Summer’s only just begun, and it’s already apparent that this year’s zucchini harvest is going to be a bumper crop.
It’s not like I’m new at this. I know how madly prolific these gorgeous green vegetables can be, yet I can’t seem to pull out plants that are so eager to flourish, produce and yield copious amounts of fruit.
Now, instead of thinning plants I’m dusting off my favorite recipes in anticipation of the abundance to come.
So, if you’re like me and grow waaay too much, or have a neighbourhood “zucchini lady” that you know is going to come knocking later in the summer, here’s a closer look at this sweet and unique summer vegetable.
It has many nutritional benefits for our health and well being, can be cooked and eaten in multiple ways, and is, of course, one of the easiest vegetables to grow in the home garden.
And at the end of the post, there’s an “idea” section along with 11 (or more) different uses for our favorite prolific plant.
Zucchini (a.k.a. courgette) is a member of the squash family and belongs to the species Cucurbita pepo.
Her close cousins include edible pumpkins and other squashes such as butternut, spaghetti, and acorn, as well as gourds that are used primarily for making utensils, dishes or bowls.
It can be light in color, almost white, or dark green in hue and it also has a hybrid cousin, the golden zucchini, which is a deep gold or orange color.
Although both summer and winter squashes are grown in the warm months, summer squash (zucchini, pattypan, crookneck, zucchetta and yellow summer squash) should be eaten when the skin is still soft and tender, and the seeds are immature.
Winter squash (pumpkins, butternut, acorn, spaghetti, etc.) are allowed to remain on the vine until the rind is hard and the seeds have matured. These hard rinds allow the squash to be stored, with care, into the winter months for later consumption.
Zucchini have large and beautiful golden blossoms, edible and tasty in their own right, and they are often used to dress a plate or as a garnish for the prepared courgette itself.
They’re often deep fried as fritters or lightly coated with a tempura batter, and can be stuffed, baked, sautéed or used in soups and stews.
In the kitchen, zucchini is treated as a vegetable. The manner in which they’re cooked and the customary presentation is usually as an ingredient in a savory dish, or as a veggie served on the side. But to the botanist, zucchini, along with her squash and pumpkin cousins, are technically fruit.
And, like all members of the cucurbita clan, this type of produce has its roots in Mesoamerica. There, Native Americans considered them to be one of the “three sisters,” along with corn and beans as the other members of the trio.
Today’s varieties are considerably different than their ancestors, with the modern version being developed in Italy in the late 1800’s, after its introduction from the New World.
In nutritional content, zucchini is low in calories with only 15 per 2/3 cup (100 grams), with significant amounts of folate, potassium and vitamin A.
Zucchini is a very low calorie vegetables, and it contains zero saturated fat and no cholesterol. The peel is a good source of dietary fiber that aids digestive tract health, and offers some protection against colon cancers.
They also have some antioxidant value, with a rating of 180 on the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) scale. Of course, their antioxidant capacity is below that of some berries and anthocyanin-rich vegetables.
However, they’re also one of the more common vegetables that dieticians will include in weight reduction and cholesterol control programs.
Zucchini is also rich in flavonoid poly-phenolic antioxidants such as carotenes, lutein and zeaxanthin, particularly the golden-skinned varieties. These compounds are needed to pick up destructive free radicals and prevent their contribution to aging and various disease processes.
Courgettes have moderate levels of folates, which are important for cell division and DNA processes.
They’re a good source of potassium, which is important for intra-cellular electrolyte function, and helps in the reduction of blood pressure levels.
Zucchini is rich in vitamin A, and provides about 200 IU per 2/3 cup. It’s ;a good source of antioxidant vitamin C, and provides about 30% of daily values per 2/3 cup.
They also contain moderate levels of the B vitamin group like thiamin, pyridoxine, and riboflavin, and the minerals iron, manganese, phosphorus and zinc.
Selection and Storage
In the market, select small to medium sized squash with a vibrant, bright green, gold, or pale green skin that ;feels firm to touch, with a nice heft in the hand.
To ensure tenderness, the ideal size is approximately 6-8 inches, with a diameter of 2 inches or less. While small nicks and scratches on the soft rind are not unusual and don’t affect the taste, avoid ones with scarred or pitted skin or that feel lightweight and spongy.
And while growing jumbo courgettes might be fun, extra-large and overly mature fruit should be avoided. They’ll have an abundance of ripe seeds and the flesh may be fibrous – pithy, woody or stringy.
