THE RECIPE BOX – Nothing beats produce fresh from the garden

THE RECIPE BOX – Nothing beats produce fresh from the garden

LINCOLN – Zucchini, one of the most popular summer squash varieties, can be used in dishes both savory and sweet. It’s best when about six to eight inches in length, though many can attest to the fact that they will grow much larger. But the seeds would become large and too tough to eat.

Over the years I have shared two of my personal favorite zucchini recipes: one is for a delicious zucchini bread with raisins, nuts and a dash of cinnamon while the other is a stuffed zucchini boat filled with ground beef, onion, peppers, celery, garlic, some herbs, marinara-style tomato sauce and melted cheese on top.

My friend Lisa gave me a cookbook many years back called “The New Zucchini Cookbook,” by Nancy C. Ralston and Marynor Jordan. According to this book, the best way to cook zucchini is to steam whole, cut in half, diced or cubed or cut into rounds. I think that covers every possibility.

It went on to say there are many methods of cooking summer squashes: steaming, blanching, boiling, simmering, sautéing, deep-fat frying, baking, microwaving and stir frying.

I have tried all of those ways but oddly enough it did not mention my favorite method of preparing squash – diced, grilled in foil with roughly cut onions, a drizzle of olive oil or butter and some Italian seasoning or parsley. Sometimes we add mushrooms.

Growing zucchini is an exciting process as my grandsons Elvis and Levi have been learning this summer. They planted a vegetable garden (with a lot of help from their mom and dad) and it was a little late due to all the rain we had late spring. Just this week they are seeing some ready-to-pick summer squash.

From a seed in the dirt to the green leafy foliage, to the beautiful yellow blossom to an edible food ready to eat is an exciting process to watch. I have fully enjoyed witnessing their project and family involvement. Yesterday, the boys came running out from the garden with the first two cucumbers, and gave one to me. The joy on their faces was priceless.

There is nothing more delicious than fresh locally grown summer produce, but it’s even more grand when you grow it with your own two hands.

What I liked about this week’s recipe is the use of basil (of which we have plenty) with the tomatoes and zucchini. It could be a nice lunch served with a garden salad, or serve it as an appetizer.

I had to cook it for the full 50 minutes, and I decided it definitely needed some fresh cracked black pepper too. I hope you enjoy it as much as my family did.

Zucchini Basil Tart
The New Zucchini Cookbook

Salt for sprinkling on tomatoes & zucchini
1 medium zucchini, thinly sliced about 1/4-inch
1 lb. tomatoes, sliced
1 cup firmly packed basil leaves (and a few extra for garnishing later)
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. part-skim milk ricotta cheese
2 large eggs
1/4 lb. part-skim mozzarella cheese, coarsely grated
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell
Oil for brushing the tomatoes

• Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Drain salted zucchini and tomato slices on paper towels.
• Puree basil in a food processor with ricotta cheese and eggs. Add mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Blend until just combined.
• Line a 9-inch pie shell with zucchini slices. Spoon basil mixture over the zucchini. Arrange all tomato slices on top.
• Brush with oil.
• Bake 40-50 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes before serving. Garnish with basil. Enjoy!

Brothers Levi, 5, left, and Elvis Hanson, 9, of Lincoln, are ready to share the Zucchini Basil Tart, made with summer squash from the garden.