Sunday, March 25, 2012


Today I'm sharing some of my chapter on zucchini.  I love this vegetable and all the different things you can do with it from making desserts to simply grilling them.

Summer squash is a tender, warm-season vegetable that can be grown throughout the United States anytime during the warm, frost-free season. Summer squash differs from fall and winter squash in that it is selected to be harvested before the rind hardens and the fruit matures. It grows on bush-type plants that do not spread like the plants of fall and winter squash and pumpkin. A few healthy and well-maintained plants produce abundant yields.  Summer squash appears in many different fruit shapes and colors.  I will only focus on my favorite, Zucchini.


The origin of the zucchini is not entirely clear. It was not widely eaten in Europe before the twentieth century and some sources claim that it was developed from the squash. Squash have been cultivated in Central America for more than five thousand years and zucchini play a prominent role in Mexican cuisine today.


Because summer squash is immature, they are considerably lower in nutritional value than their winter counterparts. Generally, there is little variation in nutritional value between varieties. The peel is where many of the nutrients hide, so never peel summer squash.

Nutrition Facts (1 cup sliced, raw zucchini)
Calories 16
Protein 1.31 grams
Carbohydrates 3.27 grams
Dietary Fiber 1.36 grams
Calcium 16.95
Potassium 280.24
Vitamin A 384 IU
Folate 24.93 mcg


Plant anytime after the danger of frost has passed, from early spring until midsummer. Some gardeners have two main plantings - one for early summer harvest and another for late summer and fall harvest.

Sow two or three seeds 24 to 36 inches apart for single-plant production, or four or five seeds in hills 48 inches apart.

Cover one inch deep. When the plants are 2 to 3 inches tall, thin to one vigorous plant or no more than two or three plants per hill.


Any well-drained garden soil produces excellent yields of summer squash. Certain mulches increase earliness and yields, because the roots are shallow.


Because summer squash develop very rapidly after pollination, they are often picked when they are too large and over mature. They should be harvested when small and tender for best quality. Most elongated varieties are picked when they are 2 inches or less in diameter and 6 to 8 inches long.  Slightly larger fruit may be salvaged by hollowing out and using them for stuffing. These larger fruits may also be grated for baking in breads and other items. Do not allow summer squash to become large, hard and seedy because they sap strength from the plant that could better be used to produce more young fruit. Pick oversized squash with developed seeds and hard skin and throw them away. Go over the plants every 1 or 2 days. Squash grow rapidly; especially in hot weather and are usually ready to pick within 4 to 8 days after flowering.

Although summer squash has both male and female flowers, only the female flowers produce fruits. Because the fruits are harvested when still immature, they bruise and scratch easily. Handle with care and use immediately after picking. Be careful when picking summer squash, as the leafstalks and stems are prickly and can scratch and irritate unprotected hands and arms. Use a sharp knife or pruning shears to harvest and wear gloves if possible. Some gardeners also pick the open male and female blossoms before the fruits develop. Especially the female blossoms, with tiny fruit attached, are a delicacy when dipped in a batter and fried.


Summer squash varieties can cross with one another, with acorn squash and with jack-o’-lantern pumpkins. Cross-pollination is not evident in the current crop, but the seed should not be sown for the following year. Summer squash does not cross with melons or cucumbers.

Squash Blossoms

Squash blossoms are edible flowers, raw or cooked. Both summer and winter squash blossoms can be battered and fried in a little oil for a wonderful taste sensation. Harvest only the male blossoms unless the goal is to reduce production. Male blossoms are easily distinguished from the female blossoms. The stem of the male blossom is thin and trim. The stem of the female blossom is very thick. At the base of the female flower below the petals is a small bulge, which is the developing squash.  Always leave a few male blossoms on the vine for pollination purposes. There are always many more male flowers than female. The female blossom can be harvested with a tiny squash growing at the end and used in recipes along with full blossoms. Use the blossom of any variety of summer or winter squash in your favorite squash blossom recipe.

Use pruning shears or a sharp knife to cut squash blossoms at midday when the petals are open, leaving one inch of stem. Gently rinse in a pan of cool water and store in ice water in the refrigerator until ready to use. The flowers can be stored for a few hours or up to 1 or 2 days. If you’ve never eaten squash blossoms, you are in for a treat.   See page 32 for recipe.


