Got Zucchini? Creative Ideas for the Summer Bounty

When you find yourself in a "pickle," try canning for a year-round treat

I am a city dweller blessed with friends who bring me perfect tomatoes and lavish basil bouquets from their country gardens. The catch is that these same friends also insist I accept an absurd amount of the zucchini that inevitably overruns their gardens in late summer. Last week that meant coping with more than five pounds of regular-size squash, plus three dark green monster baseball bats.

If you live alone or share meals with a partner, this is a lot of zucchini. Of course I made a double batch of ratatouille. For a few days, I also ate a crunchy squash salad that’s a cinch to make: Thinly slice a pound of squash crosswise into rounds and toss it with a vinaigrette made from equal parts of lemon juice and olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. The raw squash can marinate in this for up to three days. Just before serving, for aromatic flavor, add slivers of red onion, chopped scallions and a sprinkling of fresh basil to the marinated squash. More than merely seasoning the salad, these additions also provide useful amounts of potent phytonutrients (plant vitamins and minerals) — a good idea since zucchini has low nutritional value on its own.

While the Louisville Slugger–size zucchini we often find at summer’s end aren’t so great to use sliced, they’re perfect when shredded. Although their skin is tough and can taste bitter, once you scoop out the seeds, their meaty flesh grates beautifully and tastes fine when cooked or baked. So in addition to the ratatouille and salad, I bake up some terrific tea loaves, muffins and cupcakes.

(MORE: Zucchini and Tomato Gratin)

Despite all this cooking, I was still left with pounds of zucchini. Even though I’m well aware that canning is a traditional way of dealing with the overflow of summer fruits and vegetables, the thought of it had always put me off. Do I want to spend days in the kitchen? Might I make someone sick? But the day an experienced friend walked me though the process of canning (pickled) Brussels sprouts, I became a convert.

Making four pints (four to eight jars) of pickled zucchini takes two hours from start to finish — and is a great way to “stretch” the bounty of summer. To see how easy this is, check out this short video demonstration on canning tomato sauce for the step-by-step process. Pickled zucchini is even easier to can since the only “cooking” is boiling vinegar with spices and sugar. The raw squash gets sliced and salted, then rinsed off and put into sterile canning jars as shown. Then you pour in the hot vinegar and “process” the filled jars (that is, do the canning process) in a kettle of hot water. (The recipe below walks you through all the steps.)

You do need a canning kettle — a big, round, covered pot that holds lots of water and comes fitted with a wire rack that has long handles. You can find one on eBay for about $26 — or a bit more at hardware stores. (Be sure that yours includes the wire rack.) If you’re like me, once you’ve successfully canned something, you’ll be game to try almost anything and will use this kettle time and time again.

When the pickles are gone, the glass jars are great for storing food in the refrigerator or dried beans in the pantry. If you have any questions, I am happy to answer them here.

Pickled Zucchini

I prefer to eat these pickles within a month because the longer they stand, the sharper they get.
Makes 8 half-pints

3 pounds 6- to 8-inch green zucchini squash
2 tablespoons kosher salt
3/4 cup thinly sliced yellow onion
2-3/4 cups white vinegar
1-1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon whole mustard seed
2 teaspoons celery seed
2 teaspoons ground turmeric

What You’ll Need

8 half-pint canning jars, plus new 2-part canning lids (available in houseware and hardware stores)
2 clean dishcloths
1 plastic or bamboo chopstick
1 pair 12-inch tongs

  1. Cut the zucchini crosswise into 1/4-inch round slices. Place the squash in a large colander and set it in the sink. Add the salt and toss with your hands to combine well. Let the salted squash sit for 1 hour.
  2. Meanwhile, wash the jars in hot soapy water and dry. You can use the dishwasher for the jars, but lids need to be washed by hand.
  3. Fill a canning kettle with water. Fit the wire rack in the kettle, then place the jars in the rack to sterilize them (they will fill with water, then sink). Add the lids and the chopstick. Cover the kettle and bring the water to a boil over high heat. Once the water boils, lower the heat and simmer gently covered, for five minutes.
  4. While waiting for the canner and squash to be ready, in a stainless steel or other non-reactive medium saucepan, make the brine by combining the vinegar, water, sugar, mustard seeds, celery seeds and turmeric. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring a few times so the sugar dissolves, then remove from heat.
  5. Rinse the squash thoroughly under cold running water, then drain it well.
  6. Spread one of the dishtowels on the counter. Using tongs, remove the hot jars from the canner, emptying out any water, and set them on the towel. Immediately, using tongs, pack the squash in the jars, adding about 1 tablespoon of the onion and leaving 1/2-inch of headroom. Pour hot brine into each jar, continuing to leave 1/2-inch of headroom. Using the chopstick, poke out any air bubbles. Adjust the headspace as needed by topping off with more brine. Using a paper towel, wipe around the rim of each jar. Set a flat lid on top and then twist a screw band lightly into place so that it’s finger-tight.
  7. Set the filled jars back into the wire rack and lower the rack into the canning kettle. Make sure the kettle contains enough water to cover the jars by 2 inches, adding more if needed. Cover the kettle, bring the water to a boil, and process the jars for 10 minutes. Uncover the kettle and let the jars of pickled zucchini sit for 5 minutes.
  8. Using tongs, lift each jar from the kettle and set them on the second dish towel. Leave the jars undisturbed for 1 hour. Run your finger over the lids; they should feel flat and firm when touched in the center. If a lid is rounded upward or it yields when pressed down, that jar is not sealed airtight. Immediately refrigerate the jar and use its contents within three weeks. Let the sealed jars sit undisturbed for 12 hours. Store canned pickled zucchini in a cool place for up to a month, or do as I do and store it in the refrigerator.
Dana Jacobi
By Dana Jacobi
Dana Jacobi, author of the 12 Best Foods Cookbook, lives in NYC and blogs at Dana's Market Basket.

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