The Zucchini Festival takes place Sept. 14 at the Healdsburg Farmers Market: zucchini decorating competitions, giant zucchini contests and zucchini car races. It is such a blast to be a part of and/or to watch.
Every year Patrick would engineer his car using TinkerToys, making sure the axle of the vehicle went through the body of the zucchini. It was a thrill to watch the car careen down that track, with the announcer calling it, making it to the finish line most of the time. I cherish the video I took of a winning run.
Zucchinis are in season and in great abundance, like so many of our glorious fruits and vegetables. Just visit any of our county’s markets and you will see mounds of fresh delicacies that rival any market in the world. Many of the zucchini varieties grown here hail from Italy, and the word zucchini is derived from the Italian word zucchino or small squash, though if you go to the festival, you may see some giants.
This is the season for ratatouille, succotash, zucchini lasagna, and here we will prepare a zucchini pesto pasta that is a true summer delight. And yes, it is still summer, the heat continues, and it is a great time to make that sauce, jam, spread, can or whatever you have been thinking about doing before fall is upon us.
Basil is growing like never before. I take bunches of basil leaves, a handful of walnuts, half cup or so of olive oil, half cup or so of grated parmigiano cheese, a few garlic cloves and blend. Salt and pepper to taste. Adjust ingredients to reach the preferred texture and flavor. You can add lemon juice to prevent discoloration when cold storing.
Zucchini Pesto Pasta:
A few years ago I went to our kitchen store in Healdsburg and bought a small, hand-sized spiralizer, or pasta maker. I use it all summer long, it is so quick and handy. Just wash the zucchini, cut off the end, and rotate the zucchinis through. Coat your zucchini noodles with fresh pesto and tada! Chop tomatoes, grate fresh parmigiano and you have a nice light summer meal.
A few years ago I enrolled in an evening French Provencal Cuisine cooking class at the Santa Rosa Junior College. Christine Piccin was the instructor and it was a remarkable and really fun experience. Once a week Christine would set a menu brimming with seasonal ingredients — appetizers, sides, main and dessert — and we would prepare every dish, in the professional kitchen, and then sit down and enjoy a wonderful meal. Along the way she would give instruction, direct and guide us, and then offer up suggestions at the end. If you have not been, the SRJC Culinary program is impressive. The facilities are beautiful, and you can grab a bite at the bakery, and once the school season gets going, make a reservation at the café. I recommend it highly. Here is one recipe I share with you from the class.
Zucchini Tian (Gratin)
4 pounds zucchini cut in ½-inch cubes
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup olive oil and extra for tian
1 cup shredded gruyere cheese
½ cup cream
1 tablespoons minced fresh sage, plus extra for garnish
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon grated lemon zest
salt and pepper
Toss zucchini cubes with salt, place in colander and let drain for 20 minutes or so. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Transfer zucchini cubes to a large sauté pan, add olive oil, cook over medium heat, stirring often, until tender and liquid evaporates. Don’t brown. Season with salt and pepper.
Spread zucchini in the oiled tian, or gratin. Top with half the grated cheese. Combine cream, sage, nutmeg and lemon zest in a small bowl and season. Pour over zucchini, smooth and sprinkle remaining cheese. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown. Sprinkle with fresh sage and serve hot or warm.
Next Month: pumpkin
Gayle Okumura Sullivan is co-owner, with husband Brian, of Dry Creek Peach & Produce in Healdsburg.