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Zucchini: the plant that keeps on giving … and giving and giving

Submitted Photo Zucchini can grow up to 40 inches in length. Typically, zucchinis are best harvested with around 6 to 10 inches long.

It is getting late in the growing season, but the zucchini is still going strong! I get many calls on what to do with them. NDSU Extension is a great place to start. Find recipes and tips on freezing/preserving zucchini by visiting https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/publications/food-nutrition/summer-squash.

Zucchini has been around a long time. Ancestors, of more than 7,000 years ago, were native to today’s Mexico and the northern parts of South America. Cultivation began in Europe around the same time as the European colonization of the Americas began. Zucchini were developed in Italy in the 19th century near Milan. The first records mentioning zucchini in the United States date back to the early 1920s. It was most likely brought to America by Italian immigrants and thought to have been first cultivated in California. A 1928 report regarding vegetables grown in New York State lists ‘Zucchini’ as one among 60 cultivated varieties.

Botanically speaking, zucchini really is a fruit however, culinarily, it is treated as a vegetable. It can be eaten hundreds of ways, from juicing to, even, ice cream…who knew? The flowers are edible too. Not only do they taste good, but they are good for you. Zucchini can grow up to 40 inches in length. Yes, I am pretty sure we have all discovered that one, giant zucchini, or a few, hiding under a massive leaf that was missed. Typically, zucchinis are best harvested when around 6 to 10 inches long. If you do discover a whopper that was hiding, it is still good to use. I like those best for zoodles – zucchini noodles, removing the seeds first.

Zucchini can be dark or light green in color. A related hybrid, the golden zucchini, is deep yellow or orange. Nutritional value of zucchini includes a fair source of vitamin A, a good source of vitamin C, and a minor source of other vitamins and minerals. Zucchini is low in sodium and calories – one cup cooked is only 35 calories.

Because of the mild flavor, many recipes can be found for almost any kind of appetizer, soup, salad, main dish, side dish, or dessert. There are even many beverage recipes. Zucchini can be steamed, poached, sauteed, baked, fried, and eaten raw. You can make cakes with it, bread, relish, and more! The recipes for zucchini are about as endless and their supply.

Zucchini dishes can be found in many cultures around the world. In Mexico, they prefer the flower to the fruit. The flowers are used in soups and quesadillas. In Italy, zucchini is served in a variety of ways, but especially breaded and pan-fried. Some restaurants in Rome even specialize in deep-frying the flowers, known as fiori di zucca. The French use zucchini as a key ingredient for ratatouille, a stew of summer fruits and vegetables prepared in olive oil and cooked for an extended time over low heat. The dish, originating near present-day Nice, is served as a side dish or on its own at lunch with bread. Additionally, zucchini is often stuffed with meats and other fruits, such as tomatoes or bell peppers, in a dish named courgette farcie (stuffed zucchini).

Garden-fresh zucchini will keep well in the refrigerator. Store it whole and unwashed in an open plastic or paper bag inside the crisper drawer for one to two weeks. It may also keep on the counter at room temperature for up to a week, provided it is not too warm in your kitchen. I, personally, have had very good luck storing zucchini in my cold room for winter. They normally have kept until late winter or early spring.

You can also celebrate this prolific fruit by attending one of the many zucchini festivals around the country. Bake offs, cook offs, tastings, and contests with categories for carving, growing the biggest, or the fanciest zucchini are among some of the sights to participate in. There are also zucchini games, with zucchini trap shooting being quite popular. There is even a racing division, the Zucch-indy 500, where zucchini is made into race cars. Perhaps a beverage is what you are looking for, and what could be better than walking around sipping a zucchini cocktail, an ice-cold frosted mug of zucchini beer, or the classiest mason jar of zucchini moonshine wrapped in a brown paper bag? There is so much to do at these festivals — car and craft shows, street dances, rides for the kids, and much more…sounds like fun!

I once heard a story about a lady in Montana who used an overgrown zucchini as a weapon to fend off a bear – very handy to have when in bear country. She must have had one of those hidden giants we talked about! As kids, we would do a zucchini drop from the tallest structure we could climb on, without getting caught, and watch them splatter on the ground. Many zucchinis went to the chickens and ducks and the cows and pigs had their fair share too. A lot were composted, a lot were given away, and I think we still had more zucchini than mom knew what to do with.

I hope you take a few minutes to check out some of the many recipes for this generous summer giver.

Happy Gardening!

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