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Foods

Zucchini

Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

Zucchini are more than 95% water, and so offer only a modest amount of nutrients. The high water content, however, means that they are very low in calories (about 19 per cup of raw sliced squash). In addition they are inexpensive and can be eaten raw or cooked.

Varieties

The familiar green zucchini resembles a lightly ridged cucumber; its skin is medium to deep green, with paler flecks or stripes. Another variety known as Italian squash, or cocozelle, is shorter and blunter, with striped skin.

Availability

Zucchini is most plentiful from May to August, but it's generally available year-round. It's a very easy plant to grow in the garden--as witnessed by the annual summer glut of zucchini.

Shopping

Zucchini can grow quite large (home gardeners often discover baseball-bat-sized specimens hidden under the plant's large leaves), but when allowed to do so, they have coarse, stringy flesh and large seeds. They taste best when small- to medium-sized--not more than 7" long. Choose zucchini that are also firm and fairly heavy for their size; otherwise, they may be dry and cottony within. Farmers' markets and greengrocers sometimes offer baby zucchini just 1" to 2" long; these are particularly tender and sweet.

The skin of zucchini is thin and fragile--delicate enough to puncture with a fingernail. Unfortunately, some shoppers do just this--they prick the skin to test for tenderness, leaving the squash susceptible to decay. Look for zucchini with sound, glossy exteriors; avoid those with skins showing nicks, pits, bruises, or soft spots. The zucchini should be plump (not shriveled), the stem ends fresh and green. Color should be uniform and bright.

Storage

Place zucchini in perforated plastic bags and store in the refrigerator crisper. It should keep for up to a week.

Preparation

Wash zucchini well and trim the ends. It need not be peeled or seeded unless it is oversized and has a thick skin or large seeds.

Zucchini can be prepared in various ways when used as a side dish or added to other recipes. For example, cut the squash into julienne strips, or halve it lengthwise, cut into half-round slices. You can also make zucchini "boats" to hold a filling--slice the squash in half lengthwise, then scoop out the seeds and some of the pulp, leaving a shell.

Because zucchini is mostly water, it will exude a lot of liquid during cooking. If you want to prevent a cooked dish containing the vegetable from becoming "waterlogged," salt the squash before heating it: Cut the zucchini into thin slices or dice (depending on the recipe) and sprinkle the cut surfaces with salt; 1/2 teaspoon is sufficient for a pound of zucchini. Place the salted squash in a colander and let stand for about half an hour. Then rinse the zucchini and pat dry with paper towels.

Baking: Place zucchini, sliced, or halved lengthwise in a baking pan. Add a few spoonfuls of liquid (broth, vegetable or tomato juice, or water) and cover. Flavor the squash with chopped onion and garlic and herbs, or layer it with onion slices. Or, top halved or sliced zucchini with breadcrumbs (or a mixture of breadcrumbs and grated hard cheese) and bake uncovered; broil after baking to crisp the topping. Cooking time: 30 to 35 minutes in a 350°F oven.

Microwaving: Cut zucchini into 1/4" slices, then arrange in a microwaveable baking dish. Add 3 tablespoons of water, cover, and cook until tender. Stir the zucchini when halfway through cooking. Cooking time: four to seven minutes.

Sauteing: Slices or chunks of zucchini (or grated zucchini) can be sauteed in oil or a combination of butter and oil. If grating, lightly salt the zucchini and let drain in a colander for 30 minutes. Rinse and squeeze dry. Heat the oil in the pan, then add the zucchini; toss frequently until tender. Cooking time: three to six minutes.

Steaming: Zucchini can be steamed halved lengthwise, sliced, or diced, in a vegetable steamer. Cooking time: for halved zucchini, three to five minutes; for sliced or diced.

Stir-frying: The delicate flavor and texture of zucchini are best preserved by stir-frying alone or with other mild-flavored vegetables, such as green beans, mushrooms, or corn. Be sure to keep stirring and tossing the slices in the skillet or wok so that they cook quickly--before they can release all their juices and turn the dish watery. Cooking time: four to five minutes.

Stewing or Braising: Gently saute sliced or diced zucchini in a little olive oil until lightly colored. Add minced garlic, tomatoes, chopped basil, and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until zucchini is tender. The famous dish, ratatouille, is a combination of zucchini, eggplant, red peppers, onions, garlic, tomatoes, and basil that are first individually sauteed, then stewed together. It can be served as a side dish, a pasta sauce, or topped with cheese it makes a wonderful vegetarian main dish.

Nutrition Chart

Zucchini/1 cup cooked

25
Total fat (g)
0.3
Saturated fat (g)
0.1
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.1
Dietary fiber (g)
2.2
2
Carbohydrate (g)
5
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
5


Date Published: 04/21/2005
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