Last week I received a request for zucchini bread. I’m not sure why; it’s not like I have infamous zucchini bread skills or anything. In fact, I’ve never even eaten it, let alone made it. This made it quite difficult. When I finished baking it, I thought, well it tastes good, but does it taste right? I’m guessing that all was well because it disappeared quite quickly.
I’ve been wanting to try out a few zucchini recipes lately, so I’ve spent this week sleuthing zucchini.
Zucchini is actually part of the “Summer Squash” family that includes a few different variety of squashes, like Pattypan and Crookneck. Zucchini skin can be green or yellow, and possibly speckled. The flesh is white.
It is also known as the courgette. Zucchini is the more common name in North America, Australia, Germany and Italy, while courgette is more commonly used in Britain, New Zealand, Ireland, France, the Netherlands, Portugal and South Africa.
“Zucca” is the Italian word for squash, becoming “zucchine” in the plural. The alternate name courgette is from the French “courge”, French for squash. Ironically, ‘Zucchini’ is plural in Italian whereas in English it is singular.
Zucchini is incorrectly regarded as a vegetable, when in fact, it is a fruit. It is the swollen ovary of the flower of the zucchini plant.
The flower of the zucchini plant is also edible, and apparently makes a great garnish for salads and side dishes. Check out the fried zucchini flower salad!
Where is it Grown?
Modern-day squash developed from the wild squash that originated in an area between Guatemala and Mexico, over 10,000 years ago. As time progressed, squash cultivation spread throughout the Americas, and varieties with a greater quantity of sweeter-tasting flesh were developed. Christopher Columbus brought squash back to Europe from the New World, and like other native American foods, their cultivation was introduced throughout the world by Portuguese and Spanish explorers. Today, the largest commercial producers of squash include China, Japan, Romania, Turkey, Italy, Egypt, and Argentina. In the United States, California, of course, is the main grower.
Can I Grow Them at Home?
Absolutely! Zucchini can be started anytime from when the danger of frost has passed, until mid-summer. For the “real” gardener, start with seeds. Because the taproot of the plant is very easily damaged, most “experts” recommend starting with seeds. Of course, hybrid and genetically modified plants that have made to be stronger do exist.
Plant seeds in 1″ deep, and about 2′ apart. Put 2-3 seeds in each hole, but after sprouting occurs, pull up 1-2 of the sprouts so that only one remains. (Plant 2-3 to ensure you get at least one in case of rot, or other non-sprouting issues.) Seedlings can be started indoors before the planting season, or outdoors.
Water to a depth of 6″, and water 1-2 times per week to maintain.
It takes about 14 days for seeds to begin sprouting. About 4 weeks later, plants will begin flowering. Then, zucchini grow rapidly; especially in hot weather and are usually ready to pick within 4 to 8 days after flowering. Be sure to pick zucchini that are 2 inches or less in diameter and 6 to 8 inches long. The larger they get, the harder and tougher they are.
Zucchini plants produce both male and female blossoms. They must have a little “bedroom action” to produce fruit. If you’re worried that bees or other insects won’t get the pollination work done, you can hand pollinate. This site has some great tips on hand pollination. Just look at yourself as a little artificial inseminator.
Can you guess the male from the female?
I’ve also found that folks in apartments are having success growing zucchini in containers. Of course, a larger pot is needed for success. So, I guess I no logner have an excuse to let my lack of garden keep me from having a garden.
When is it in Season?
Though available year round due to mass production and cultivation, the peak times for organic zucchini is May-July.
Storage and Shelf-Life
When selecting zucchini from the store, choose ones that feel heavy, but are not too large. Large zucchinis are too fibrous, yet at the same time, smaller ones will not have great flavor. Their rinds should be shiny and have no blemishes or indentations.
Store them in the fridge for up to 7 days. Freezing isn’t really recommended, as they turn more to mush than anything tasty.
Umm…Why Should I Care?
Like all fruits, zucchini contains all sorts of good nutrients that help the body stay healthy. Surprisingly, zucchini is high in beta carotene–that’s right, it doesn’t just come from orange carrots. Notably, squash has been shown to help men with enlarged prostate problems. Also, with only 16 calories per cup of raw zucchini, it makes an excellent low calorie snack or addition to any meal. The high water content and fiber will also leave you feeling fuller, for only the low, low price of 16 calories.
Zucchini Oven Chips–these look like a fun alternative to potato chips or oven baked fries.
Looking for an alternative to pasta? Pasta can wreak severe habit on diets, for diabetics, and those who are trying to stay low on the glycemic index. Enter zucchini pasta. Fear not! I was skeptical, but at a conference last Fall, vegetarian lasagna with zucchini pasta was served. To everyone’s delight, it was delish!
Minus the onions, this stuffed zucchini recipe may make it onto my menu next week.
And of course, there is the famous zucchini bread recipe.