languished over the winter and only bulbed out just within the past month. She passed along four of the robust bulbs with emerald plumes.
I admit they cooled their heels in my refrigerator over the weekend because I just didn’t have time to cook. With the clock ticking on their freshness, I fell back on a favorite technique, briefly described in a previous post, searing the halved bulbs in a pan and then braising them in white wine until tender.
The preparation with its reduced sauce, a little salt and pepper and a garnish of the fresh fennel fronds is a nice chilled condiment or component of antipasti plates. I could have stored them in my refrigerator for a week or so, but I thought they’d make a nice addition to a weekly feast of bread, cheese and wine with friends.
Fennel is available year-round in grocery stores and adds a refreshing crunch to summer salads, like this one courtesy of The Associated Press.
Shrimp Salad With Fennel and Blood Orange
6 blood oranges, peeled
1/2 head butter lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces
1/2 head oak-leaf or red-leaf lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces
1 small fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons olive oil
20 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 teaspoons capers, drained
2 sprigs fresh tarragon, leaves only, finely chopped
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
Working over a large bowl, use a paring knife to cut and remove the orange segments from their membranes. Let any juices collect in bowl. Once all segments have been removed, gently squeeze membranes to get about 1/4 cup of juice in bowl. Transfer segments to a second large bowl. Set juice aside.
To orange segments, add both lettuce varieties, the fennel and onion. Toss gently. Divide salad among 4 serving plates.
In a large saute pan over medium-high, heat the oil. Add the shrimp and sear on one side, then turn them and add the butter. Cook for another 2 minutes, or until just cooked through. Using tongs, arrange shrimp on salads. Do not clean pan.
Return pan to heat and brown remaining butter. Add the capers, tarragon and reserved orange juice. Stir into browned butter in pan, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour sauce over salads, then serve.
Makes 4 servings.
— Recipe adapted from “Relaxed Cooking With Curtis Stone,” Curtis Stone.