In season: zucchini

Summer squash is just that, a mainstay of hot summer weather. The distinctive yellow crookneck squash, dark green cylinders of zucchini — you probably feel you’ve got summer squash figured out.

But vegetable hybridizers are having as much fun with squash as they do with tomatoes and varieties of peppers. Not content with long green cylinders of zucchini, someone carefully selected seed and pollinated plants to grow a fruit the shape of a small ball. The result is a variety called Pool Ball, and the mix of bright yellow (One Ball), pale green (Cue Ball) and dark green (Eight Ball) zucchini are as round as their namesakes.

Paula Guilbeau of Heirloom Gardens in Dahlonega has been growing Pool Ball zucchini for five years. “It’s definitely something different. Everybody grows the standard zucchini but I like to think outside the box. This is a great variety for me and for our customers. Lots of them are shopping just for one or two people and these are perfect for them.”

Her customers are attracted by the size and the unusual shape and then Guilbeau hooks them in when she talks about how perfect they are to slice in half and put on the grill. “Or I talk about how they can be stuffed, or cut in slices and stacked and roasted. I like to slice them, layer them with mozzarella and basil, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper and then bake for about 30 minutes. They’re like individual lasagnas.”

Guilbeau sells her Pool Ball zucchini to restaurant chefs like Zeb Stevenson at Watershed and to the shoppers at the Wednesday and Saturday Peachtree Road Farmers Market, and online at http://Cumming.locallygrown.net.

She succession plants her zucchini to have it available through late spring and way into summer. The first seeding was in March and she’s harvesting fruits from those plants now. One more seeding is growing, and she’ll plant at least one more time, each time in 200-foot rows in her hoop houses.

Like all summer squash, you should handle these little balls carefully as they’re easy to bruise. Store them in your refrigerator and use them in a few days.

Zeb Stevenson’s Stuffed Zucchini with Crab Gratin

While the pool-ball shaped zucchini is ideal for stuffing, you can substitute any zucchini or even yellow squash in this recipe. The luscious crab filling makes it tough to wait to sample these when they come out of the oven, but it’s important to give the cream cheese and other ingredients time to cool off before indulging.

2 medium zucchini

Salt

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

1/2 onion, cut into medium dice

1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning

1 teaspoon dry mustard powder

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

1 cup sour cream

Juice of 1 lemon

8 ounces fresh crab meat

2 teaspoons minced fresh celery leaf

2 teaspoons minced fresh parsley

12 saltines, crumbled

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cut the zucchini in half lengthwise and using a spoon scoop out the seeds leaving an indentation a little larger than a ping-pong ball to nest the crab gratin in. Discard the seeds and sprinkle zucchini halves with salt. Set aside.

In a saucepan over low heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter. Add onion, Old Bay seasoning, mustard powder and red pepper flakes. Cover the pot and cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Increase the heat to medium. Add cream cheese, sour cream and lemon juice and stir until all of the ingredients are fully melted and mixed. Remove from the heat and fold in the crab meat, celery leaf and parsley. Season to taste with salt.

Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter. In the bowl of a food processor, combine saltines and melted butter and pulse into coarse crumbs.

Arrange zucchini halves on a baking sheet. Divide the crab mixture between the zucchini halves. Sprinkle the buttered saltine crumbs on top of each zucchini half. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until zucchini is fully cooked and saltine crumbs are browned. Cool for 10 minutes before eating. Serves: 4

Per serving: 516 calories (percent of calories from fat, 73), 20 grams protein, 16 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 42 grams fat (26 grams saturated), 161 milligrams cholesterol, 526 milligrams sodium.

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