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If you grow your own zucchini or summer squash, you know it can sometimes feel like a plot device in a horror sci-fi movie. At the beginning of the season, you carefully harvest the first of the crop, cradle it like an infant, and rest it with pride on the cutting board. The next day, you have two more, and with the proud thrill of the backyard farmer, you cook up your summer bounty. The next day you have two more, and two more after that. By the end of the first week, you're nervously eyeing the stack of squash that has built up on the kitchen counter, wondering how many you can give out to your friends before they stop answering the door.
And woe betide you if you skip checking for a few days—when you return to the garden and lift up the lowest squash leaf, you'll find monster marrows lurking like goblins huddling among tree roots.
When selecting summer squash, either in the garden or the grocery store, look for medium-size specimens. Soft summer squashes have such high water content that you ideally want to get them small (eight inches in length or less), before their flavor becomes too diluted and the seeds get large and bitter. We love cooking up the newest ones with pasta, in a gratin, or just lightly oiled and grilled with a little salt and balsamic vinegar. Once they're properly charred, the flesh caramelizes and releases a wonderful sweetness. There isn't a significant difference in taste between green zucchini (C. pepo var. cylindrica) and yellow squash (C. pepo var. recticollis), but you may find that the yellow variety gets seedy when large, and generally is better when harvested at a smaller size.
The absolute best way we've found to use up an excess of summer squash and deal with over-sized ones is to grate them on a box grater or using a food processor's grating disc, then squeeze out the water to concentrate their flavor. You don't have to go crazy with cheesecloth and weights to get the water out—pre-salting them will help extract their liquid, and you can squeeze the rest out using your hands.
At the end of the growing season, when we have a hankering to celebrate, we'll make a zucchini cake. To get us through the summer, though, we subside on fritters.
For this recipe, we mix up the squeeze-dried shredded squash* with shredded onion, grated cheese, and a light batter of flour, egg, and seasoning. The cheese combines with the vegetables to enhance the melty, gooey interior of the fritter, and helps the outside get delightfully crispy and caramelized like a frico. You can use Gruyère or a sharp cheddar, but we recommend you grate the cheese coarsely to ensure you get delightful melted strands with each bite.
* Try saying that fast... oh, you did? Try saying it with a mouthful of fritter.
This year we added fresh sweet corn to the mix, since corn comes into season at the same time as squash, and it was such a success that we've decided to make it a permanent addition. It creates a more interesting texture, little popping sweet bites amid the tender zucchini. One caveat, though! Corn kernels will pop in a hot pan, so we strongly advise you use a splatter guard to avoid getting splashed with oil and turning into a fritter yourself (you can also hold up a lid as a makeshift shield).
We aim for the fritters to be a quarter-inch thick at most; about 1/4 or 1/3 cup of batter is about right, but you can play with the size to find your preference. If you want a thicker fritter, just allow an extra couple of minutes of cooking per side.
Along with the fritters, we like to make an herbed sour cream. You can use whatever delicate herbs you have fresh, but a combination of basil and chives is one of our favorites. You could also use tarragon, chervil, or even mint, but add a little at a time so as not to overpower the sauce. It's entirely optional, but we love adding a little minced anchovy to give the dip a deeper savory note (think of it as a nod to green goddess sauce), but skip it if you want to keep the dish vegetarian.
You can also choose to top the fritters with fried or poached eggs, some sautéed diced pancetta or crumbled bacon, and/or a little extra grated cheese. Frankly, we happen to think they're pretty good with no accoutrements at all.
Right now, as our bumper crop comes in, we're making a batch of these fritters at least once a week, and it's helping us get through the squash harvest with our sanity intact. Now if you'll excuse us, it's been a few minutes, so we'd better go check the zucchini patch.
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