Zucchini is a favorite of many home gardeners because it is relatively easy to grow and usually produces a surplus that entices growers to look for new and innovative ways to use and preserve the squash. Recipes avail for everything from soap to soup.
Zucchini grows well in sunny, warm conditions and prefers drained soil, but needs frequent watering. For Native Americans, squashes were considered as one of the “three sisters” along with corn and beans. These three crops provide a basic environmental lesson in cooperation. The corn provides a climbing stalk for the beans; the beans provide nitrogen to the soil to nourish the corn; and the squash leaves spread out, preventing competition from unwanted vegetation and shade for corn’s shallow roots.
Summer squash has been cultivated and used for more than 5,000 years.
The incredible, edible, summer squash is good for much more than just zucchini bread. This fruit, along with pumpkins and gourds, all belong to the botanical family Cucurbitaceae. There are many varieties of zucchini; most is green with smooth skin and shape similar to a cucumber. Zucchini is best when harvested young, about 6-8 inches long and no larger than about 3 inches in diameter. The longer zucchini is allowed to grow the tougher the skin gets and the bigger the seeds grow. All parts of the zucchini plant are edible. In Mexico the flower is preferred over the vegetable and is often cooked in soups or used as a filling for quesadillas.
A serving of zucchini provides 30 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C. Zucchini is also an excellent source of manganese, and is a very good source of vitamin A, dietary fiber, potassium, copper, folate vitamin K, phosphorus and magnesium. One cup of cooked zucchini slices contains 36 calories. Zucchini contains the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which may be protective against cataracts and macular degeneration.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture no longer recommends home canning plain zucchini. The problem is that during the pressure processing zucchini can become packed at the bottoms of the jars. This makes it difficult to know for certain if the zucchini has been heated enough to ensure a safe product.
Frozen zucchini works well for baking. About 1¼ pounds of fresh zucchini will yield about 1 pint frozen. Steam blanching is suggested for grated zucchini. Grating large, overripe zucchinis is a good way to use them. To steam blanch use a pan with a tight-fitting lid and a basket that holds the food about 3 inches above the bottom of the pan.
Put about 2 inches of water in the pan, bring to a boil and leave on high. Place the sliced in a single layer in the basket so that steam reaches all parts. Cover the pan and blanch for one to two minutes. To cool, plunge the basket immediately into cold water, remove, cool and drain thoroughly.
Try this recipe for Summer Vegetable Casserole for a quick, nutritious side dish to accompany just about any protein choice.
Summer Vegetable Casserole
2 cups sliced zucchini
1½ cups sliced celery
1 medium onion, finely chopped
½ cup green pepper, diced
1 tablespoon cooking oil
1 tomato, cut in eighths
¾ cups grated cheddar or longhorn cheese
Toss all the vegetables except the tomato in a 2-quart casserole dish. Add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with oil. Arrange the tomato on top and sprinkle with the cheese. Baked covered at 350 degrees until vegetables are tender. Makes four to six servings. Per serving: 154 calories, 7 grams protein, 9 grams carbohydrate, 11 grams fat To reduce fat: use cooking spray instead of oil and part-skim mozzarella or other reduced-fat cheese.
Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian who lives in Athens. Read more of her columns and post questions at bangordailynews.com or email her at GeorgiaMaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com.