One of summer’s prime crops is available in abundance. Zucchini, (Cucurbita pepo) a summer squash, can be found in grocery stores, gardens, at roadside stands and farmers markets. In the kitchen, zucchini is treated as a vegetable, but botanically, zucchini and its squash relatives are actually fruits.
All varieties of squash originated in the Americas, however the varieties we now call “zucchini” were developed in Italy in the late nineteenth century. Zucchini is an excellent, economical crop for the beginning gardener. It can be planted by seed outside after the last frost, or started indoors several weeks before being transplanted outside when the danger of frost is over. Zucchini loves warm weather and can tolerate hot temperatures, making it an ideal summer crop here in Yavapai County. Once they begin to produce fruit, zucchini plants are prolific. Often the biggest challenge of growing them is finding enough recipes to use them (or neighbors and friends to take them!) Local farmers and gardeners do have to compete with squash bugs, which can decimate a squash plant within a few days.
Zucchini contains good amounts of folate, potassium and vitamin A. Zucchini is best picked when it’s young, anywhere from six to 12 inches in length. Larger fruits tend to have less flavor and mature seeds. Zucchini is extremely versatile when it comes to preparation. It is delicious sautéed, fried, stuffed and grilled, as well as baked in cakes and breads and can be used spiralized as a pasta alternative or shredded into a veggie burger. The flowers, also known as squash blossoms, are edible as well. The pistils and stamens are removed from barely-opened flowers, then deep fried, baked, stuffed, grilled, sautéed or used as a garnish.
Right now is the best time to take advantage of summer’s bounty of zucchini, whether it comes from a neighbor, a farmer or your own backyard.