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Italian Green Squash, I Mean Zucchini, Anyone?

Story and Photos by Dennis Nanni

As recently as thirty years ago, our beloved zucchini was usually called Italian green squash, and was little known in the United States. Today, it is not only widely recognized, but a particular favorite of home gardeners, due in large part to being easy to grow and to its culinary versatility. If you don't have zucchini growing in your garden, visit your local farmers' market for the freshest and the best. You will often find organic offerings, plus unique varieties, from the spring through summer and fall.

Here in the South, zucchini and yellow squash season is like winning the vegetable lottery-or hitting the jackpot! Fortunately, this famously abundant crop comes with countless tasty preparation possibilities.

The Story of Zucchini

"Here in the South, zucchini and yellow squash season is like winning the vegetable lottery-or hitting the jackpot!"

European explorers in the Americas brought back what they considered to be strange foods. Christopher Columbus brought seeds to the Mediterranean region and Africa. The zucchini we know today is a variety of summer squash developed in Italy; the word comes from the Italian zucchino, meaning a small squash. Many names have been given to this squash. The French call it courgette, a name that has been adopted by the English. The English also refer to a variety that is slightly larger and plumper as marrow. In New England the colonists adopted the name squash, a word derived from the Native American word for the vegetable skutasquash meaning "green thing eaten green," or "something eaten raw." George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were both squash enthusiasts who enjoyed growing them.

Zucchinis are the tender, sweet, immature fruit of the curcurbita pepo, which is eaten in its entirety. If left on the vine or bush too long the fruit becomes enormous (and sometimes inedible), the flavor loses its sweetness, and the seeds get larger and tougher. So if you're growing squash, don't leave it on the vine too long. (Although it seems the squash that grow too large for most dishes become Zucchini bread.)

Cocozelle, a variety of zucchini that originated in Italy, is shorter, plumper, and striped. I've personally grown this variety and it is one of my favorites. Today's farmers are developing hybrids that are a visual delight. Some are round, some are yellow, some are a combination. I've grown these also and they are beautiful as well as delicious. Some are a cross between zucchini and the fluted patty pan squash.

Zucchini/Yellow Squash Tips

Handle zucchini/yellow squash with care, as they are easily damaged.

Look for a moist and slightly prickly stem end and shiny skin as indicators of freshness. Ideally, green zucchini should be no more than 6 inches long and one to two inches in diameter, with firm skin free of cuts or bruises and at least one inch of stem still attached.

Store zucchini in a plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper drawer four to five days and do not wash until just before you are ready to use. (In general, most fresh market vegetables shouldn't be washed until you are ready to use them; washing removes enzymes that preserve and keep them fresh.) At the first sign of wilting, use immediately. Softness is a sign of deterioration.

Cooked zucchini should be covered and refrigerated up to two days.

To freeze, slice zucchini into rounds, blanch for two minutes, plunge into cold water, drain, and seal in airtight containers or baggies. Frozen zucchini can be kept for ten to twelve months.

Zucchini and yellow squash can also be stored by canning or pickling. Pickled squash is unique and tasty.

Baby fingerling zucchini is a popular new item in the markets as well as with home gardeners who have the luxury of picking them at any time. Fingerlings can be steamed, sautéed, or pickled whole.

Another favorite with home gardeners are zucchini blossoms, stuffed or not, dipped in egg, spices, and flour, and fried golden. Picking the flowers actually encourages more fruit. Some markets are now carrying squash blossoms, often with a tiny zucchini attached. Look for bright, perky flowers with no wilting. Flowers should be sprinkled with water, wrapped gently in paper towels, and refrigerated. Use as quickly as possible.

Dietary Facts: Like Zucchini or Yellow Squash? Enjoy Guilt-Free!

With their high water content (more than 95 percent), zucchini squash are very low in calories. There are only 13 calories in a half-cup of raw zucchini, and 18 calories in a half-cup cooked zucchini. Nutritionally, zucchinis offer valuable antioxidants. They also provide some beta-carotene, trace quantities of the B vitamins, folic acid, small amounts of vitamin C and calcium, and a healthy amount of potassium.

* Recipes & Preps:

Now that you know some of the history and uses of squash, here comes
the good part: recipes and preparations. Some take very little time to
prepare, a great boon for today's family's busy schedules.
Raw:

Cut zucchinis into strips and include them in a platter of crudités.

Shred them into salads.

Prepare a salad from shredded zucchini and shredded carrots; add a dressing and enjoy.

Dice them and add to a chopped salad.

Puree in the blender with a little water, and add seasoning to create a sauce

Mix squashes of various colors for an attractive presentation of bright yellow paired with light and dark green.

Cooked:

Zucchini can be steamed, boiled, baked, fried, and stuffed.

Steamed: With their high water content, they can be cooked without water in a pot with a tight fitting lid. Otherwise, steam them in a small amount of water, about ¼" in the bottom of the pot, for 3 to 5 minutes.

Baked: Slice zucchini, chop onions, shred carrots, chop peppers, chop tomatoes. Layer the vegetables in a casserole with seasonings and herbs. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes.

