Gardeners, you’ve heard all the jokes. There’s the one about the towns where people lock their car doors in the summer for fear neighbors will “gift” them with a bag of zucchini. Or the one that goes something like this: How can you tell someone from (insert place of choice here) has no friends? He’s in the supermarket buying zucchini. Or the old saying that you can never figure out the right number of zucchini plants to include in your garden: Plant one, it dies. Plant two, you get way too many.
I don’t have my own garden plot anymore, but I’ve been volunteering at a Logan Circle church that is starting up a little one, and I hesitated when I saw a zucchini seedling presented for planting. I know how prolific these plants can get. But it’s early enough in the season that a) nobody has “gifted” me with any bags yet, and b) I’ve been so anxious for more produce choices that I’ve welcomed the recent appearance of zucchini at farmers markets.
One of my favorite ways to eat them used to be stuffed whole, Middle Eastern style. You hollow out the insides with a special tool, leaving the zucchini otherwise intact, and fill them with ground lamb, rice and spices before simmering them in a tomato sauce. But one thing that always bothered me about that recipe was that I had to find something to do with the zucchini flesh I was pulling out; there was no room to put it back in once the meat and rice took up residence.
Nowadays, I make things a little easier on myself. I cut the zucchini in half lengthwise, using a melon baller or spoon to carve them into little boats, and pack the stuffing inside, where there’s room to mound it — and even let it spill over. The zucchini flesh goes in the Mediterranean-style mixture, which also includes white beans, olives, tomatoes, feta and parsley. When I bake it, the cheese browns on top, and the zucchini gets just tender enough to be eaten with a fork, without getting mushy.
For now, stuffed zucchini is a satisfying way to get my fill of a vegetable I love. By August, depending on how things go in that church garden, I might be eating my words, printing out golden-oldie recipes for zucchini bread, slipping them along with the vegetables into “gift” bags — and checking the streets of Washington for unlocked cars.