What Is Zucchini?

Examining the green machine of the late summer garden

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

The hot months of summer are when your garden will be vibrant and alive with all kinds of fruits and vegetables: bright, firm tomatoes; deep purple eggplants; and sweet raspberries. There's probably one squash in there that, literally, overshadows many of the smaller plants nearby, with its beautiful blossoms and massive leaves: the zucchini

The origins of zucchini date back to ancient Central and South America in 5500 B.C., but it was in 19th-century Italy that zucchini was widely cultivated. The word “zucca” is Italian for squash. In other parts of the world, it’s known as courgette, coming from the French word for zucchini, “courge.” Along with several other new foods, it was introduced to the United States through Italian immigrants who arrived in the 1920s.

While it resembles another prolific garden vegetable, the cucumber, zucchini are actually a type of summer squash, so named because of when they are predominantly harvested. As soon as you cut one open, you can see that they’re more closely related to the yellow crookneck or pattypan squash than the cucumber. Take a look and observe the firm flesh; this is a hearty and versatile veggie meant for grilling, sautéing, and frying.

A wide range of zucchini dishes can be found the world over, both savory and sweet. If you’re looking for a simple vegetable dish, you can grill or sauté the zucchini with some olive oil in a matter of minutes. You can shred the zucchini and incorporate them into a pan-fried pancake. Sliced on a mandolin, zucchini is a major component in the famous French stew ratatouille. Feel like making a sweet snack, but don’t have any ripe bananas on hand? Zucchini is so adaptable, you can make chocolate zucchini bread!

Perhaps the only thing as iconic as the zucchini itself is its flower. They are picked when the zucchini is young and immature, and at its most tender, and used in all manner of ways in the kitchen. Zucchini blossoms, fried or lightly cooked and stuffed with ricotta cheese, are a beautiful and delicious accompaniment to an Italian dish, and they can be used au naturel as a garnish.

If the summer months have left you bored with one too many barbecue meals, next time throw some zucchini into the mix. As a summer squash, it’s best to have them with other summer fruits and vegetables and to take advantage of them when they’re at their finest — when they’re young and small. It’s hard to go wrong, though, with such a multipurpose food. Just don’t let them totally overtake your garden!

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