The end of summer harvest is a great time to take a look at what you can preserve for winter so you can have fresh vegetables, without preservatives, year-round. This is one of the most common questions I get via email from readers: how to preserve certain vegetables and what they can be used for. Most recently Sicilian zucchini have been gaining in popularity, particularly in urban backyards where many people from a variety of cultures, not just Italians, take on the challenge of growing the longest and largest zucchini. Check out this story from just this week from The Toronto Star – it features a 6-foot long zucchini!
These Sicilian zucchini, or cucuzza squash, need to dangle from fences or clothes lines to grow to their lengths, but the longer you grow them, the bigger the seeds get inside (and less flesh there is to eat!). They have a very light flavour, as opposed to the typical smaller, dark green zucchini you might buy at the store. The beauty of the Sicilian zucchini, other than they are always a conversation starter with neighbours and guests, is that even their leaves and shoots are edible. Check out this Tenerumi Pasta (Zucchini Shoot Pasta) recipe I posted last year. Today though, I’m featuring how to prep these monster zucchini for recipes and the freezer. Note, though, that you can use these techniques with other types of zucchini as well.
The biggest issue with dealing with these zucchini is finding a cutting board big enough! Below is our 3.5-foot zucchini getting prepped for preserving.
Of course, the easiest thing to do is to chop up this giant into thirds to make it manageable. Try to keep the thinnest part, where there is the least amount of seeds, as one section. There’s two things to be aware of when dealing with these particular zucchini, as opposed to the regular zucchini you find in the store: they have a slightly “furry” skin that needs to be removed and though they are a pure white inside, once you cut them they sweat out a brown liquid. Be sure to use or process the zucchini as soon as you cut it.
The first way to preserve some of this zucchini for the winter is to peel and slice the thinnest section, which should have little to no seeds. Slice into 1/4 to 1/2 inch slices. Blanche for one minute in boiling water, drain, then remove to a bowl filled with ice water or run cold water over the slices.
Allow the slices to cool completely and put in a freezer bag, removing all the air or vacuum seal. I use these pre-blanched slices for a quick sautee of zucchini as a side dish. Thaw them completely and lightly brown them in a frying pan with a couple tablespoons of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Just before serving, toss with some garlic, your favourite grated cheese and, if desired for some crunch, a handful of breadcrumbs. This is a great side dish for chicken or beef.
The next section of zucchini, we’ll prep a different way: thinly sliced and salted. This can be used for a variety of fried dishes. Again, peel the zucchini. Then using a mandolin or a food processor with the slicing tool installed, slice into very thin rounds. Place these slices in a colander and toss with a generous amount of salt.
Allow this zucchini to sit with the salt, to sweat out its’ liquids, for 40 minutes to one hour. You’ll find a lot of water drains from the colander. After an hour, squeeze out the zucchini with your hands, removing as much liquid as you can for use in batters and drier mixtures. Freeze in sealed bags or vacuum bags. When you are ready to use these slices, defrost them completely and rinse them briefly under water to remove any excess salt. Squeeze out the water before adding them to a batter for zucchini fritters (check out the recipe for these fritters – Pitticelle Cucuzze) or fried up until crispy with potatoes (like this recipe for Patate Fritte).
Finally, the bulbous bottom section of the zucchini needs to be dealt with. This section is filled with large seeds that are not pleasant to eat. First, peel the zucchini. Then, using a spoon, scoop out the seeds and pulpy centre and discard. Chop the remaining flesh into large chunks.
These chunks can be frozen raw. We use these chunks for stews, soups and sauces. Just throw them in, frozen or defrosted, while making your dinner to add extra vegetables. Since this zucchini doesn’t have much flavour, it doesn’t over power your dinner but adds extra vegetables and goodness.
Label your prepped packages well and pop them freezer. You’ll be ready for a variety of dishes over the winter, with your cutting and slicing already done.
Have a question about another type of vegetable to preserve for the winter? Let me know in the comments!