NEWS FROM MARIQUITA: A CSA Journal

The Complete Zucchini Management Guide
Andy has a six point plan for making sure his CSA customers don't get overwhelmed by summer squash. If that doesn't work, he may have to get a pig. They're easy to please.

By Andy Griffin

Farm-at-a-glance

Mariquita Farm
www.mariquita.com

Location: Land in Watsonville and Hollister
Years farming: Andy has farmed for the last 20 years in various capacities from farmworker to owner, from large farm to small.
Total acres farmed: 25
Key people: Andy, farmer and rave king; Julia, farm wife, CEO, mom, email elf, etc.; España, foreman, tractor driver, all around repairman; Jose España, head harvester; Lourdes Duarte, head vegetable packer
Range of crops: greens, root crops, tubers and herbs, berries, peppers, tomatoes, garlic, melons, artichokes, and more besides that.
Marketing methods: CSA and 1 farmers market, with a small number of carefully selected restaurants that pick up at the farmers market
Soil type: silty loam
Regenerative practices: cover cropping, crop rotation, fallowing
Length of season: all year

June 2, 2005: One of my chores as a kid was to pick all the overgrown, baseball-bat-sized zucchinis and break them over the corral fence for the pigs to eat. When the hogs would see me coming they’d squeal with an urgency that makes a car alarm sound like a lullaby. I remember one old boar, Roger, who’d fight his way through the pack of swine to seize the biggest squash in his jaws. Roger would chew up zucchini faster than he could swallow and I vividly remember masticated squash extruding from the old pig’s nose.

Big zucchinis were fine for Roger but those of us who grow summer squash can’t expect the same level of enthusiasm from our customers. Farmers who run community supported agriculture programs have to be especially sensitive about not over-supplying our trusting harvest share holders with squash. I remind myself that the folks who get my harvest box every week are not only receiving my vegetables; by mid summer many a shame faced but well meaning gardener can be seen leaving an unbidden shopping bag with an eight pound zucchini on their neighbors’ doorsteps at dawn as though it were a baby Moses in a basket.. To avoid overexposing my farm’s shareholders to the charms of Cucurbita pepo I’ve developed a six-point strategy:

1. I don’t plant enough squash to give every shareholder a bag every week. Instead, I plant only enough squash so that each shareholder will get a bag of every other week. I pick all the squash in the patch and divide them up among half the shareholders one week and then among the other half the following week. That way the whole patch gets picked but people don’t receive so much squash it starts piling up in their refrigerators.

2. I don’t plant the varieties of summer squash that yield the most prolifically; my customers can buy those varieties in the supermarket. Instead, I rely on old fashioned types like Costata Romanesco or Ronde du Nice that offer something special like extra firm texture or an interesting shape to add interest. Costata Romanesco is the variety overwhelmingly preferred by my restaurant accounts because of its flavor and cooking qualities and it doesn’t get pithy even when it gets larger. Ronde du Nice is round and lends itself well to stuffing. An added attraction to many old fashioned squash types is that they sport a high percentage of male blossoms which can be harvested for sale to restaurants.

3. I plant lots of herbs. Giving customers a wide range of summer squash types in varying decorator colors and novelty shapes is fine for the eye but squash all taste more or less the same. By giving our share-box holders a different herb each week we can teach them how to use the summer squash’s bland, pliant nature to advantage. Squash with dill tastes really different than squash prepared with mint, basil, sage, thyme, marjoram, savory or oregano. Just to keep things interesting we grow seven types of basil.

4. I take big, bloater zucchinis to the farmers market. Over the years I’ve noticed that cook books and cooking shows have inculcated the public with the cult of eating babies. A tiny squash is “extra fancy” while a zaftig, more “Rubenesque” zucchini is scorned like a fat Elvis. But some cultures resist the infantilization of the squash harvest. I’ve met emigre Englishmen, for example, who crave the taste of “stuffed vegetable marrow”. “Vegetable marrow” is only Queen’s English for over grown zucchini. Ethnic Italians have been known to stuff big zucchinis, too.

