Sunday, July 19, 2015

Featured Ingredient: Zucchini!

The summer squash season is wonderful. It’s bountiful. It’s fun! It’s looked upon with equal amounts of greedy joy…and dread. We cooking gardeners and gardening cooks can’t help but be excited about producing so much food so easily. We also can’t help getting just a bit overwhelmed. I mean, what are we going to do with all this stuff?  Luckily, clever cooks have been finding ways to deal with all this vegetable flesh for generations.

Zucchini are, like the other squashes, descendants of plants native to the Americas. They were developed into the fruit that we know and love in Italy, hence the Italian-sounding name (although they’re also known as courgettes), and then re-introduced to North America by immigrants. The singular form of zucchini is actually zucchino, or sometimes zucchina, but since you’ll rarely see one lonely summer squash all by itself, those singular terms won’t get much use anyway.

Zucchini, as well as their botanical and culinary cousins, yellow summer squash, are quite mild, some would say bland, in flavor, with soft edible skins as long as the fruit isn’t too overgrown. They’re mostly known as a place-holder, providing substance to meals and moisture to baked goods, but they are very low in calories and do have some fiber, vitamin A, folate and potassium. The flowers are edible, too, and can be battered and fried, stuffed, or added to soup or quesadillas.

There are savory applications of zucchini to casseroles, soups and stews, and pasta dishes. There are sweet cakes, cookies, and quick breads. I love trying to find interesting uses for this prolific fruit, but they still have to be delicious (and not too weird). I find green zucchini and yellow summer squash to be pretty much interchangeable in savory recipes, so I use whatever I have. I have a list of all the zucchini and yellow summer squash recipes that I’ve shared on The Messy Apron here, but I list (with links) my five absolute favorites (so far) below.

This is one recipe in which the zucchini really contributes to the unique character of the final product. It’s a delicious dip loaded with chopped zucchini softened and slightly smoky from the grill and flavored liberally with feta cheese. You could use other fresh herbs besides the oregano in the recipe. I recently made it with mint and it was fantastic. Pita chips are a great vehicle for this dip.

I don’t think you can talk about zucchini without talking about zucchini quick bread. This one is so good that I’ve kind of stopped looking at other zucchini bread recipes. I totally love the pecans in this bread, but I think chocolate chips would be a good substitution. It makes two loaves, so you can freeze one for later. 

This is simply a chocolatey version of the basic quick bread above. The zucchini might not be the dominate ingredient here, but there’s chocolate, so who cares?

This is a whole wheat yeast bread that uses zucchini for moisture and a touch of vegetable flavor the same way a quick bread does. It’s great for sandwiches, especially the tomato sandwiches I can’t seem to get enough of in late summer.

Here is my one tribute to yellow summer squash in this list. I just love this recipe as it is, but if you find yourself with zucchini to get rid of, you could probably use it here. It’s deliciously creamy and sweet from the corn, plus rich and a little smoky from the bacon. I make this every summer if at all possible.


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