Summer squash can be grilled, steamed, boiled, sautéed, fried or used in stir fry recipes. They mix well with onions, tomatoes and  in vegetable medleys. Summer squash can be used interchangeably in most recipes. Tiny baby squash can be used as appetizers, or left whole and sautéed with other vegetables.  Don't waste male squash blossoms by leaving them in the garden. If you do not have the time or inclination to prepare them separately, toss them in the salad bowl or add to any squash preparation.


Canning is not recommended because the tender summer squash will simply turn to mush during processing, unless you are making pickles. Zucchini can be substituted for cucumbers in some pickle recipes. The results are especially good in your favorite recipes for Bread and Butter Pickles.  Blanch and freeze cubes or slices of summer squash or grate and freeze Zucchini, unblanched for making Zucchini bread. The best way to use over grown (10 to 12 inches) zucchini is to grate it and use in zucchini bread. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and cut away the seedy middle section. Wash, grate and freeze in one cup portions. Use zip closure freezer bags or rigid freezer containers leaving 1/2 inch head space. Over size zucchini can also be used to make canned zucchini chutney. The over 12-inch monsters should go on the compost heap.

Herbs and spices that enhance the flavor of summer squash include marjoram, cumin seeds, parsley, dill, rosemary and savory. Too many herbs and spices mask the delicate flavor of summer squash so use herbs and spices sparingly.

My Story

I think the best zucchini dish I ever had was a zucchini carrot cake that Mim Brown made and brought to a pot luck when I worked at Operation: New View.  Over the years as I have made it,  I have made a few adjustments in the recipe.  The recipe called for an awful lot of oil so I cut it down and I have used more zucchini to add moistness and I boil the carrots (for those who are lazy you can always use baby food instead).  I also replaced some of the sugar with brown sugar.  Makes a real difference.

My recipe card is dirty, yellow and very well worn so it is good that I am finally rewriting it to preserve it.  It was given to me well over 30 years ago.  Thanks Mim.


Mim’s Zucchini/Carrot Cake

2 cups soft mashed cooked carrots
2 cups grated zucchini (can use frozen)
3/4 cup oil
4 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Mix all well and add:

2 cups flour
2 tsp soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
1 cup chopped nuts (walnut or pecan)

Cut up carrots in small pieces and just cover top of carrots with water.  Boil until tender.  Put in blender with the remaining water and blend until smooth.  In separate bowl add your zucchini, oil, eggs, sugar and vanilla and mix.  You can use frozen zucchini but drain excess water.  Add dried ingredients and mix.  Do not over mix batter.

Bake approx 30 minutes at 350 degrees.  This is an extremely moist cake and is only made better by frosting it with cream cheese frosting made of 2 tbs. butter, 8 oz. whipped cream cheese, 1 tsp. vanilla, 2 tbs. milk, and 1 cup powdered sugar.  It does not need the nuts, but I love nuts.

Zucchini Carrot Bread or just Zucchini Bread

To use frozen grated zucchini in bread, thaw the package in a pan of cold water, squeeze out excess water and precede with the recipe. Omit the carrot and substitute 1/2 cup zucchini or other squash, if desired.

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tbs. ground cinnamon
3 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup canola oil
2 cups grated zucchini
1/2 cup grated carrots  (you can omit carrots if you just want zucchini bread)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
2 tsp. vanilla
Powdered Sugar (optional)

In a large mixing bowl stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, beat the egg, add the oil, grated zucchini, and grated carrots. Mix well.

Add the zucchini mixture and nuts to the flour mixture. Stir only until all the flour is incorporated. Do not over mix or the bread will be dry and chewy.

Scrape the batter into a well greased bread pan and bake in a preheated 325° oven for 60 minutes.
Remove from the oven and let the bread cool in the pan 5 minutes, then turn out onto a rack or plate. Serve warm or cool.  You may dust with powdered sugar. Makes two 9 inch loaves.

Carpaccio of Raw Zucchini

2 zucchini (about 1 1/2 pounds total), sliced into paper-thin rounds
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 young leek, white and light green parts only, sliced paper-thin into rings and thoroughly cleaned
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs, such as chervil, dill, chives, and chive blossoms
1 cup ricotta cheese
Fresh mint leaves, for garnish (optional)

Shingle the zucchini slices in a single overlapping layer on a platter. Dust with salt and pepper, then drizzle with a 3-count of olive oil and the lemon juice. Put that into the refrigerator for about 10 minutes to give the flavors a chance to get into the zucchini. Now scatter the leeks over. Sprinkle with the herbs. Garnish with the ricotta cheese and mint leaves.