5. I count on my wife, Julia, to put lots of different recipes for squash in our CSA newsletter. Cucurbita pepo may have originated in the Americas but it has been adopted by just about every cuisine on earth. Julia is assembling a comprehensive and trial-tested online recipe list that our highly wired customers can access at any time if they want solutions to vexing squash problems. She has solicited recipes from the customers, too, so we access creations beyond the sphere of our own experience.

6. Lastly, I’m thinking about getting a pig. I get tired of hearing my children whine when they see squash on the dinner table. I’m nostalgic for those times in my youth when I could serve squash to swine that never complained and, instead, squealed in delight. Those pigs made me feel like a great chef must when he gazes out from the kitchen across a room full of satisfied customers.

Mariquita Recipes

Aunt Joan's Zucchini
as remembered by Julia

1.5 pounds summer squash, mixed or all one variety
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons olive oil
some chopped fresh basil
grated fresh parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

Thinly slice the summer squash. Heat oil over moderate heat in medium-large frying pan. Add the minced garlic, and let cook for just a few seconds, don't let it brown. Then add the squash, spreading out in the pan so it can all cook evenly. Once the first layer is browned up a bit, stir it around the pan, letting the still-uncooked squash hit the oil below for a little browning. You can add a bit more oil at this point if you like. Add some salt and pepper to taste. Once it's all cooked (7-12 minutes), remove to a serving dish and top with the fresh chopped basil and the parmesan. Serves 3-4

* * *

Squash Pancakes

2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
4 medium summer squashes, grated
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated cheese
1/3 cup each chopped fresh parsley, basil and cilantro
2 tablespoons minced shallot or green onion
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour

Mix together eggs and milk. Add squash, herbs and shallots. Then mix in the cheese. Add slowly the bread crumbs and flour and mix well. In a large, heavy, non-stick skillet, melt 1T butter until it starts to brown. Spoon about 1/4C of mixture into the pan and flatten a bit with the spoon. You might be able to fit 2 pancakes into the same pan at once. When the edges show a little browning turn with a spatula. Cook the other side until it is also golden brown. Keep pancakes warm in the oven until they are all cooked.

* * *

Vegetable Kebabs with Mustard Basting Sauce

16 baby carrots, peeled
16 baby yellow scallop squash or 3/4 pound yellow squash
16 baby zucchini or 3/4 pound zucchini
16 red or white pearl onions
1-1/2 tablespoons white-wine vinegar
1-1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 large red bell peppers, cut into sixteen 2-by-3/4-inch pieces
8, 12-inch bamboo skewers, soaked in water for 1 hour

In a large saucepan of boiling salted water, cook carrots 1
minute. Add yellow squash and zucchini and cook vegetables
5 minutes. Transfer vegetables with a slotted spoon to a
large bowl of ice and cold water to stop cooking and drain
well in a colander. Transfer vegetables to a bowl. (If
using larger yellow squash and zucchini cut them into a
total of thirty-two 3/4-inch pieces.) In boiling water
remaining in pan, cook onions 4 minutes and transfer with
slotted spoon to bowl of ice and cold water. Drain onions
well in colander and peel, leaving root ends intact.
Vegetables may be boiled 1 day ahead and chilled in
sealable plastic bags.

In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, mustard, oil, and
salt and pepper to taste. Basting sauce may be made 1 day
ahead and chilled, covered.

Prepare grill.

Thread vegetables, alternating them, onto skewers. Brush
one side of kebabs with about half of sauce and grill,
coated side down, on an oiled rack set 5 to 6 inches over
glowing coals 5 minutes. Brush kebabs with remaining sauce
and turn. Grill kebabs 5 minutes more, or until squash is
tender. (Alternatively, kebabs may be grilled in a hot
well-seasoned ridged grill pan over moderately high heat.)

Serves 4


Click Here for Previous Journal Entries