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Serving: IL
grilled zucchini topped with sour cream and dill
SUMMER SQUASH: Try zucchini seasoned and seared on a hot grill and then drizzled with sour cream and fresh dill.

Rain makes … zucchini?

What’s Cooking in Illinois: All this rain means zucchini will be prolific this year; here are three ways to enjoy it.

With all the rain we’ve had, look for a bumper crop of zucchini, whether you’re growing in your garden or buying at your local farmers market. Even in a dry year, zucchini seems to be prolific — small one day and seemingly doubling in size the next.

I happen to be a big zucchini fan. My mom used to make a chocolate zucchini cake that was always a favorite. Even Martha Stewart featured the lowly green squash in a recent email with no fewer than 36 different recipes.

First, a few basics. Zucchini is a summer squash, and Martha says to look for summer squash that are firm and heavy for their size with a bright skin. The smaller the squash, the more tender. It’s best to keep them in the refrigerator in a plastic bag. Don’t wash them until you’re ready to use them to help them last longer.

“My favorite way to cook zucchini is on the grill,” says Randy Williams, University of Illinois at Springfield chef and former restaurant owner. “I use a seasoning: Back Porch Seasoning from a restaurant in Robinson, Ill., that is similar to Riley’s. I slice the zucchini on the bias, then get my Big Green Egg [ceramic] grill really hot. It has to be fire-hot.”

He sears both sides of the zucchini and then drizzles a mixture of sour cream and fresh dill.

“You can eat them like candy,” Williams says. Having a “fire-hot” grill is the key to grilling any vegetable, he adds.

He likes both green and yellow zucchini, before they get too large. Until this year, he grew zucchini in a large garden that he and his wife, Patty, tended.

“I sold the land I used for my garden, so now I’m a backyard container gardener,” Williams says. “I’ve got my lettuce and herbs and garlic sprouts — and zucchini.”

His wife shreds larger zucchini to make a zucchini-banana-chocolate-chip bread that is a family favorite.

“Zucchini are amazing — one day you pick the small ones, and the next day you go out and say, ‘How did I miss that one?’ You didn’t. It grows overnight to gargantuan size,” Williams says.

His mom would slice zucchini into rounds, dip them in an egg wash, cover with panko bread crumbs and fry, he says, adding, “That’s the classic way.”

My mom would shred them, even freeze the shredded zucchini, and turn it into her chocolate zucchini cake, long before Jessica Seinfeld made hiding veggies popular.

Nutritionally, zucchini adds a lot to any dish. It’s high in vitamins A and C and a variety of B vitamins. It’s also a good source of calcium, fiber and antioxidants. Because of its high water content and few calories, it’s good for weight loss.

In addition, zucchini can add moisture to baked goods, similar to using applesauce or mashed bananas. Here’s one of my favorite recipes, using bananas and zucchini. I add white whole wheat flour to boost the fiber content.

Zucchini Banana Bread
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup white whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup canola oil or melted unsalted butter
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup shredded zucchini (about 1 medium)
1 cup mashed ripe banana
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray. Whisk all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in large bowl; set aside. Whisk eggs, sugar, oil (or melted butter) and vanilla in medium bowl. Stir in zucchini and banana until well combined. Add wet ingredients to flour mixture and stir until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips.

Transfer batter to prepared pan. Bake until toothpick inserted into center of loaf comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes and then turn loaf out onto rack to cool completely. Serve warm or at room temperature. Serves 12.

Note: To make ahead, store loaf in airtight container at room temperature for up to two days, or wrap in plastic wrap, then foil, and freeze for up to two months.

Fargo is a dietitian for Hy-Vee in Springfield, Ill. Send recipe ideas to her at charfarg@aol.com.

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