My first awareness of zucchini came from the onslaught of the dark green squash given to us by a friend of the family. It came home in boxes and bags — there was no end to it, and it ranged from diminutive green fingerlings to the size of baby whales.
My parents rarely grew zucchini, because I believe they had the understanding that once cultivated, there would be more than plenty. But they also didn’t refuse the giveaways. My mother sliced and fried the more reasonably proportioned squash, and we were happy to gobble up platters of these like potato chips. But the big ones, what to do?
When it was discovered these behemoths could be grated and added to the most deliciously moist, sweet bread, I was completely on board. As a young girl with summer boredom on the lookout for baking projects, I made zucchini bread at an early age. Quick breads are an easy beginner recipe, and the mild-flavored zucchini, with its green flecks of moisture offering a subtle presence, enabled me to say I made something with a vegetable in it.
But beyond the bread, as each summer brings another reminder of the bounty of zucchini, we know now of all its recipe possibilities. National Zucchini Day falls on Aug. 8, so it’s time to celebrate zucchini’s versatility, from its green-and-white flesh to its golden blossoms, now more readily available in stores and markets, waiting to be stuffed and fried.
Raw zucchini adds crisp dimensions to salads or even readiness for dipping next to celery and carrots on the crudité platter; grilled lengths of sliced zucchini, charred and buttery and sprinkled with desired seasonings are a welcome summer side for any meal; zucchini can be baked, whether sliced and roasted along with other vegetables in a tian, or stuffed with Italian sausage or fillings of ground beef, turkey or chicken, turning those “baby whale” proportioned zucchini into edible boats.
Zucchini has become ever more popular as a pasta stand-in (the term “zoodles” now gets bandied about) in a range of widths, from wide and flat for zucchini lasagna or roll-ups to “spiralized” strands as a spaghetti substitute. Its tender, but sturdy structure makes zucchini a natural in these types of dishes.
Zucchini’s mild flavor and ability to softly melt into baked goods, adding moistness, has it finding a place in not just bread and muffins, but cornbread, pancakes, cookies, brownies and cakes, among those recipes featured in Cynthia Graubart’s “Zucchini Love: 43 Garden-Fresh Recipes for Salads, Soups, Breads Lasagnas, Stir-Fries, and More” (Storey Publishing; 2023).
In addition to including a wide array of recipes, Graubart’s book is full of interesting zucchini facts, one being that the zucchini falls into that category of vegetable “fruits,” and its name comes from the Italian word for squash — “zucca.” Zucchini, aside from being high in fiber, along with vitamins A, B and C, contains a banana-rivaling amount of potassium.
When picking out zucchini, Graubart advises, veer toward the younger and smaller in size, as their skins are the most tender. Fresh zucchini can be stored in plastic bags in the refrigerator for three days or more. According to Graubart, you can also shred zucchini and freeze it in freezer bags by the cup for use in recipes.
The whole to-drain-or not-to-drain conundrum with zucchini depends on the recipe. Valued for its moisture, shredded zucchini in breads and other recipes does not necessarily need to have the liquid removed, although Graubart writes that you can spread the shredded zucchini on a clean dish towel, roll it up and gently press out extra moisture as needed. For some recipes, slicing and salting and allowing the water to leech out, is recommended, while other recipes skip this process in order to keep the zucchini’s structure without it deflating some as the moisture is removed.
Zucchini offers something for everyone, from the salad-lover to the sweet tooth. So celebrate the height of summer bounty, whether you purchase some fresh zucchini or inherit some (aka take it off the hands of a friend).
Rebecca Howard grew up in Kansas and currently writes the food blog, “A Woman Sconed.”Spaghetti con Zucchine alla Nerano Zucchini Cornbread Zucchini Ricotta Pancakes Zucchini Salad