It seems I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with zucchini. Not hate, really — more of a pronounced ambivalence coupled with the feeling that I’m often forced to choose between it and broccoli as the only ways to get some green into my system. Así es.
As another of my quarantine-in-the-kitchen activities, I’m trying to change that mindset. My research has turned up some very interesting and amusing info about this humble FRUIT. Yes, although treated and cooked like a vegetable, botanically speaking zucchini is a fruit. (Who knew?!) It’s the ovary of the flower, and although both male and female plants produce flowers, only the female flowers go on to produce fruit.
Squashes were first documented in Mesoamerica (the area from Central Mexico south through Guatamala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica); and the predecessor to modern-day zucchini was called ayokonetl in Náhuatl. It made its way to Europe in the 16th century, where it took several hundred years to develop into the zucchini we know today.
The Italians enthusiastically adopted the tender green squash, calling it zucchino (masculine) or zucchina (feminine), derived from zucca, the word for squash or pumpkin. “Zucchini” is the masculine plural, used in many countries, and courgette and marrow are used in France, Quebec, the U.K., South Africa and throughout Asia and New Zealand.
Whatever name you use, choose the smallest, youngest, freshest zucchini you can find, as then the flesh is firm and the seeds have not developed as much. It’s those seeds that make the squash watery, bitter or fibrous. And you want them to be firm, not rubbery.
Some chefs say another way to combat the bland mushiness so often associated with zucchini is to cook them fast, at high heat, in whatever recipe you’re using. That traps in the juiciness and allows their natural buttery flavor to remain. Some also recommend salting the sliced squash before cooking — like you’d do with cucumbers — to draw out some of the water and “firm up the flesh.”
Here’s how: slice zucchini however the recipe calls for. Place in a colander or bowl and sprinkle generously with salt. Let sit for at least an hour. Blot the slices with paper towels to remove the excess salt and moisture, and then continue with your recipe.
Zucchini Crust Pizza
This crust is so good you’ll be tempted to just eat it as is!
- Olive oil and flour for the pan
- 2 cups packed grated zucchini (about 2 chubby 7-inchers)
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1/3 cup flour
- ½ cup grated mozzarella
- ½ cup grated parmesan
- Optional: dried basil or marjoram
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- Toppings: tomato sauce, cheese and standard pizza toppings
Preheat oven to 400 F. Oil a 10″ pie pan and coat lightly with flour. Combine zucchini, eggs, flour, mozzarella, parmesan, herbs and 1 Tbsp. oil in a bowl and mix together thoroughly. Spread mixture in prepared pan and bake 35-40 minutes or until golden brown. Halfway through baking, remove from oven, brush with remaining 1 Tbsp. oil. Return to oven. Remove crust from oven; let cool for 10 minutes before using a spatula to loosen it from the pan. Add pizza toppings and bake again for 10 minutes until heated through and cheese melts.
Grilled Squash Ribbons & Prosciutto with Mint Dressing
- 1 tsp. finely grated lime zest
- ¼ cup fresh lime juice
- ¼ cup chopped mint
- 2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
- Salt & freshly ground pepper
- 2 medium zucchini
- 2 medium yellow squash
- 6 oz. thinly sliced prosciutto
Light grill or preheat a grill pan. In a small bowl, combine zest and juice with mint, garlic and the ¼ cup of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper; set aside. Using a mandoline or wide peeler, slice squash very thin lengthwise. Thread zucchini, yellow squash and prosciutto onto four pairs of 12-inch skewers, folding slices back and forth. Lightly brush vegetables and prosciutto with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Grill over high heat until the squash ribbons are lightly charred, about 1½ minutes per side. Serve with mint dressing.
Zucchini Tomatillo Bisque
A smooth, satisfying soup with a bit of heat.
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 2 Tbsp. butter
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 6 medium zucchini, chopped or coarsely grated
- 1-2 medium dried colorado or ancho chiles, seeded and chopped
- 1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped
- 6 tomatillos, husked and chopped
- 6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
- 5 corn tortillas
- 1-2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
- 1/3 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
- Salt and pepper
In large saucepan, heat oil and butter, add garlic and onions and sauté until softened. Add zucchini, chiles and tomatillos, stirring until heated through. Add stock, bring to boil, then cover and simmer 20 minutes. Tear tortillas into pieces and add to soup; stir in lime juice and cilantro. In a blender or food processor, purée soup in batches until smooth. Return to pan and heat through. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve topped with sour cream, crumbled tortilla chips and cilantro. – “More Recipes From A Kitchen Garden,” by Renee Shepherd
Zucchini & Pine Nut Pound Cake
- 10 Tbsp. butter
- 3 small zucchini
- 1 lemon
- 4 eggs
- 1¼ cup sugar
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 2 cups flour
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1½ tsp. baking powder
- 2/3 cup pine nuts
Melt butter over low heat. Without salting, grate zucchini coarsely and set aside. Preheat oven to 425. Zest the lemon and juice; set aside. Blend eggs, melted butter, sugar and vanilla in a food processor, then add zest and lemon juice. In a bowl, mix flour, salt and baking powder, then add this in batches to the mixture in the food processor. Beat till smooth, return to bowl and add grated zucchini and pine nuts. Grease and flour a loaf pan and pour in batter. Smooth the top, bake for 10 minutes, then lower temperature to 350 and bake for another hour. –Roger Verge’s “Vegetables in the French Style”
Janet Blaser has been a writer, editor and storyteller her entire life and feels fortunate to be able to write about great food, amazing places, fascinating people and unique events. Her first book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats, is available on Amazon. Contact Janet or read her blog at whyweleftamerica.com.