The Abundant Zucchini

Gardening on the North Shore can be a challenge, but one vegetable you can count on in abundance is the bountiful zucchini. Technically a fruit, although used primarily in savory dishes like a vegetable, the zucchini finds its origins in the Americas. This can be misleading as the zucchini we all grow or purchase in our grocery stores is actually a cultivated variety founded in Italy. The zucchini is a member of the Cucurbita family, which includes pumpkins, winter squash and all other varieties of summer squash. The Cucurbita family of squash grew in wild abundance and variety throughout the Americas as far back as 7,000 years ago. A mainstay to the Native American diet, it was introduced to the European settlers and became readily adopted sustenance. Many explorers and settlers made the mistake of calling it a melon, as squash was unknown in Europe at that time. In the 1800s in northern Italy, Italian immigrants to the Americas brought back these wild squash and developed it into the zucchini we currently recognize. It was only around the 1920s that this zucchini cultivar was reintroduced back to the Americas and began large production in California. By 1928, there were records of over 60 zucchini varieties growing in the U.S.

Now prolific around the world, the zucchini goes by many names. The original English word for squash is derived from the Narragansett (a tribe known to reside in what is currently Massachusetts) word askutasquash, which means “eaten when raw or green.” The term zucchini we know today was derived from the Italian word zucchina, from the diminutive zucca, which means “gourd, marrow, pumpkin, squash.” In France, Belgium and throughout the Scandinavian countries, the zucchini is known as a courgette, derived from the French diminutive courge, which means “gourd, marrow.” In the U.K., New Zealand and Ireland, they refer to a courgette as a marrow. In South Africa, the zucchini is harvested when finger-sized and called baby marrows.

Members of the Cucurbita family can be divided into two groups: summer and winter squash. The zucchini would be considered of the summer squash variety in that it has thinner skin and does not store well. In contrast, the winter squash has a long growing season, tougher skin and storable. There are many varieties of summer squash. The zucchini variety alone comes in yellow, striped and dark green cultivars. You can also find round, patty pan and crooked neck varieties. When shopping for zucchini, you want to purchase them around 6-8 inches in length. They store well in your refrigerator for 3-5 days. Nutritionally, the zucchini is low in calories and high in folate, vitamin A, potassium and vitamin C. They are also a great source of antioxidants and fiber.

Zucchini love to grow in temperate environments. Just give them enough sun and space and you will reap the benefits of this abundant crop. They prefer light, well-drained soil, so it is ideal to plant seeds a week after the chance of frost has past, in mounds, spaced approximately 3 feet apart. Zucchini need bees to produce fruit; if you notice female flowers shriveling up and dropping off, this is typically because they were under fertilized. You can self-pollinate by taking a small paint brush to collect pollen from the male flowers and transferring to the female flowers. Although all summer squash enjoy temperate climates, they are very sensitive to cold, so plan to lose your crop when that first frost looms. Production will begin mid to late summer and will be quite prolific. If conditions are correct you can expect to be overrun with zucchini. Don’t forget, August 8 is Leave a Zucchini on Your Neighbors Porch Day.

Adapted from the cookbook From Asparagus to Zucchini: A Guide to Farm-Fresh, Seasonal Produce.

  • 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 ½ cups zucchini, grated
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • ½ cup oil
  • 1 cup toasted walnuts or pecans, chopped

Serves 4

  • 8-12 flour tortillas
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 zucchini, halved lengthwise then sliced
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup sliced or slivered almonds
  • 3 cups Monterey jack cheese, shredded
  • Salt and pepper
  • ½ teaspoon red chili pepper flakes
  • ¼ cup cilantro, chopped

Topping:

  • 2 avocados
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • Juice of one lemon
  • Ground pepper

For topping: blend all ingredients until smooth.

Place tortilla on a lightly oiled hot griddle or skillet. On one half of the tortilla add ¼ cup zucchini mixture and top with 2 tablespoons grated cheese. Fold empty side of tortilla over on top of the cheese and heat until cheese has melted, flipping once. Top with avocado topping, salsa and sour cream.

Serves 4

  • 2 pounds cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced (or 1 teaspoon dried)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • Salt and pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 3 pounds zucchini
  • ¼ cup fresh basil, chopped

You can use a spiralizer to cut the zucchini into roughly 1/8-inch noodles, but you can also use a julienne tool, or simply cut the zucchini lengthwise; then cut into desired noodle-like size.

Toss zucchini with 1 teaspoon salt and remaining olive oil on the second baking sheet and roast for 20-25 minutes. Transfer squash to colander to remove any excess liquid. Place zucchini noodles in a large bowl and top with roasted tomato sauce. Toss gently, season with salt and pepper, top with fresh basil.

When you discover a zucchini in your garden well past the recommended 6-8 inches.

  • 4 medium or 2 large zucchini, ends trimmed and cut in half lengthwise
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • ½ cup onion, chopped fine
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • ½ cup salsa
  • Salt, to taste

Toppings:

  • Green onions, chopped
  • Cilantro, chopped
  • Black olives, sliced
  • Avocado, diced

Scoop seeds from the zucchini halves using a spoon, leave 1/4-inch on the sides. Place zucchini in boiling water for one minute. Remove and arrange hollow side up in a large baking dish.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add beef and cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon, until almost done: approximately 5 minutes. Reduce heat and add onion, chili powder, cumin, garlic and tomato paste. Cook another 3-5 minutes. Stir in salsa and remove from heat. Add salt to taste.

Divide meat mixture among hollowed zucchini shells, cover with foil and bake 25-30 minutes. Add toppings and serve.



By Kim Falter