Call them courgettes, as the French say, or by their better-known Italian name, zucchini — they’re here. And these summer squashes are a sure sign of a changing of the guards at the Greenmarket. As the pea pods and asparagus are on their last sprouts, spring’s produce will make way for a full-on smattering of summer vegetables. Watch out.
I picked up my first modest bag of zucchini and summer squash in three shades — yellow, dark green, and speckled greenish-white — from Phillips Farm at the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket. While there, I stopped for a quick chat with farmer Mark Phillips to congratulate him on landing one of the first arrivals of zucchini at the markets.
Last summer I had problems growing much zucchini on my humble rooftop, and I guessed that not having enough bees buzzing around to pollinate the flowers was the prime suspect. But Mark says that the bee population on his farm hasn’t been a problem. He also notes that it’s helpful to cover the plants with a protective layer — like a sheet of plastic tarp — until they begin to flower. This keeps the plants hydrated as well as protected from harmful pests before bloom.
His farm, a 200-acre, family-owned operation since the mid-19th century, prides itself on using Integrated Pest Management (IPM). In simpler words, chemical pesticides are a last resort, if even used at all. Phillips Farm believes firmly in more time-honored practices of keeping disease and pest from plants, such as rotating the crops and managing the pest population by disrupting their mating patterns. This approach has kept his family’s farm growing healthy, safe and very productive crops all these years.
Zucchini are a beginner cook’s dream come true — they’re not too difficult to figure out. Any way you slice them, they seem to come out great! Even over-cooking them until they’re soft and mushy as eggplant tastes alright, too. A ratatouille simply wouldn’t be the same without zucchini making a presence, and a shishkabob stick at a backyard barbecue can always use a juicy mouthful of summer squash.
I asked chef Jon Meyer, whose next venture is a sandwich station at Smorgasburg called I8NY with Will Griffin, to weigh in on what to do with the first lot of summer squash. He agreed that zucchini can be a breeze: “Cooking squash is pretty easy – it’s hard to go wrong. You can successfully grill, roast, pickle or even slice it thinly and serve raw in a salad. We think black pepper, mint, and lemon are all especially good friends here.” But only under seasonal circumstances, he warned: “Like cucumbers, tomatoes and strawberries, summer squash tastes exceptional in season and insipid the rest of the year.”
We’ve probably all eaten zucchini at some points throughout the year that wasn’t fresh, and now is the best time to do a side-by-side comparison. Just listen to the gentle squeaks that a truly fresh, in-season zucchini makes when its skin rubs against another, and the juicy firmness that you can feel when you cut into them. That’s a good zucchini — and it has a more distinct, lovely flavor, too.
Jon offered a simple and practical recipe tip for those looking at their new caches of zucchini. For a simple pasta dish at home, “Grab some penne and slice your zucchini into shapes that loosely resemble the pasta. Sautee them in a separate pan with plenty of salt, pepper, and chili flakes and when the pasta is ready, add it to the pan with the squash. Add a liberal amount of parmesan, chopped mint, the zest of a lemon and its juice. Finish with some nice fruity olive oil, and you’ve got a simple and delicious summer dinner.”
Amen to more nights like that.
More recipe suggestions with zucchini:
Columnist Cathy Erway hits the Brooklyn Greenmarkets for us every other week, picking out a particularly ravishing-looking seasonal ingredient, talking to the farmer who grew it, and speaking with a local chef about their favorite simple ways to prepare it.
Cathy is the author of The Art of Eating In: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove, based on her two-year mission to forego restaurant food in the city and her blog, Not Eating Out in New York. Last spring, she launched a rooftop garden at Red Hook’s Sixpoint Brewery complete with chickens and repurposed keg planters, which is the basis of her second blog, Lunch at Sixpoint. She hosts a weekly podcast on Heritage Radio Network, Let’s Eat In, which has featured guests ranging from Reverend Billy to Mark Bittman. She has written for Saveur, The Huffington Post, Edible Brooklyn and Brooklyn Based, and has taught cooking classes at the Greenmarkets, the Brooklyn Kitchen and WholeFoods.