Versatile and Plentiful Zucchini

     My neighbors run away when they see me coming with armloads of zucchini. Yes, zucchini grows fast. But it is also a wonderful vegetable. Not only are the zucchini edible, so are the flowers.

     In the Blue Zone of Ikaria, Greece, zucchini is used in a variety of ways. As much as I like to cook, in the summer I like to make easy uncomplicated dishes. I believe the hot weather in Ikaria also encourages people to do the same. 

      One of my grandmother’s favorite dishes was stuffed zucchini flowers. Pick them early in the morning while they’re still open. Avoid picking female flowers, which have a tiny immature zucchini at the base of the blossom. The plants must keep growing to give you access to the freshest blossoms. Pick about 36 flowers. Remove the pistils or stamens.

     Rinse them and place them upside-down on paper towels. Cover the blossoms with a moistened paper towel, and refrigerate for up to four hours. 

     For the filling, combine 1½ cups of barely cooked short-grain rice, 1 cup chopped fresh fennel or dill, 1 cup chopped fresh mint leaves, 1 minced garlic clove, salt and pepper. Stir in 3 tablespoons of olive oil.

     Drizzle about one tablespoon of olive oil on the bottom of a large wide pot. Using a teaspoon, carefully fill each flower. Gently twist the ends closed and place the stuffed flowers next to each other in the pot. Add enough water to barely cover the flowers. Place a plate on top to cover the pot. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Remove, drain, drizzle with a couple tablespoons of olive oil and serve.

     My favorite dish with zucchini is Ikarian fritters. Use one of those zucchini that gets away from you and has grown rather huge, about two pounds.

     Grate it into a colander and add 2 teaspoons of salt. Rub the grated zucchini with the salt and drain for about 20 minutes and squeeze to allow as much liquid as possible to drain out. Transfer to a bowl and add 2 large eggs. In a food processor, chop 3 to 4 scallions, 1 cup fresh dill or fennel, 1 cup mint, 1 cup parsley and one cup lemon balm. Add the herbs, 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of crumbled feta cheese. Mix well and fry by the quarter-cup in olive oil until brown. Drain on paper towels. Top with a dollop of sour cream and chopped cherry tomatoes and spearmint. Refreshing and delicious!