Zucchini is one of the favorite vegetables of the world and it certainly ranks high in my culinary endeavors. It is delicious almost any way you prepare it and there are countless ways to use it in your cooking from salads, to main course to appetizers to desserts and breads. However, zucchini is part of a much larger family that includes other summer squashes, winter squashes, melons and cucumbers. Yep, they are all related, some a little closer than others.
Greenhouses, importers, and various growing locations worldwide have ensured that we can find zucchini in grocery stores at any time of the year. Others in the family, like yellow, crookneck and scallop squashes don’t show up as consistently. They each have their own unique flavor and blend well together when cooked. Zucchini has a delicate flavor, an edible skin, and a creamy off-white flesh. Generally the smaller, 3 to 4-inch vegetables are the best for eating since the seeds are smaller and edible and the flavor is at its best, I think. As they get bigger, they get tougher, seeds are bigger and the flesh isn’t as sweet. If you are stuffing a zucchini, try to look for about 5” and as big around as you can find.
Besides the delicious vegetables — oh, wait, that isn’t really a vegetable, but a fruit! It is formed in the same manner as fruits, so technically it is one of them. But I will continue to count it in the vegetable column. The zucchini also produces an edible golden flower. I admit, I have never cooked one of the flowers, although they are popular fried. I did have a couple of plants one summer that did not cross-pollinate because the flowers were all I got. The male flower blooms first to attract bees and the female blossom, which has the bud of a tiny fruit under it, needs to be pollinated by the bee. If this doesn’t happen, no zucchini will form. I was once told that you need at least two plants, but that apparently, isn’t necessary so long as the plant produces a female blossom. If no bees are in the area, you can transfer some of the pollen using a Q-Tip to dip into the male flower and put it in the center of the female bloom. Doesn’t that sound romantic?
All squashes have their ancestry in the Americas, but they have spread around the world. They are easy to grow and mature quickly. It’s one of the few plants that I can actually get a decent crop from in the micro-climate of South Reno. Native Americans called squashes one of the “three sisters” in their culture. The other two were corn and beans, which are also native to the Americas. The squash blossom is a popular design motif in Native American art and jewelry.
The squash we now call zucchini was developed in Italy from the root squashes brought back from America. It was cultivated, in the late 19th century and likely near Milan. The name came from zucca, which is the Italian word for pumpkin or squash and the suffix “ino” or “ina”, meaning little and becoming zucchini in the plural form. The French called it “Courgette” and it is known that way in much of Europe, so if you see that in a recipe, you know it is zucchini or vice versa. They are known as baby marrow in South Africa.
As little as 30 years ago, the zucchini was barely known in the United States and it was referred to as the Italian squash. It was likely brought to the country of its ancestors by Italian immigrants. But it took hold and has become popular to eat and grow.
Going back to its roots, zucchini, like all summer squash, is delicious with its other two sisters, corn and beans, and popular in Native American and Mexican foods. While beans and corn are used sparingly in a low carb lifestyle, summer squashes are very low in carbohydrates, which makes them awesome!
Nutrition information 1 medium (196 g)
Calories: 33 Fat: 0.5g Net Carbs: 4.0 g Protein: 2.4 g
There are several recipes on this site that feature zucchini:
Bacon & Zucchini Stuffed Sole
Chicken with Tomatoes & Zucchini
Zucchini and Sausages Bake
Since Cinco de Mayo is just around the corner and the squash is a Native American, which includes Mexico and South America, crop, it seems apropos that the recipe should honor that heritage. The Mexican name for squash is calabacitas and the Mexican zucchini is similar to the Italian one but more rounded and tear drop shaped. This is an original recipe I’ve developed over the years.
Calabacitas y Carne Con Queso
Mexican Squash with Meat and Cheese
Recipe by Rene Averett
3 cups Mexican Zucchini (or regular zucchini)
1 lb Beef, ground
1 can Chiles, mild or medium to your preference
1 cup Cheddar Jack Cheese, shredded
1/2 cup Mexican Cheese, Queso Fresco or similar
1/2 cup diced Onions
1 cup canned Diced Tomatoes, with juice
2 Low Carb Tortillas
1 cup Jicama, shredded or cubed or Daikon Radish, chopped
1 clove Garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
1/2 teaspoon ground Cumin
1 teaspoon dried Mexican Oregano
2 tablespoon fresh Cilantro
1 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F.)
Slice zucchini into 1/4″thick rounds.
In a large skillet over medium heat, add olive oil and heat a minute or so, then add garlic, jicama and onions. Stir cook the onions until they are fragrant and shiny. Add ground beef and lightly brown, then add seasonings, chiles and diced tomatoes. Stir and cook for about 10 minutes until hot and bubbly. Stir in the fresh cilantro.
Spray a round 2 qt. casserole dish with baking spray. Layer 1/3 of the zucchini on the bottom of the dish. Pour 1/3 of the meat mixture over the top, then sprinkle 1/3 cup of cheddar jack cheese over that. Put a tortilla on top and repeat with another layer of zucchini followed by the meat and cheese. Put the second tortilla on top and use the rest of the zucchini, meat and cheese on top of that.
Bake for 25 minutes until the casserole is hot and bubbly. Sprinkle the Mexican cheese over the top and return to the oven for another 5 minutes to melt the cheese.
Makes 6 servings.
Nutrition Info per serving :
Calories: 260 Fat:17.0 g Net Carbs: 8.7 g Protein: 16.3 g
And it’s Z-end of the the A to Z blog challenge! I will resume my usual Tuesday post schedule next week, but I thank everyone who stopped by to visit and comment during the A to Z Challenge. I hope you will continue to visit now and then.
Input for this article came from World’s Healthiest Foods, Nutrition and You, Wikipedia, and The History of Zucchini.
All photos taken by R. Averett for Skinny Girl Bistro.