The Italians are credited for first introducing Zucchini to North America in the 1920’s. In fact, the word “zucchini” comes from the Italian word for squash, “zucca”.
Here in Arizona, zucchini (one of the most popular summer squashes) is exceptionally easy to grow and you may well find yourself with an abundance of these mild-flavored fruits. If you find yourself with a garden full of this notorious green food, it may do you well to get better acquainted with them. Here are some interesting facts that we here at Fill Your Plate have dug up, so to speak.
- Zucchini is credited with several health benefits including (but not limited to):
- Zucchini contains more potassium than bananas.
- One zucchini has only 25 calories (in comparison, a baked potato has 130 calories).
- Zucchini are low in sodium, contain no saturated fats, and are cholesterol-free.
- They are rich in vitamin C and manganese.
- The peel is a good source of dietary fiber and may help in reducing constipation.
- Dietitians often include zucchini in their cholesterol control and weight loss programs.
- According to World’s Healthiest Foods Nutrition Information, the vitamins and nutrients found in zucchini can help prevent heart disease and cancer.
- It has anti-oxidant benefits. Much of the antioxidant nutrients are found in the seeds and skin of the plant, and not just its flesh. So it is important to consume it without peeling the skin. To retain the strongest amount of anti-oxidant benefits, steaming is recommended over baking or boiling.
- Selecting the right zucchini:
Now that we know how nutritious and beneficial consuming zucchini can be, you may be wondering how to select the best zucchini for your meal. Did you know that the largest zucchini on record was grown by Bernard Lavery of Plymouth Devon, UK, and was 69 ½ inches long and weighed a whopping 65 lbs.! However, his zucchini probably didn’t taste all that great. See, with the zucchini plant, bigger isn’t always better. In fact, small to medium sized zucchini (6-8 inches in length, 2 inches or less in diameter) pack the most flavor. If you can find a small-ish one with darker skin, that’s even better, as the dark skinned zucchini have the most nutritional value. Choose one that is heavy in hand and firm to the touch. It is better to avoid zucchini with pitted skin and a spongy texture, as these are overly mature and moisture less, resulting in a bitter and unpleasant flavor.
Zucchini flavor is at its best in late spring and summer seasons, but is usually available year round. Did you know that the flower (or blossom) of a zucchini plant is also edible? In fact, fried squash blossoms are considered a delicacy in many places. In addition to frying, the blossoms taste great when baked or steamed, stuffed with cheese. Popular in Mexico, they are often cooked into quesadillas and soups.
- Storage and Preparation:
After you have chosen your zucchini and have brought them home from your favorite store or market, or even in from your garden, it is best to store them in a plastic bag inside the vegetable compartment of your refrigerator. The compartment should be set at adequate relative humidity. To maintain the best flavor quality, zucchini should be stored for no more than 2-3 days. Before cooking, thoroughly wash the zucchini in running, cold water. In some cases you may need to lightly scrub them where dirt may have become firmly attached. You should trim the base and the neck, but remember not to peel the skin, as many of the valuable nutrients will be lost if you do.
- Eating your Zucchini:
Zucchini is highly versatile and can be consumed both raw and cooked. Zucchini bread is, perhaps, the most popular way to eat zucchini. So popular that it even has its own special day, National Zucchini Bread Day is April 25th. Zucchini is a delicious addition to pasta sauces and soups, like this minestrone recipe. It is also wonderful as the star of the show, as proven with this delectable “puffed up zucchini” recipe. You can even add it shredded and raw to your favorite salad for a nutritional punch.
Good for you, easy to grow, and easy to find, zucchini is a wonderful food to experiment with. Have fun with it and discover how you best enjoy it! To help you get started take a look at the recipes we have collected here. And be sure to make your favorite dish on August 8th in celebration of National Zucchini Day!
- How well do you know your zucchini? (fillyourplate.org)
- Sweet Potato-Zucchini Bread (fillyourplate.org)
- Zucchini Sweet Potato Frittata Will Make You Sing “Hakuna Matata!” (fillyourplate.org)