Although zucchini is one of the most familiar and beloved of the summer squashes - which include yellow summer squash (a form of zucchini), crookneck, and pattypan - it seems to take over the late-summer garden more than other vegetables.
This abundance of zucchini is overwhelming for some home cooks. How often can you eat zucchini, you might ask? What will I do with this bumper crop?
Luckily, the mild vegetable is endlessly versatile.
The best zucchini are small with bright green skin, measure from four to eight inches in length and are no more than two inches around. But by this time of year, some gardens sport gigantic squash.
Try to pick and eat the smaller squash. The largest, which can be as long as two feet, are not much good for cooking. They are stringy and tasteless with large seeds and are more of a novelty than anything else.
Once you pick zucchini, eat it within five days. Until then, store it in the refrigerator.
It's good raw in salads or you can cook it.
Every part of the summer squash is edible. They do not need peeling and while you might want to discard the seeds of larger specimens, the seeds are fine to eat.
Zucchini lends itself to being sliced and layered in casseroles with other ingredients such as cheese, onions, herbs, ground meat, and tomatoes. These casseroles can be main course dishes or side dishes.
It can be steamed with herbs or sautéed in butter and wine and served alongside fish, chicken, or red meat.
Toss chopped raw zucchini with hot pasta. Add salt and chopped herbs, a slug of olive oil and you have a quick, simple supper.
Zucchini is also great grilled. Slice it lengthwise, season it with salt and pepper and a little oil and then lay it on a hot grill. It takes only minutes to cook.
If you're in the mood for deep frying, slice zucchini into thick rounds, dredge with flour and fresh herbs, and then deep fry in 350°F vegetable oil, such as peanut or safflower. Lift the crispy slices from the oil when they are lightly browned, drain on paper towels, and sprinkle with salt. Delicious!
Large zucchini - those that are 10 to 12 inches long - do well stuffed and baked. Slice them in half lengthwise, discard the seeds and scoop out the flesh. Mix the chopped flesh with other ingredients such as bread crumbs, rice, cheese, mushrooms, tomatoes, ground meat, or chopped chicken.
Spoon the filling back into the zucchini shells and bake them, covered with foil, in a roasting pan. Add a little water, broth, or wine to the roasting pan for moist baking.
Bake the stuffed squash until the filling is heated through and any veggies or meat are tender. This can take up to an hour. Remove the foil during the last 10 minutes or so of baking so that the filling browns and crisps.
Baking with Zucchini
Zucchini bread, muffins, and snack cakes are delicious. The vegetable adds subtle flavor and delectable moisture to the baked goods.
For baking, scrape out the seeds from large zucchiniand then grate it. If the squash is small, grate the entire vegetable after trimming the ends. To do so, use a hand grater or the food processor.
Mix the grated zucchini with other quick bread ingredients and bake marvelous breads and muffins.
Grated zucchini is also delicious stirred into pancake batter. It adds body and mild flavor - and no one will guess the griddle cakes are full of vitamins A and C.
Once you bring zucchini into the kitchen, you'll find numerous uses. It does not have strong flavor but it's moisture and its body make it the perfect foil for other, bolder ingredients.
Don't let a bumper crop overwhelm you. What a wonderful opportunity!