Stuffed: Core out the centers of each squash (Middle Eastern delis have a special tool for this or use an apple corer). Chop onions, mushrooms, peppers, tofu, and tomatoes. Add seasonings and stuff. Bake covered in a casserole with tomato sauce at 350 degrees for about 45 to 60 minutes.

Grilled: Zucchinia is great on the grill as a shish-kebab with mushrooms, onions, and peppers. You can add beef, chicken, or fish, if desired. Another delicious way to grill squash is slice them in half, baste with olive oil and sprinkle with fresh herbs such as basil, oregano and parsley. For added zest sprinkle on some chili pepper or finely chopped fresh jalapenos.

Zucchini/Yellow Squash Veggie Pizza (No Sauce):

Start out with homemade pizza dough or pizza dough pre-made from the grocery store. There are several choices of frozen or pre-packaged dough, including whole wheat or gluten-free. If using a wheat crust, whole wheat is the healthiest. The taste is full and bold.

According to the size of your crust, slice one or two squash into thin slices (you can mix it up with a green and a yellow for color). If the squash are wider then ½ inch, cut in half first, then make your slices. Add other toppings to taste: fresh herbs parsley, oregano, basil, olives, onion, mushrooms, and your choice of peppers, such as red, green, and jalapeno. And of course, 2 - 4 cups of grated Italian pizza cheese, plus ½ cup of parmesan cheese. For a lighter, more delicate pizza, use feta cheese. If you're lactose intolerant you can use goat cheese.

I always put the fresh herbs on the crust first, then about ¾ of the cheese, reserving the rest to sprinkle between the layers of vegetables. Lay the slices of squash on top of the cheese, add the onions and mushrooms, then a thin sprinkle of cheese. Next, add the peppers you have chosen and the olives. If you like, you can also add some more fresh herbs, then top off with another sprinkle of cheese.

Bake in a pre-heated oven between 415 degrees - 425 degrees for approximately 15 minutes (according to how well done you like your pizza). I always remove mine from the oven when the cheese is golden brown around the edges. One extra benefit to this type of pizza-it's a great way to get the kids to eat their vegetables!



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Here are two versions of a chilled zucchini soup, one cooked, the other raw.

Zesty Chilled Zucchini Soup
Serves 6


1 head of roasted garlic
4 medium zucchinis, sliced ¼' thick
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
3 cups water
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon salt
4 - 5 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce or to taste
1/4 ripe avocado, diced
1 - 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro or parsley

To roast garlic: Peel off outer layers of excess skin leaving only the cloves covered and still attached to the root. Cover with aluminum foil, shiny side inside, and place on a baking dish. Roast at 375 degrees for 1 hour. While the garlic is roasting, prepare remaining ingredients. When the garlic is finished roasting, remove from oven, unwrap carefully, and cool slightly. Set aside.

1.Put zucchini, onion, water, and salt into a 4 - 6 quart saucepan and cover. Bring to a boil over high heat. Turn heat down to medium and cook until soft, about 7 - 8 minutes.

2.Cool slightly and pour into a blender, and blend until smooth.

3.Add pepper, lemon juice, salt, and Worcestershire sauce to blender. Break off individual cloves of roasted garlic, and squeeze out each one into the blender. Blend until smooth, and adjust seasonings to taste. Pour into a refrigerator container or serving bowl. Chill thoroughly.

4.Before serving, garnish each bowl with a few pieces of diced avocado and a pinch or two of chopped cilantro or parsley.

Zucchini Summer Soup (Raw)
Serves 6


1 - 2 cloves garlic
4 medium zucchini, cut in half lengthwise, then into ½ inch slices
1 large onion coarsely cut into chunks
3 cups water
1 ½ teaspoons salt or to taste
5 tablespoons lemon juice or half lemon and half lime juice
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
¼ ripe avocado, diced
1 - 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1.Put half the garlic, zucchini, onion, and water into blender and puree completely. Pour into tureen or large bowl.

2.Add remaining ingredients to blender and puree completely. Pour into tureen and adjust seasoning if needed.

3.Chill or enjoy immediately with garnish of avocado and cilantro.

Zucchini Bread
Prep Time: 20 Minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
(Ready in about 1 hour and 40 minutes)
Yield: 2 loaves

3 cups organic all purpose flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 teaspoons organic ground cinnamon
3 organic eggs
1 cup organic vegetable oil
2 ¼ cups organic raw sugar
3 teaspoons organic vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini (preferably organic and fresh)
1 cup fresh chopped walnuts

1.Grease and flour two 8" x 4" pans.

2.Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.

3.Sift flour, baking powder and cinnamon in a bowl.

4.Beat eggs, oil vanilla and sugar together in a large bowl.

5.Add sifted ingredients to the beaten mixture and beat well.

6.Stir in zucchini and nuts until well combined.

7.Pour batter into prepared pans.

8.Bake 40 - 60 minutes or until test toothpick in center comes out clean.

9.Cool in the pan or on rack for 20 minutes.

10.Remove bread from pan and cool.

There you have it-the total Zucchini/Yellow Squash experience. Well, maybe not total. As we've learned, it is an ongoing journey. Italian green squash, I mean zucchini, anyone?


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