Think back to a time of long-haired coffeehouse proprietors clad in earth shoes and faded denim as they proffered peace, love and a piece of zucchini bread, a zucchini muffin, some zucchini carrot cake. Zucchini’s simple, home-grown abundance served to underscore the times when young people searched for all things organic and environmentally kind. For many, zucchini was a whole-earth start onto a path to vegetarianism. Zucchini was relatively new in the States in the 60s and 70s. Italian immigrants brought seeds with them after WWII and promptly planted same.
Zucchini’s abundance is the butt of many jokes. ”Bet you can’t grow just one,” is a familiar one, “Zucchini is a vegetable even a ‘black thumb’ can grow,” is another. And, H. Jackson Brown, Jr., in his Life’s Little Instructions, cautions readers to “Plant zucchini only if you have lots of friends.” Zucchini grows so fast, it can be not quite big enough one day, then way too big the next day. Large ones reach a mammoth two feet, plus, and more than six inches in diameter.
Zucchini is a member of the Cucurbita family where all have a relatively thin skin, a sizeable wall of tender flesh, then pulp with seeds in its center. Some of the family members have an edible seed/pulp area; the pumpkin, for instance, doesn’t. Other family members are cucumbers, watermelons, melons, gourds, crookneck and patty pan squashes. In each, the seed area grows less palatable when the squash lingers too long on the vine. Native Americans in South and North America feasted on squash before Columbus arrived, and there’s evidence that members of the Cucurbita family were consumed 9,000 years earlier.
It’s relatively rare when a good-for-you ingredient like zucchini can be masked as well in main dishes as in desserts. A prime quality zucchini should be firm, smooth-skinned and small, perhaps 3 to 5 inches long and 3/4-to 1-inch wide. Make sure the skin is shiny and dark green. Serve it raw on vegetable platters, steamed, grilled, fried, baked or microwaved. They make a nice addition when added to tomato sauces, soups, chiles, stews or quiche, even pickled. A sizeable zucchini stuffs well. Try a sausage or shrimp stuffing. The squash blossom themselves are edible with stuffed centers and gently deep-fried. This edible gift from mother earth provided the substance for … corn souffles, pancakes, pizza toppings, jams, marmalades, cheddar breads, an occasional chocolate cake, cookies, ground chutney, goulashes, meatloaves, even pickles, custards, lasagnas and soups.
Zucchinis contain vitamins A, C and some B, beta carotene, and very few calories.
There is an overriding sense of fairness and justice in a world with zucchini. For all of its laughable, galloping abundance, mercifully there are countless ways to use it up.
It’s basically a matter of “What can’t you do with zucchini?”