Jokes about giant zucchinis aside, this crop is as productive and easy as the many recipes for its use.

Three plants are enough for our small family. I start mine indoors from seed about three weeks before the last spring frost and then transplant one to the hoophouse for early production, and plant two others outside for extended production.

The key to growing zucchini, of course, is to keep picking the fruits — even if you’re not going to use them. Once an individual fruit or two or three on a plant takes off and grows toward baseball-bat size, that plant will produce few or no new fruits — until the offending biggie is removed to the compost or the chicken yard. (Larger fruits are seedy and fibrous and just don’t taste as good as small fruits.)

One way to keep ahead of those big fruits, if you’re not planning to use the smaller fruits soon, is to pick and use zucchini flowers. These are delicacies in many cultures and in fine restaurants. The stems — and the pistils (from female flowers) and stamens (from male flowers) — are removed, and then the flowers can be dipped in batter and deep fried, or stuffed (with rice and vegetables or ricotta) and baked. (You can find recipes on the Internet.)

Zucchini flowers can also be chopped and added to soups or quesadillas. The Mexican sopa de flor de calabaza combines broth, chopped zucchini (or other squash) flowers and various vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, onions, corn, green beans …) and butter, salt and pepper. You can puree half the soup once it’s cooked and mix it with the remaining soup for a creamy texture.

Zucchini can be stuffed and baked, using increasingly available (especially at farmers markets) Maine organic, humanely raised meat. Here’s the recipe:

Bake four whole zucchinis for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees, then cut them in half, remove the pulp to within 1/4 inch of the skin, and chop the pulp finely.

Fry:

1/4 pound pork sausage with

1/4 cup chopped onions

Add the sausage and onions to the chopped zucchini along with:

1/2 cup cracker crumbs

1 slightly beaten egg

1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese

1/4 teaspoon thyme

Scoop this into the zucchini shells and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.

My favorite way to eat zucchini fruits is as zucchini Parmesan. In fact, I find this dish so much tastier than eggplant Parmesan that I no longer grow eggplant. Just coat zucchini slices with beaten eggs, then with breadcrumbs. Fry them for a couple of minutes on each side and then layer them in a baking dish with tomato sauce, Parmesan, and grated cheddar or mozzarella cheese, and bake at 350 degrees until the cheesy top is bubbly and turning slightly brown.

Zucchini patties also make a quick summer meal when served with a salad. Just mix the following ingredients, make patties by hand, and fry both sides in oil until they’re lightly browned.

5 medium zucchini, grated and with the water pressed out

1 tablespoon grated Parmesan

2 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

3 eggs, beaten

1 garlic clove, minced

1/4 cup fresh, chopped parsley or 1 tablespoon dried parsley

Zucchini bread, of course, is another summer treat — and a winter treat as well, simply by grating and freezing zucchini until it’s needed. Raisins and chopped walnuts make this bread more delicious and nutritious.