Ramen Vegetable Pancakes

Zucchini is a force of nature

If gardeners broke their hearts pining for tomatoes this summer, zucchini stepped in as the saving grace.

The persistently prolific plants also were a tad delayed after the growing season's cool, wet start. But by mid-July, zucchini came through in good form.

For once, I was glad we cultivated three plants instead of the two or — gasp — one that I always advocate. But I know that, come September, I'll have eaten more than my fill with another month of struggle ahead to flavor the quintessentially bland summer squash of blank-canvas repute.

The first ones, of course, are enticing stuffed for a main course or grilled in slabs for a side dish. Sliced or chopped, they epitomize summer pizzas, pastas and stir-fries. I've even come to love zucchini in Latin-inspired burritos, tacos and quesadillas.

When eating zucchini at one more meal becomes unthinkable, I'll thinly slice a few with a mandoline and immerse them with some sliced onion, shallot or garlic in a quick-pickling solution of cider vinegar, sugar and ground mustard and turmeric. These sweet-spicy pickles keep for months in the refrigerator with much more appeal than frozen zucchini slices.

Freezing zucchini, I've found, renders it just as unpleasantly soggy as overcooking. What's the point of preserving something that's such a poor substitute for fresh?

So zucchini remains for me an uncompromisingly seasonal food. Never tempted to purchase it at the grocery store — much less out of season — I take comfort in the coming months when I have more than I can handle. It's the rare relief to find a co-worker or friend willing to take some off my hands.

Indeed, zucchini is a force of nature that, if allowed to rear its head, will exhaust any cooks' repertoire. In self-defense, I sacrifice a few each summer by harvesting the squash blossoms with their small fruits still attached. Sliced in half, these get a bath in egg, breadcrumbs and — briefly — in hot oil for a favorite appetizer.

The blossoms, with a toothsome texture that holds up to quick cooking, also are delicious cut into ribbons and added to egg dishes and pastas or strewn over pizzas. Using the blossoms also reduces one's chances of stumbling over a forgotten squash, sinisterly and silently grown to 2 feet long with the girth of a baseball bat.

I like zucchini bread as much as the next person but remain an ambivalent baker. Even the enthusiasts in our midst condemn their families to consuming all those zucchini breads and muffins. That's because anyone and everyone with a few square feet to plant vegetables that thrive on neglect already made their own bread.

Yet dishes calling for shredded zucchini are the only pardon for tougher, seedier specimens bound for the compost heap. I simply can't bring myself to boil up a batch of zucchini relish. The smell of its preservation alone sends my husband fleeing outdoors.

I usually compromise by making fritters of shredded zucchini and other vegetables, but I always wish they were crispier without my resorting to deep-frying. This version provides the starchy heft I'm craving from the unlikely addition of ramen noodles, which — against stiff competition — take the title of least-loved ingredient in this dish.

Ramen Vegetable Pancakes was the runner-up out of nearly 100 that readers submitted to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which held a contest earlier this year for the best ramen recipes. I don't envy the depths of kitchen deprivation — or depravation — behind this one.

But for one month a year, at least, I'll try anything.

Reach Mail Tribune Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email slemon@mailtribune.com. Read her blog, The Whole Dish, at www.mailtribune.com/wholedish, see her Facebook page or follow her on Twitter.

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