SUMMER’S NEVER-ENDING VEGETABLE
It wouldn’t be summer without summer squash, especially zucchini. You’ll find them grilled, pickled, steamed, spiralized and sautéed on most summer menus. If you’ve ever grown them in a home garden, you know that they are generally very abundant producers if planted in the right spot with plenty of sunshine and sufficient watering. So productive are they that, by mid-summer, some may grow weary of finding different ways of preparing them.
Botanically classified as a fruit, but treated culinarily as a vegetable, zucchini come in many colors and shapes. There are the classic long zucchini, dark green, medium green, white, bright gold, even half green/half gold, smooth or ribbed, and the slightly bulbous light green or gray zucchini favored in Mexico. Then there are the round zucchini, popular in Italy and France, and these can be light or dark green. A personal favorite of mine is an Italian variety that is long and thin, ridged and striped green and gold.
Zucchini are staples in many cuisines around the world. They are an essential ingredient in the French classics ratatouille and soupe au pistou. They can also be used in sweets like zucchini cake or bread, where they provide moisture and texture.
All summer squash, including zucchini and their cousins patty pan and yellow crookneck squash, can be picked while still small, perhaps two to three inches long, and are best when they are no more than six inches long and the seeds inside are still immature. The larger the squash is, the more mature the seeds are and the flesh surrounding them somewhat fibrous.
In addition to the fruit, the zucchini plant produces blossoms that may be eaten. The female blossoms, which produce the actual squash, are smaller and are best eaten in salads; the male blossoms do not produce a fruit but are larger and perfect for stuffing.