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ZUCCHINI-- SUMMER'S ABUNDANT DELIGHT
Zucchini squash is the favored jewel of the summer squashes. Its flavor is light and sweet with flesh as delicate as a flower and texture that makes it almost melt in the mouth. Zucchini's many varieties offer the cook countless opportunities to prepare a varied menu of colorful summer dishes. Farmers' markets are the best source of the freshest squashes and frequently offer unique varieties as well as those organically grown.
Includes Recipe Below
Summer squashes, as well a winter squashes, are native to the Americas and belong to the family of curcurbita. Archaeologists have traced their origins to Mexico, dating back from 7,000 to 5,500 BCE, when they were an integral part of the ancient diet of maize, beans, and squashes. That pre-Columbian food trio is still the mainstay of the Mexican cuisine and is known today as the "three sisters."
Many explorers who came to the Americas brought back what they considered strange foods. The zucchini eventually found its way to Italy where it was named zucchino. Many names have been given to this squash. The French call it courgette, a name that has been adopted by the English. The English also refer to a variety that is slightly larger and plumper as marrow.
The colonists of New England adopted the name squash, a word derived from several Native American words for the vegetable which meant "something eaten raw." George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were squash enthusiasts who even enjoyed growing them.
Zucchinis are considered the tender, sweet, immature fruit of the curcurbita pepo which is eaten in its entirety. If left on the vine or bush longer, the fruit becomes enormous, the seeds larger, tougher, and sometimes inedible, and the flavor less sweet. Cocozelle, a variety of zucchini that originated in Italy, is shorter, plumper, and striped. Today's farmers are developing hybrids that are a visual delight. Some are round, some are yellow, some a combination of green and yellow, and some are a cross between zucchini and the fluted patty pan squash.
With their high water content (more than 95 percent), zucchini squashes are very low in calories. There are only 13 calories in a half-cup of raw zucchini, with a slight increase to 18 calories in the same quantity cooked. Nutritionally, zucchinis offer valuable antioxidants. They also provide some beta-carotene, trace quantities of the B vitamins, folic acid, small amounts of vitamin C and calcium, and a healthy content of potassium.
Cut zucchinis into strips and include them in a platter of crudites.
Shred them into salads.
Prepare a salad from shredded zucchini and shredded carrots; add a
dressing and enjoy.
Dice them and add to a chopped salad.
Puree them in the blender with a little water, and add seasoning to create
Mix squashes of various colors for an attractive presentation of bright
yellow paired with light and dark green.
Zucchinis can be steamed, boiled, baked, fried, and stuffed.
- Steamed: With their high water content they can be cooked without water
in a pot with a tight fitting lid. Otherwise, steam them in a small amount
of water, about 1/4" in the bottom of the pot, for 3 to 5 minutes.
- Baked: Slice zucchini, chop onions, shred carrots, chop peppers, chop
tomatoes. Layer the vegetables in a casserole with seasonings and herbs. Cover bake at 350 for about 45 minutes.
- Stuffed: Core out the centers of each squash (Middle Eastern delis have
a special tool for this or use an apple corer). Chop onions,
mushrooms, peppers, tofu, tomatoes. Add seasonings and stuff. Bake
covered in a casserole with tomato sauce at 350 for about 45 to 60
Below are two versions of a chilled zucchini soup, one cooked, the other raw.
ZESTY CHILLED ZUCCHINI SOUP
- To roast garlic: Peel off outer layers of excess skin leaving only the cloves covered and still attached to the root. Cover with aluminum foil, shiny side inside, and place on a baking dish. Roast at 375 (gas mark 5) for 1 hour. While the garlic is roasting, prepare remaining ingredients. When the garlic is finished roasting, remove from oven, unwrap carefully, and cool slightly. Set aside.
- Put zucchinis, onion, water and salt into a 4 - 6-quart (4 to 6 liter) saucepan and cover. Bring to a boil over high heat. Turn heat down to medium and cook until soft, about 7 - 8 minutes.
- Cool slightly and pour into a blender, and blend until smooth.
- Add pepper, lemon juice, salt, and Worcestershire sauce to blender. Break off individual cloves of roasted garlic, and squeeze out each one into the blender. Blend until smooth, and adjust seasonings to taste. Pour into a refrigerator container or serving bowl. Chill thoroughly.
- Before serving, garnish each bowl with a few pieces of diced avocado and a pinch or two of chopped cilantro or parsley. Makes about 6 servings.
ZUCCHINI SUMMER SOUP
- Put half the garlic, zucchini, onion, and water into blender and puree completely.
Pour into tureen or large bowl.
- Add remaining ingredients to blender and puree completely.
Pour into tureen and adjust seasoning if needed.
- Chill or enjoy immediately with garnish of avocado and cilantro. Serves 6.