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Prairie Fare: Prolific zucchini has many culinary uses

Zucchini’s mild flavor makes it useful in a variety of foods from salads to dessert. Special to The Forum

I was admiring my neighbor’s garden the other day, especially her robust zucchini plants. I noticed some tender, young zucchini squash peeking out from under the foliage.

I could almost taste the warm zucchini bread and muffins you can make. I didn’t plant any zucchini this year because I was a little overzealous planting many different vegetables, and zucchini plants take more space than other plants.

I think my neighbor will share a zucchini or two for the recipe I have included in this week’s column.

I noticed the tomatoes in my garden are getting red and some onions are getting large enough to sample, so they will be added to the garden-fresh recipe, too.

As I pondered my future menu, I thought back to a story inspired by one of my children.

“What’s that thing?” my daughter asked as I pulled a zucchini from my purse after returning home from a meeting. She was about 8 at the time.

“It’s a zucchini,” I responded. “Remember, we had some last summer.”

“Where did you get it?” she asked, looking at me a little strangely because I usually do not pack a zucchini in my purse.

“Someone gave it to me. Some years, zucchini grows well, so people have lots of it to share,” I said.

Sometimes they sneak it into your car or on your doorstep. Sometimes they hand a zucchini to you as you are leaving a meeting, and you put it in your purse, I thought to myself.

“It looks like a squash, but it smells like the sea,” she commented while examining and sniffing the zucchini.

“It grows in a garden, not underwater,” I told her, although I was a little curious about the aroma she detected. I sniffed it, too. I guess she thought it smelled like seaweed.

“It’s time to make something with it,” I told her.

She gamely put on her apron and went to the sink to wash her hands. I was pleased. We pulled out our bowls and measuring cups and made muffins. She washed and then grated the zucchini.

“This is really fun,” she said. Cooking with kids not only teaches them skills, such as measuring and following directions, it makes some good memories, too.

A native vegetable of the Americas, zucchini has had several names through the years. Early American colonists called it “squash” based on several Native American words. Italians named it “zucchino” and the French named it “courgette.”

Zucchini also was known as vegetable marrow or Italian marrow. It can be served raw, boiled, baked, fried, steamed or stuffed. It’s used in numerous quick-bread recipes as creative cooks experiment with bounteous zucchini.

Zucchini is about 95 percent water. A half-cup serving has about 15 calories, plus it contributes some fiber, vitamin C, potassium, B vitamins and beta carotene to the diet.

Zucchini’s mild flavor makes it useful in a variety of foods from salads to dessert. When selecting zucchini in a garden, farmers market or at the store, choose one that is heavy for its size and narrow in diameter.

Smaller zucchini are more tender and can be sliced for use in soups and lasagna.

Zucchini’s mild flavor allows blending with ingredients such as tomatoes, cheese and onions.

Mature zucchini is tougher and has large seeds. After removing the seeds, zucchini can be grated and used in bread, muffins and other foods. Rinse zucchini under running water just before you plan to use it in a recipe. Use fresh zucchini within a few days for best quality.

Here’s a recipe retrieved from the national “More Matters” program of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The program reminds us that most people need to eat more fruits and vegetables.

You can have this vitamin

C-rich recipe ready to eat in about 20 minutes from garden to table. I like to sprinkle it with Parmesan cheese.

Skillet Zucchini with Chopped Tomatoes

1 teaspoon olive oil or canola oil

1 cup chopped onion

4 small (6-inch) zucchini, thinly sliced

2 medium tomatoes, chopped

Freshly ground pepper

Grated parmesan cheese (optional)

In a large, nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium heat; add onions and cook, stirring until softened. Add zucchini and cook for two minutes. Add tomatoes and cook for three to five minutes or until zucchini is tender-crisp. Season to taste with pepper and add a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese if you wish.

Makes four servings. Each 1 cup serving has 70 calories, 2 grams of fat, 12 g of carbohydrate, 3 g of protein, 15 milligrams of sodium and 70 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamin C.

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