Summer Garden Vegetable Medley

This recipe includes many of the vegetables found in your garden. Substitute yellow squash for zucchini or a combination of both. Add carrots, or eggplant or whatever you have in the garden.

3 medium zucchini (7 to 8 inches) or 5 small (4 to 5 inches)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 bell pepper or any pepper variety, seeded & cut into strips
6 trimmed, thinly sliced green onions with tops included
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds, ground
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Wash and thinly slice squash and set aside. Prepare all other vegetables and set aside.  To toast cumin seeds. Heat a heavy skillet over low heat. Add the cumin seeds and shake the skillet periodically. When their aroma begins to be noticed, after about 5 minutes, remove the skillet from the heat. Pour seeds into a mortar, allow to cool then grind. Or use a spice grinder.  Heat a non-stick skillet or wok over medium heat. Add oil. When oil is very hot, add peppers, onions and garlic. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add zucchini and tomatoes and continue cooking for 5 minutes.  Sprinkle with ground cumin, salt and pepper, stir. Serve hot or cold. Makes 6 servings.

Spicy Squash Cakes

This recipe works well with a combination of zucchini and yellow squash. Temper the fieriness of the jalapenos by adjusting the amount or by removing the seeds and white membrane. Prepare small cakes for an appetizer or larger ones as a side dish or serve with crusty bread and tomato salsa for a full meal. The salsa recipe is in the section on tomatoes.

1 whole egg plus 2 egg whites or use 3 eggs
4 cups grated summer squash
1 cup fresh corn kernels, cut from 2 ears
1/4 cup chopped green onions, tops included
1 large jalapeno pepper, chopped
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper or black pepper
Canola oil for sautéing
Low-fat sour cream (optional)
Fresh tomato salsa (optional)

In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Beat in squash, corn, green onions, jalapeno, the cheeses, flour, olive oil and ground pepper.  Heat two tablespoons canola oil in a heavy 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. For small cakes, spoon one tablespoon squash mixture per cake into the hot oil and flatten to uniform thickness. For large cakes, use two tablespoons of squash mixture per cake. Do not over crowd the skillet. Leave about an inch between cakes.  Cook until edges turn golden brown, turn and cook the other side until golden brown, about three minutes total cooking time per cake. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate. Place in a warm oven and continue cooking the remaining cakes.  Serve with some salsa and dollop of sour cream. Serves 6

Stuffed Squash Blossoms

Read the section on "Squash Blossoms" before you go charging out to the garden. Use your favorite bread or meat stuffing or use the ricotta/mushroom stuffing below. Or skip the stuffing, and simply batter the blossoms and fry. The batter must be chilled for 30 minutes. Or it can be made in advance and refrigerate it for up to two days. If it is too thick after refrigeration, add a few drops of water to return to original consistency.

The Batter
 1 cup flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup fat-free chilled milk, beer or water (I prefer milk)

The Stuffing
1/4 cup ricotta cheese
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper
2 tablespoon mushrooms, finely chopped
1 tablespoons fresh basil or parsley, minced
16 large squash blossoms, washed
Canola oil for frying

Prepare the batter first. Sift together dry ingredients, then whisk in milk, beer or cold water until smooth. Cover and set in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Leftover batter can be stored for up to two days.

Meanwhile, prepare the stuffing. In a bowl combine the ricotta cheese, garlic, salt, pepper, mushrooms and basil. Open the blossoms and pipe the mixture into the center of each (I like to put filling in a small baggie and cut a small hole in the tip and use as as piping bag). Avoid overfilling the blossoms. Twist the top of each blossom together to close. Place on a baking sheet and refrigerate for 15 minutes.  Pour the oil into a skillet to a depth of 1/2 inch. Heat over high heat until a small cube of bread dropped into the oil turns golden brown within seconds.  Briefly dip each stuffed blossom into the batter, then carefully slip into the hot oil. Cook until golden on all sides, about three minutes total cooking time. Add only as many blossoms at a time as will fit comfortably in the skillet. Transfer with a slotted utensil to paper towels to drain briefly.  Sprinkle with salt, if desired and serve immediately. Serves 4.

There will be more tomorrow just like the zucchini in your garden.  It just keeps coming.  Enjoy.

Be happy and may God bless you and yours.  

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