What's In Season: Zucchini
It seems to be a summer ritual -- that anyone with a backyard garden plants zucchini and then laments its overrun harvest. And is there an office in any city in America that doesn’t have an occasional Monday morning bounty of extra zucchini, harvested over the weekend and left for the taking in the communal lunchroom?
We also find them in our CSA shares and filling the bins of our summer farmers' markets. For most of the summer growing season, zucchini are bountiful, cheap, and the season is among the longest of our summer vegetables.
A few zucchini facts:
- Zucchini is grown all over the world and used in dozens of cuisines.
- Russ Parsons in How To Pick A Peach documents how it's a 20th century vegetable that is a variety of an Italian squash. Zucchini most likely made its way to the U.S. with the help of Italian immigrants who brought it to California after World War I.
- The difference between summer squash and zucchini? A zucchini is a type of summer squash of which there are more than 300 varieties. Of these many different types, including the commonly found yellow squash, zucchini has more flavor, which is probably why it's more popular.
- Zucchini grows exuberantly in milder climates. This helps to explain the bounty from summer gardeners throughout the northern U.S. climates.
- Other names for zucchini include courgette (French) and vegetable marrow (British).
- It's low in calories (about 48 calories in a cup), has zero fat, and contains some fiber, vitamin A, and lots of vitamin C.
How To Buy and Store Zucchini
- Buy smaller ones. Just because, if left to grow, zucchini can become the size of pumpkins and resemble giant, green baseball bats, doesn't mean bigger tastes better. As they grow bigger, zucchini's center becomes soft and spongy and the seeds are more evident. So instead choose smaller.
- Look for firm, glossy, and mark-free zucchini that are uniform in shape and less than 8 to 10 inches in length.
- Light scratches on the skin are fine but avoid any flabby or pitted textures.
- Store zucchini in your refrigerator, ideally in a plastic bag.
- Wash zucchini just before you use it. As with many fresh vegetables (aside from salad greens), washing zucchini before storing it can hasten its spoilage because any errant moisture can cause rot to set in.
- Fresh zucchini should stay nicely fresh in your refrigerator for about a week.
Cooking With Zucchini
- Before cooking, rinse and dry the zucchini and trim off and discard the neck and base.
- Zucchini is not usually peeled. Just use a paring knife to remove any marks or signs of damage and leave on the rest of the skin.
- Zucchini is an excellent flavor match with tomatoes, eggplant, garlic, mint, onion, oregano, basil, and thyme.
- Because the spongy flesh is high in moisture, zucchini soften quickly when cooked.
- Zucchini blossoms are perishable, fragile delicacies that can be dipped in a batter and with, or without a cheese or prosciutto stuffing, then deep-fried until completely crispy.
- Baby zucchini are increasingly easy to find. About the size of an adult's index finger, they are simple to steam or else slice into thin coins and added, raw, to a salad.
- A popular French use of zucchini is in ratatouille, a Provençal mixture of zucchini, eggplant and tomato, stewed together and flavored with garlic, onions and thyme. Some recipes call for cooking all the ingredients separately and then combining together; others have everything cooked together from the start. Ratatouille is a classic companion to roast lamb.
- For a simpler but similar way of cooking zucchini, do a quick sauté with minced red onion, garlic and thyme. See our recipe.
- In Italy zucchini is a popular ingredient for room temperature vegetable antipasto when it's simply cooked in olive oil until the edges are slightly brown.
- Pan-fried zucchini added to pasta is regularly found on menus of restaurants all over Italy and is an alternative to red sauce pastas. See our recipe.
- Steam or microwave zucchini that have been cut into wedges or thick slices. Take care to not overcook so to make them mushy. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil, a pinch of salt, and generous amounts of black pepper.
- Sauté slices of zucchini with finely minced shallots and garlic until the zucchini is soft and begins to brown. Add chopped canned tomatoes and simmer for 10 minutes to create a sauce for pasta.
- An easy yet special-enough-for-company way to cook zucchini is to grate it on the large holes of a box grater or with the grating disc of your food processor. A quick toss in a hot pan with butter makes the zucchini luxurious. See our link below to Michael Ruhlman's recipe.
- Zucchini can be the main ingredient in fritters or pancakes, adding appetizing green color and complex flavor.
- Add paper-thin slices of raw zucchini to a salad. If this is your plan, be sure to choose smaller, firm zucchini.
- A childhood favorite was my mother's zucchini bread. I preferred it to banana bread, which I thought a bit too sweet. I think this recipe helped confirm me as a kid who'd eat vegetables in any way I could get them. See our link to the recipe.
So the next time a co-worker brings a bag of excess zucchini to the office, grab a few extras. It's more versatile than you may think.