Any fruit with crinkled or pulpy ends has been around too long and has lost its inner moisture, leaving it spongy or woody.
And as always, chose organically grown produce whenever possible for optimal health benefits.
At home, wait to wash until you’re ready to cook these squash, ;as excess moisture will speed decay. Store cut vegetables in an airtight container for up to a week in the fridge.
Unlike their thicker skinned winter squash cousins, zucchini have a delicate rind that can be damaged easily… so handle with care! Wash well in cold, running water just prior to cooking and trim both the stem and flower ends.
Peeling isn’t necessary or advised as a lot of the nutritional benefits, antioxidant properties and fiber are found in the skin.
A Myriad of Cooking Methods
A versatile ingredient, tender summer squash can be eaten in so many ways:
- Cut young, tender courgettes into cubes or spirals, or julienne for salads.
- They can be baked, battered and fried, boiled, frozen, grilled, juiced, pureed, steamed and stuffed.
- A basic in mixed medleys of summer vegetables, they work well with asparagus, carrots, corn, green beans, onions, peppers and potatoes.
- Have a late bumper crop? Chop them up and throw them into a root vegetable roast with other tasty gems of fall: such as potatoes, onions, sweet potatoes, winter squash, beets, turnips, rutabagas, kohlrabi, and winter radishes.
- Zucchini add flavor, body and texture to soups, stews, stir fries, casseroles, sabzi, tagines and curries.
- A fine ingredient for baking, they find their way into breads, muffins, bagels, pancakes, crepes, frittatas, tarts, and quiches, too.
- Summer squash can also be preserved, canned and pickled, or made into chutney, jam, jelly or marmalade.
- Frozen, it maintains its antioxidant properties very well. Par-steam sliced pieces for three minutes before freezing in a single layer on a baking sheet. When frozen, seal in airtight containers for up to three months.
11 Tasty Ideas
1. For an appetizer, cut zucchini into thin rounds and top your favorite ingredient pairings: pesto and feta, sun-dried tomatoes and goat cheese, or pecans and blue cheese are good choices. And of course, stuffing the fruit is always a great treat and it has visual appeal for those special meals.
3. Grilled as a side dish, these green vegetables add taste and color to barbecues:
- Cut in half lengthwise, then cut each half lengthwise into equal slices.
- Brush both sides with an herbed vinaigrette and grill for about four minutes.
- Turn, grill on the other size for two minutes, then sprinkle with shredded Parmesan cheese and grill another few minutes, or until the cheese is golden.
4. Make a serving of deep-fried zucchini fries for a crunchy and tasty snack or side dish.
5. Make a batch of zesty marmalade if you’ve got a surplus – try it with just citrus alone, or add some heat with hot peppers and ginger.
It has a rich, tangy taste and doubles as a great gift, so make enough for family and friends.
6. A tangy chutney is another savory option. Add cubed courgettes, tart apple and pimentos to your favorite recipe for a sweet and savory relish.
7. Juice some zucchini with apples, celery, carrots, beets and ginger plus a dash of hot sauce and seasonings for a refreshing and energizing drink – superb served over ice on a hot summer day.
8. Bake it casserole-style, sliced and arranged in layers with tomatoes, eggplant and sweet onion, then topped with panko breadcrumbs for a vegetarian entrée or side dish.
9. Make a pizza topped with thin slices of zucchini, asparagus, sweet onion, artichoke, and slivers of Asiago cheese for a healthy snack or light summer meal.
10. Bake up a vegetarian zucchini lasagna with other garden fresh goodies like spinach, corn, carrots, onions, green beans and basil. Add layers of noodles and cottage cheese, and top with Parmesan for a tasty, meatless meal.
11. And of course, no recipe list would be complete without zucchini bread. Easy to make and always moist, double up and make a few batches for the freezer, or prepare muffins for snacks and lunch boxes.
That’s the end of our look at the marvelous zucchini.
Keep an eye out for fresh squash in your neighborhood farmers market, grocery store or garden this summer, and try some of our ideas for different ways to enjoy its goodness.
The staff at Foodal are not medical professionals and this article should not be construed as medical advice. Foodal and Ask the Experts, LLC assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet.
Photo credits: Shutterstock.
About Lorna Kring
Recently retired as a costume specialist in the TV and film industry, Lorna now enjoys blogging on contemporary lifestyle themes. A bit daft about the garden, she’s particularly obsessed with organic tomatoes and herbs, and delights in breaking bread with family and friends.