Zucchini, also known as courgette, is a longish or rounded, yellow and dark or light green colored vegetable resembling a cucumber. This summer squash which is commonly regarded and used as a vegetable for all culinary purposes though botanically it is defined as a fruit, is widely eaten in North America, various European countries, Australian sub-continent and South Africa. This sweetish, crisp and crunchy succulent vegetable with a white colored meaty interior is mostly eaten in the cooked form. Popular zucchini recipes include stir-fry, soup, stew, soufflé, cake, bread, salad, and filling recipes. Zucchini bread, zucchini burritos, zucchini meatloaf, zucchini muffins and soup are some of the fondly eaten zucchini dishes. Zucchini is used to make a lot of main and side dishes.
Origin of Zucchini
Zucchini is believed to have been first discovered in Italy, probably around Milan in the very late 1800s. The colonial Europeans had introduced the squash to the Americans in the 1920s and since then the vegetable has grown in importance in the American cuisine at a steady rate. The word zucchini is derived from the Italian word zucchino, and courgette is the French name for the fruit. The term squash seems to have been derived from the Indian word “skutasquash” meaning it should be eaten green.
Culinary Uses of Zucchini
Zucchini is a versatile vegetable which can be used as an ingredient for a variety of dishes. As discussed earlier, zucchini is used as a primary or secondary ingredient in soups, cakes, stews, breads, meatloaves, and a large variety of other dishes. Tender and small sized zucchini are usually preferred for culinary purposes owing to their tenderness. The zucchini flowers are also a much coveted culinary ingredient. Many stuffed zucchini dishes are made by stuffing these flowers and frying them well as in the tempura.
Popular Zucchini Recipes
Zucchini recipes are prepared in many countries across the world. A few popular ones are discussed further:
- Zucchini Flower Recipes– It is used for making soup or a filling for burritos in the Mexican cuisine. In the Italian cuisine, zucchini flower is used for making pan-fried or breaded zucchini dishes.
- Ratatouille- this is a very popular French accompaniment dish which includes zucchini as the most essential ingredient. The dish is mostly served with bread.
- Stuffed Zucchini recipes- Farcis is a famous French dish made by stuffing the courgette with meat or vegetables like tomato or bell pepper. A Levantine recipe for the stuffed zucchini includes a steamed dish made with minced meat and rice filling seasoned with spices and herbs. The Greek version is made with filling and is partnered with avgolemono sauce. The Greek dish is also be made with a mizithra or feta cheese filling in place of rice or minced meat, and then fried deeply or baked.
- Mucver( Turkish squash pancakes) – This zucchini pancake is made by frying a batter made of flour, zucchini shreds, and eggs in some olive oil. This zucchini dish is recommended to be partnered with yogurt.
- Zucchini appetizers- zucchini are fried, baked or boiled and served with sauces as appetizers. A Bulgarian recipe for zucchini involves frying them in oil and serving them with a garlic-flavored dilly yogurt accompaniment dish. The Bulgarian version also involves slicing or grating the zucchini and coating it with flour, egg, dill and yogurt. The Egyptian zucchini include cooking the squash with tomato sauce and garlic and onion seasonings.
Major Cuisines Using Zucchini
Zucchini is used mostly by the European cuisines, primarily the Italian, French, English, and German cuisines. The Italian and American cuisines are the ones that use this summer squash more than others. Italians use zucchini in a number of dishes. Apart from grilled, sautéed and stuffed Italian recipes, the zucchini is used in the Italian cuisine to make Eggs Benedict, frittata, zucchini lasagna, and pies. The Americans are fond of making slow cooker zucchini recipes. Sweet dishes are also made using chocolate in combination with the squash. Zucchini bread, soufflé and cake are also common dishes made using the squash. A number of casserole dishes include zucchini in combination with meat- a typical example of which is the chicken and zucchini casserole.
Best Ways of Cooking Zucchini
Tender zucchini is considered one of the most flavorful varieties of the squash and is high in demand for culinary usage. Young zucchinis, which are about 8 inches in length and with a flower are preferred for culinary usage over the mature and longer ones as the latter variety, are also more fibrous than meaty. As mentioned already, zucchinis are versatile and zucchini recipes can be prepared in a number of ways including steaming, boiling, braising, baking, barbecuing, frying, and even in the raw form. Zucchini is preferably cooked briefly in a little butter or cooking oil which do not destroy its subtle flavors. The squash is boiled or steamed prior to frying and the juices contained in the squash are thickened while frying. Fresh herbal seasoning may be used optionally while cooking the squash.
Nutritional and Medicinal Worth of Zucchini
Zucchini is a healthy food choice owing to its low food calorie and high vitamin content. It is rich in folates, vitamin A, potassium and also manganese to a certain extent. As it is rich in vitamin C a number of conditions resulting from a deficiency of vitamin C can be prevented or controlled by its consumption. Scurvy and asthma are controlled, prevented or cured by the consumption of zucchini which is also known for its anti-oxidant properties (owing to the presence of beta carotene and vitamin C). As it contains vitamin A and C it is also known to improve eyesight. The gourd is also seen to be beneficial in treating multiple sclerosis and cardiovascular diseases. The manganese helps in the healthy maintenance of the bones and gums.
Buying and Storing Zucchinis
Fresh and tender zucchinis with flowers are preferred for culinary usage. They should be handled with care as they tend to be very delicate. Those with moist and tender stems and with a glossy cover are considered fresh. Zucchini should be consumed when fresh as they are prone to spoilage even on being chilled after 3-4 days. Any sign of wilting or softness is a sign of spoilage and indicates that either the squash should be cooked immediately or discarded. The squash should not be washed before storage and it should be done only prior to cooking. Zucchini, when preserved in the correct manner can remain without undergoing any damage for about a year. The gourd is sliced, blanched in cold water, drained off the water, and stored in storage bags designed for the purpose.
Ingredients Related to Zucchini
Zucchini bears a close resemblance to the cucumber in appearance. However both are different. They differ in texture from each other. Cucumber has a somewhat smooth skin whereas the zucchini has a rough skin. Botanically, zucchini is a member of the squash family whereas the cucumber is a member of the gourd family. Zucchini has edible flowers but cucumber does not, Also the zucchini is most suited for cooking as cooking makes the vegetable brown and enhances its sweet flavor. Cucumber on the other hand is best prepared raw as cooking wilts it. The tastes of zucchini and cucumber are different. Raw cucumbers are crunchy, Zucchini, on the other hand are crispy.