By Joanna Bastian

Here it is mid-January and I am still looking for creative ways to use up zucchini. We had agreed to only plant one zucchini plant in the garden this year, but somehow we ended up with five … none of them next to each other, so I’m wondering if the compost had a hand in this escapade. In fact, I’m sure of it since zucchini made an appearance in the beans, the sunflowers, the peas, and the lettuce patch.

As the saying goes, when life gives you zucchini, make breads, cakes, latkes, layered casseroles and soups. Layered into lasagna with chorizo, artichokes, olives and spinach, the bright green zucchini shreds add a pop of color. Spread out on pizzas, zucchini is a flavorful addition to mushrooms, peppers and onions.

One of my favorite quick and easy dinners is zucchini latkes. Mix two cups shredded zucchini (drained and squeezed dry) with one medium grated onion, two beaten eggs, one-half cup bread crumbs, and one-half cup of shredded parmesan. Season to taste with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Drop by the spoonful into hot oil, pressing with back of spoon to flatten zucchini mixture into patties. Fry until brown on each side, for two to three minutes. I like to top my zucchini latkes with sliced tomato.

A great recipe to counter winter’s chill is a simmering pot of minestrone soup. In a large soup pot over medium heat, combine five tablespoons butter, half a cup of olive oil, two minced cloves of garlic, two small diced onions, one cup diced celery, and one cup chopped carrots. Sauté the savory vegetables for about five minutes, until golden.

Next, add one small can of tomato paste, six cups of water and two quarts of beef broth. Stir in half a teaspoon of ground sage and half a cup of chopped basil. Bring the soup to a boil before adding the tender veggies: one cup shredded cabbage, and two cups each chopped spinach and shredded zucchini. Add one cup cooked beans, I prefer canned navy beans in this soup, but many people would rather use kidney beans. Stir in two cups of diced plum tomatoes before reducing the heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes.

You can add cooked shell pasta to the soup, but if you are planning on freezing the soup into batches, I would leave the pasta out and add it just before you are ready to serve. This hot soup is wonderful topped with shredded cheese like romano, parmesan and asiago.

I would be remiss if I did not also share my favorite cake recipe that includes two cups finely grated zucchini. Lightly coat the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch glass cake pan with cooking spray. Drain and squeeze shredded zucchini to release extra water, set aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine one package chocolate fudge cake mix, such as Betty Crocker Super Moist, with two teaspoons ground cinnamon, one teaspoon chili powder, one egg, two egg whites, and ¾ cup each vanilla yogurt and applesauce. Beat on low speed with an electric mixer for two minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl often. Fold in zucchini before pouring mixture into prepared cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Top the cooled cake with powdered sugar. Happy cooking!