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They're Baaack

August 20, 1992|RUSS PARSONS

You think you've got it bad, sneaking onto your neighbor's porch in the dead of night to dump paper bags of excess zucchini? How would you like to have to sell the stuff?

"It's a pretty tough market right now," confides one grower. "Everybody and his brother has zucchini in the back yard."

Right now most summer squash is coming from the cool Santa Maria Valley, along the Central Coast. Because of its short growing season, summer squash is used as a second crop for areas that specialize in bell peppers, onions, tomatoes and melons.

Besides the typical dark green Italian zucchini, you're also likely to find a paler green zucchini (favored by Latin American cooks), brilliant gold-skinned zucchini (aptly called Goldbar), as well as crookneck, pattypan (both yellow and green) and scaloppine squash.

Look for squash that is not too large (about 3/4 inch in diameter). The skin should be smooth and shiny, without pits or wrinkles. Really fresh squash feels slightly prickly to the touch.

There are two cooking tricks that will make zucchini taste better. First, always soak the squash in cold water for about half an hour before cooking. Squash dehydrates quickly after leaving the field, and this will help refresh the squash. Secondly, when you're sauteing zucchini, start it over a very high heat with just a little olive oil. When the squash begins to brown, add onion and garlic. The browning concentrates the zucchini flavor, but if the onions and garlic are already in the pan, they will burn before the zucchini browns.

Prices, needless to say, are reasonable.

* If it seems that you're seeing more of those apple-shaped Asian pears in the grocery store, it's because you are. The pears were first planted in California in the mid-'80s, and roughly 6 million pounds will be harvested this season. Most of it is grown around Kingsburg, just south of Fresno.

There are 14 varieties of Asian pears grown in California, some originating in China, some in Japan. The Hosui, which is extremely crisp and sweet, is the most highly regarded. Asian pears are either yellow-skinned, with a smooth surface, or brown-skinned, with a coarse finish. Most people prefer to peel the brown-skinned ones.

* Look for broccoli prices to begin to stabilize as the harvest picks up a little. Cauliflower and lettuce prices are still high due to the effects of the heat.

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