summer squash


he summer squash, along with pumpkins and some winter squashes, belongs to the species Cucurbita pepo and is actually a fruit – not a vegetable as one would assume.  Squashes are sometimes called “courgettes”.

Squashes of all kinds actually originated in the Americas – particularly in south America.  Squash was vital to the survival of native American tribes such as the Navajo, Zuni and Hopi; so important in fact that they even created a traditional piece of jewelry called the “Naja” or squash blossom.  It is thought that these American squashes were brought to Europe and, sometime in the 19th century, the Italians near Milan began to develop the varieties we enjoy today.  It is believed that the squash known as zucchini likely came back to America in the mid-1920’s with the Italian immigrants.

We thought we would look through our collection of antique cookbooks for a few “heirloom” zucchini recipes.  To our surprise, zucchini (or summer squash) really didn’t have anything written about it until sometime in the mid-1940’s.  So what finally brought this squash to the American tables?  The end of WWII.  Soldiers returning from Italy brought with them a keen interest in Italian cuisine.  Zucchini and other summer squashes, being relatively easy to grow and quite prolific (!) were very much a staple in Italian dishes.  Americans, smitten with this “new” Italian style quickly adopted the zucchini into their menus.  Always inventive, it didn’t take American cooks long to figure out that this summer treat easily lent itself to all sorts of dishes.  Who doesn’t remember Mom’s zucchini boats stuffed with ground beef, peppers, mushrooms and topped, alas, with Cream of Mushroom soup?

Good For You
Zucchini is a gal’s (or guy’s) best friend during swimsuit season.  One medium zucchini has only about 33 calories!  This virtually fat-free fruit, however, isn’t short on packing a wallop of goodness for you, though.  One zucchini completes over half of your RDA for vitamin C.  It is also a good source of vitamin B6, magnesium and potassium.  For as smooth as it is, one zucchini actually provides about 8% of your RDA of fiber!

Cooking Tips
Likely the most important part of cooking zucchini is picking the right size.  Larger zucchinis will be more fibrous and carry less liquid; these squashes are best for baking or stuffing.  Smaller zucchini will have a more pronounced flavor, but need to be cooked quickly so that they don’t break down into zucchini “paste”.  Typically zucchini are not peeled, as their skin is sweet and most edible.  Ever so versatile, the zucchini can be eaten raw, steamed, sautéed, fried or baked.  Just keep in mind that this “just picked” squash you are getting at Sub Edge will have quite a bit of liquid in it and it may be wise to drain it a bit if you are using it in baked goods.

One of the most overlooked delicacies of the zucchini is the blossom.  Zucchini blossoms are absolutely wonderful stuffed with a bit of herb-infused soft cheese such as ricotta, dipped in an egg batter, breaded and very quickly deep-fried.  In Mexico, the flores de calabaza, is often found sautéed up with poblano peppers and then grilled in a cheesy quesadilla.  Try something new tonight!

Ideas for Zucchini and Summer Squash:

Zucchini Boats – just like Mom used to make (although you can probably do without the cream of mushroom soup).  This is an especially good way to use up those Godzilla-sized zucchini we’ve got a few of at Sub Edge!

Zucchini Pasta – better than spaghetti and a lot less work!  Come see how it’s done this week at your CSA pickup!

Zucchini Salad – toss shredded zucchini with some shredded carrots, sunflower seeds, dried fruit and a light vinaigrette for a great alternative to coleslaw!

Zucchini Fritters – shred the squash up with anything else you have on hand.  Potatoes, turnips, even beets.  Add an egg and some flour, roll into balls and deep fry for some summer goodness.  These freeze well for those all-too-soon-to-come days where we miss our abundance.

Zucchini Fries – a light breading of panko and lemon zest, a bit of olive oil, and toss into the oven.  Great alongside a grilled burger!

Zucchini and Corn – two summer buddies just meant for each other.  Steamed or stir-fried and tossed together with a little butter and fresh herbs.  Match made in heaven!

Zucchini Gratin – slice, toss with some egg and cheese and top with herbed breadcrumbs.  Even the pickiest eater won’t say no!

Zucchini and Black Bean Quesadillas – fresh or lightly sautéed.  There isn’t anything better to stir in with some black beans and cheese to grill up on a tortilla.  Some homemade salsa you say?  Now we’re talking!

Zucchini Breads and Muffins – On their own or added to your favorite banana bread, zucchini adds wonderful flavor and moistness.  Added to carrot cake?  Oh my.