Eat Well to Be Well: Got zucchini? Summer’s most versatile vegetable

Ah, zucchini. A fun word to say and a vegetable that just keeps on giving all summer. It’s that time of year when this variety of summer squash is proliferating by leaps and bounds in many backyard gardens, mine included. For the first time ever, I bought a couple of small zucchini seedlings to plant in my raised bed garden, established several years ago by local Master Gardener Steve Haller. I had no idea two innocent looking seedlings would morph into plants with giant dark green leaves and a never ending supply of cylindrical-shaped produce. What to do with it all!

Before I get to recipes, let’s talk about some basic facts on zucchini. Looking for a low-calorie food? Look no further. Zucchini, like many fruits and vegetables, has a high water content and provides about 27 calories in one cup. That same one cup of unpeeled zucchini (the peel contains most of the nutrients) will also provide 2.6 grams of fiber, 455.4 mg of potassium, 100 mcg of vitamin A and 30.6 mcg of folate, according to the USDA Nutrient Database. Not bad for produce that is botanically a fruit but used as a vegetable. Zucchini is actually an immature fruit that is the swollen ovary of the zucchini flower – a fun food fact you can impress your friends with!

Like all squashes, zucchini originated in the Americas. Archaeologists have found evidence of zucchini in Mexico dating back to as early as 7000 B.C. It was common for the people of Central America to consume a diet rich in corn, beans and squash, today known as “the three sisters.” Zucchini falls into the category of being a summer squash, meaning the fruits have soft, edible skin. The word zucchini, comes from the Italian word “zucca,” meaning squash. Even though zucchini did not originate in Italy, the Italian name has been used as some historians believe Italians developed this food. In other parts of Europe, zucchini are known as “courgettes” and in Britain as “vegetable marrow”.

The versatility of how to use zucchini is almost endless. Due to its very mild flavor and being composed of 95 percent water, zucchini can be incorporated into many different recipes to add moistness without compromising the taste. Zucchini can be steamed, stir-fried, boiled, grilled, baked, used in bread, cake, cookies, pancakes, salads, soups, and even as a topping on pizza.

Whether you get your zucchini from the grocery store or fresh from the garden, store in the refrigerator loosely wrapped in a plastic bag; use freshly harvested produce within two weeks. Zucchini will always taste the best fresh from the garden, but it can be canned or frozen.

If you need new ideas of how to use your zucchini, here are a couple of recipes that are sure to please. Both recipes are courtesy of Eating Well magazine.

Curried Zucchini and Couscous

Makes 4 servings, 1 ¼ cup each

  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ tsp ground pepper
  • 2 medium zucchini, diced
  • 2/3 cup whole-wheat couscous
  • ¼ cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 cup grated carrot
  • 1 tbsp. lime juice
  • ¼ cup slivered almonds
  • 1 tsp. curry powder
  • ½ tsp. ground cumin
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • optional: a handful of raisins
  • 1 cup water

1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add zucchini and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until starting to soften, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl.

2. Add water, lime juice, curry, cumin, salt and pepper to the pan and bring to a boil. Stir in couscous. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

3. Add the couscous and carrot to the bowl with the zucchini, stir to combine. Serve topped with almonds (and raisins if desired).

One serving from this recipe will provide 96 percent of what is recommended each day for vitamin A and 35 percent of what is recommended daily for vitamin C. Adding raisins will give some sweetness to the dish.

 

Zucchini Gratin

Makes 4 servings, 1 cup each

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 tsp dried marjoram or thyme
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp ground pepper
  • 3 medium zucchini, thinly sliced
  • ½ cup coarse dry breadcrumbs
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Position rack in lower third of oven; preheat to 450 degrees F. Coat a 7-by-11 inch baking dish (or similar size 2 to 2 ½ -quart dish) with cooking spray.

2. Combine garlic, 1 tbsp oil, marjoram (or thyme), salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add zucchini; toss until evenly coated. Transfer to the prepared baking dish.

3. Roast the zucchini until softened and starting to wilt in spots, about 15 minutes.

4. Combine bread crumbs, Parmesan and the remaining 2 tbsp oil in the bowl. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over the zucchini and continue to bake until the topping is crisp, about 15 minutes more.

This delicious recipe will give you 45 percent of your daily value for vitamin C along with 406 mg of potassium per serving.


Cheryl_Mussatto_pictureCheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian who works as an adjunct professor at Allen Community College, where she teaches a course called Basic Nutrition. She is also a certified health and wellness coach. She writes Eat Well to Be Well, a column about health and nutrition, and may be contacted at [email protected].

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