Zucchini is an ultra versatile vegetable. Read on for everything you need to know about the beloved summer bumper crop, including how to select, store and prepare it; what to do with an oversized zucchini; and more.
What is zucchini?
Zucchini is part of the squash family along with cucumbers, melons, and pumpkins (all of which are fruits, botanically speaking, but considered vegetables in terms of culinary use). They are classified as summer squash because they are harvested before they are fully ripe, when their skins are thin and tender and their seeds are small and edible. Yellow or crookneck squash — which has a bulbous base and a thin, sometimes curved neck — is another summer squash cultivar and is commonly grown and sold with zucchini.
The word zucchini comes from the Italian zucchini, which means “little gourd”. North Americans adopted the word for the squash cultivar, which was first developed in Italy in the 19th century. The cooks of the British Isles appropriated the French word, zucchini, for vegetables. They also have a separate term for a ripe zucchini: marrow. (Kate Middleton made marrow jam for the Queen the first time she spent Christmas with the Royal Family.)
Types of zucchini
Dark green elongated zucchini varieties are probably the most familiar to cooks. Zucchini can also be jade green, lemon yellow, striped, bulbous or round. Round zucchini varieties are especially good for stuffing.
How to cook with zucchini
Zucchini sometimes gets a bad rap as a bland or watery vegetable. In truth, it has a delicate, herbal taste that holds up surprisingly well when paired with bold, spicy flavors. Plus, the tender flesh of zucchini pairs well with everything from raw salads to simmered stews.
Use sliced or diced raw zucchini the same way you would use cucumber in salads and sushi. (Zucchini won’t be as juicy as cucumber, but will give dishes a similar crunch.) Spiralize larger specimens to make “zoodles” for salads or Zoodle Rolls or shave lengthwise for a zucchini ribbon salad.
Add sliced or diced zucchini to a vegetable stir-fry or stir-fry, or fry zucchini slices or cubes in a skillet with garlic and/or onions for 5-6 minutes for a side dish. light and easy accompaniment. Quickly cook zucchini noodles in a large skillet for a vegetarian alternative to pasta.
When using zucchini in a roasted vegetable recipe or threading chunks onto skewers, pair them with other vegetables that cook at the same time. Onions, eggplant, tomatoes and mushrooms, as in our Grilled Squash and Fresh Herb Mushrooms, are all good choices.
To roast or grill single zucchini: Cut small zucchini in half lengthwise or cut larger specimens into ½-inch-thick planks or pieces. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, sprinkle with your favorite seasonings and roast in 400°F oven for 30-35 minutes, or until golden brown and tender, turning once. Alternatively, you can cook the zucchini on a grill for 5 to 8 minutes. Long slabs can go straight on the grill; rounds work best in a grill basket that keeps them from falling through the grates.
Ratatouille wouldn’t be ratatouille without zucchini, and for good reason. The zucchini becomes velvety and melting and absorbs all the flavors of soups and savory stews.
We couldn’t have a zucchini article without mentioning our Zecret Vegan Zucchini Bread. He calls for avocado with grated zucchini to keep the treat moist and tender. Baked donuts are another great use for shredded zucchini.
Make a batch of zucchini fries by cooking pieces or strips in an air fryer 18-20 minutes at 400°F, shaking once or twice during cooking time.
How to choose and store zucchini
When shopping for zucchini, look for brightly colored vegetables with stems that don’t look woody or dry. Squeeze each vegetable to make sure it’s firm. Go for small to medium-sized specimens, no taller than 8 inches and weighing no more than ½ pound. Bigger zucchini means bigger seeds and thicker skin, which can be tough or bitter.
Zucchini will keep for up to 3 days at room temperature. In the refrigerator, zucchini will keep for 1 to 2 weeks in a paper bag or a dry, airy container.
Due to the high moisture content of zucchini, they should be blanched or cooked before freezing.
What to do with oversized zucchini
On the vine, zucchini can grow up to 2 inches in 24 hours, which means they can go from tiny and tender to big and squash-like in a matter of days. As zucchini grows larger, they look more like their other squash relatives with tougher skin, larger seeds, and more spongy flesh. Once the zucchini has reached this state, treat them like winter squash by peeling and seeding them before adding them to recipes.
When to peel
The only time you should peel zucchini is if they are very large (see above) or if they have developed a bitter taste during storage. Otherwise, the skin gives zucchini dishes additional color, flavor and nutrients.
How to prepare zucchini flowers / zucchini flowers
Bright yellow zucchini blossoms, aka squash blossoms, are an added bonus in a vegetable garden and a hot gourmet dish in restaurants. Try filling them with a creamy dip and serving them as an appetizer or slicing them lengthwise to add to salads. They also make a fabulous decoration for a festive sourdough focaccia. Learn more about cooking with squash blossoms here.
A medium zucchini contains nearly 2 grams of fiber and is a good source of folate, potassium, and vitamin A. At just 33 calories, this medium zucchini is nutrient-dense but not calorie-dense.
Our favorite ways to eat zucchini
Ready to cook? Check out our 24 best vegan zucchini recipes, from breads to soups to salads.
For more tips on healthy cooking, check out Meal Planner Forks, FOK’s easy weekly meal planning tool to keep you on the plant track. To learn more about a whole plant-based diet, visit our herbal primer.
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