Take squash, for instance. It puts me in mind of the joke that circulates around town each year about this time. People of Cortez lock their car doors during August, because if they don't, they risk finding a zucchini on the front seat when they return. Every summer we struggle with just what to do with such an alarming amount of summer squash. It seems no matter how much gets picked, there's always twice as much out there waiting for you — dare I say — taunting you, the very next day. Just ask any of the local vendors at the farmer's market who grow and sell all kinds of squash. I'm talking not only about zucchini, the dark green patriarch of the squash family, and his partner, the yellow crookneck, but also about a host of other, lesser-known varieties, all locally grown and abundantly available at your hometown farmer's market.
For instance, on a recent Saturday I picked up a zephyr squash from a local vendor, a two-toned (the squash, not the vendor) yellow and pale green smallish (about 10 inches long) zucchini-like animal with a slightly bent neck. It's flesh is firm and white, and slightly sweeter and crunchier than zucchini. It also holds its shape better when exposed to heat. I use it alongside zucchini in a quick and easy recipe for a fresh summer soup. Served hot or cold, it makes a great lunchtime meal.
Curried Summer Squash Soup
3 pounds any combination of zukes, crooknecks, yellow summer squash, or zephyr (4-6 medium)
1 bunch of green onions or 2 yellow onions
4 cups chicken broth
1-2 tablespoons butter
1-2 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
(Note: if you want to make it completely vegetarian, substitute canned or fresh tomatoes, or tomato juice for the chicken broth. It produces a rich umber color and a bright tang on the tongue.)
Combine all the ingredients into a large pot. Cover and simmer until soft. Puree and serve at room temperature with a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt.
Then there are the scalloped squash with their flattened bodies and wavy edges, also grown locally and sold at many of the farmer's market stands. I grew up calling them patty pans. Patty pans can come in either a pale green or a golden yellow; both are terrific in one of my family's favorite recipes: Patty Pan Parmesan. Basically it is like an eggplant parmesan, with the main ingredient swapped out.
Start your PPP with 3-4 medium-size patty pans, either green or gold, no wider across than 8 inches or so. Much bigger than that, and the skin starts getting tough and the seeds too abundant. An easy test is to pierce the skin of the patty pan with your thumbnail. The slightest pressure should break the skin of the squash. If you have to apply more pressure in order to break the skin, then you'll need to peel and seed it before using.
One of the great features of summer squash is how little waste there is, provided your squash is smaller than a length of irrigation pipe. All that needs to be removed is the remains of the stem, if any, and the tiny scar at the flower end. Everything else, including the skin, is perfectly edible. Just be careful how thin you slice it since that will determine what consistency your final product will be. Summer squash sliced too thinly before cooking ends up resembling baby food, so thicker is usually better. Patty pans withstand heat better than their counterparts, making them the ideal candidate for this recipe. Try it. It might quickly become one of your family's favorites as well.
Patty Pan Parmesan
3-4 Patty pan squash, sliced across into 1/2 — 3/4 inch-thick slices
2 eggs, whisked with 1/4 cup milk
2 cups bread crumbs seasoned with Italian herbs
1/2 – 3/4 cup olive oil, high quality, preferably extra virgin
1 pound Mozzarella cheese, cut into slabs — not grated
Spaghetti sauce — homemade or commercial — about a quart
Lightly oil a 9-by-13 baking pan and heat oven to 350;
Heat a nonstick skillet and add a couple of tablespoons oil.
While the oil is heating, dip the patty pan slices in the egg mixture;
Dredge them in the bread crumbs until thoroughly coated;
Pan fry on both sides until golden brown. (The outside of the pp should be crisp, the inside firm but tender and easily punctured with a fork, yet not mushy.) Add remaining oil as needed. Note: the squash soaks up a fair amount of oil.
Layer the pp single file in the bottom of the oiled pan.
Top with generous slabs of mozzarella cheese.
Repeat this process until you have 3-4 layers of squash/cheese/squash/cheese, etc.
Pour the spaghetti sauce over the entire melange;
Cook, covered, for about 20-30 minutes;
Remove from oven, remove cover and grate heaps of Parmesan cheese over all;
Return to oven for another 10 minutes or so. For an extra crispy brown top, pop it under the broiler for a minute or two.
Let it cool for 15-20 minutes before serving.
Serve it up with a spicy arugula or spinach salad.
Still have zucchini left over? Try adding it, grated, to your favorite chocolate cake recipe; no one will ever suspect, they'll just marvel at the moistness. The sweet round papaya squash is next on my list to try. So much squash — so little time.
The word on the street: tomatoes are on their way. I spotted a few recently at the farmer's market, but it is bound to start raining tomatoes very soon. So plan on making your spaghetti sauce for the Patty Pan Parmesan from locally grown tomatoes purchased from a smiling vendor who understands what it means to bring the farm to the table.
Yes, participating in the economy of community can be a lot of fun. The currency of “fellowship, folly, and food,” says Babette Kimble, a regular farmer's market shopper, is uniquely valuable and helps root us to this place and connect us to each other, and ultimately, back to ourselves. We know who we are, in part, by the larger group in which we live. And the “moving human parade” is a cultural composite of Montezuma County that is always ready to assimilate newcomers.
The Cortez Farmer's Market is open Saturdays from 7:30 to 11:30 at 109 W. Main (www.cortezfarmmarket.com).
The Parsnippet is supported by Livewell Montezuma, a healthy eating active living (HEAL) community.
Wendy Watkins is the owner of S'more Music, a private Suzuki piano studio in Cortez. She can be reached at 565-4129.