The season is upon us, whether you call these sometimes baseball-bat-size things by foreign names or the good old American name, squash. Summer squash. They come in green or yellow. When I was growing up, we had yellow summer squash but I don't remember green summer squash back then. I think the yellow ones are more delicate, from every point of view.
But that's not what we have this year. We have the now-standard zucchini, and they're good too. They hide under the big leaves of the plant they grow on and end up enormous before you even notice them. What do you do with those?
One idea is the zucchini equivalent of eggplant caviar, known as caviar d'aubergines in France. "Caviar" in these expressions is a little like the "egg" in "eggplant" — it can be misleading. There are no sturgeon eggs in eggplant or zucchini caviar. What is it? It's a cold dip for chips. Or a spread for toasted bread. It's a purée made with the cooked pulp of a squash or aubergine, some garlic and herbs, and some olive oil. You can can also serve it warm as a side dish.
Here's a French recipe for zucchini caviar, which I've translated and adapted:
Tunisian-style Caviar of Courgettes
4 medium or 2 large summer squash
2 or even 4 cloves of garlic
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 teaspoon harissa* or a big pinch of cayenne pepper
½ tsp. ground coriander seed
½ cup chopped parsley (or mint or basil)
¼ cup or more olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Cut the squashes in half the long way. Lay them face down on an oiled baking sheet and bake them in the oven at 350ºF about 30 minutes, until they are completely soft and starting to collapse. Take them out and let them cool.
Meanwhile, crush and purée the garlic cloves with a knife or mortar and pestle. Squeeze a fresh lemon. Chop the herbs.
When the squash halves are cool enough to work with, turn them over and scrape the flesh out of the shells with a tablespoon. If the cut surfaces have browned and caramelized a little, so much the better. Mash the pulp and cut through it with a knife to purée it.
Mix the warm squash pulp with the garlic, cumin, coriander, cayenne or harissa, lemon juice, and herbs. Salt and pepper to taste. Finally, beat in the olive oil. Put the dish in the refrigerator, covered, for a couple of hours to cool and to giver the flavors time to blend.
Serve with corn chips as a dip or, as a spread, on lightly toasted bread.
* Harissa is a red-pepper paste used to spice up foods in North Africa and in France.