This Meatless Monday, we feature zucchini, with growing, storage and prep tips, as well as recipes for Zucchini Parmesan and Chocolate Zucchini Cake from Vermont Fresh: A Fruit and Vegetable Handbook.
Zucchini and summer squash are both types of squash that are harvested when immature, unlike their relatives in the winter squash category, which are allowed to ripen fully. Zucchini (which is actually a type of summer squash) is usually dark green and shaped like a small bat, whereas what we call “summer squash” is more commonly yellow with a slight crook in its neck. Both can vary slightly in color as well as shape. Patty-pan squash, for example, is a type of summer squash that resembles a flying saucer. Although summer squash and zucchini have their roots in the Americans, the Italians are credited with breeding zucchini into the plant we know today. The French word for zucchini is “courgette,” a name that is also used in several other European countries. Squash and zucchini blossoms are edible, too!
One of the most common mistakes made by gardeners worldwide is to plant too much summer squash and zucchini. Two or three plants usually produce more squash and zucchini than a single family can handle, so only plant more if you plan on freezing a good amount or distributing produce to your neighbors. Start seeds indoors about a month before the last frost date (they are very cold-sensitive plants). Plant a few more seeds than you think you’ll need so you can choose the strongest plants. Plant one seed each in 3-inch pots with plenty of compost. Harden off before planting outside by gradually reducing water and temperature. Direct seeding is also an option after the danger of frost has passed. Allow at least 2 full feet of space between plants and plant into mounds of soil with plenty of compost. You can protect young seedlings from cucumber beetles with floating row cover but be sure to remove it once the plants begin to bloom. Harvest the fruits when they are 6-10 inches in length by cutting the stem about an inch above the top. Remove overgrown fruits to encourage more production.
Both zucchini and summer squash are best when eaten as soon as possible, but they can be stored in the fridge for about a week without deteriorating much. Wrap loosely in a paper towel and then in a perforated plastic bag to balance moisture levels. For long-term storage, shred (or chop) and freeze.
Summer squash and zucchini are low in calories while being high in potassium, folate, manganese, vitamins C and A, and fiber. Like many fruits and vegetables, squash and zucchini are most nutritious when eaten with the skin on.
Although summer squash and zucchini are most commonly cooked, you’ll sometimes see tender, raw zucchini sticks served with dip. Squash and zucchini are ready once washed and trimmed of the ends. They can be steamed, sautéed, grilled, stir-fried, and added to soups, sauces, or casseroles.
Meatless Monday Recipe: Zucchini Parmesan
Cyndi Brandenburg, a volunteer cooking, tasting and testing recipes out of the Vermont Fresh Handbook tested these recipes. Her comments are in italics below.
(adapted from www.handletheheat.com)
- 2 medium-large zucchini, sliced into ¼ inch rounds
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- ¼ cup bread crumbs
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- 1 cup marinara sauce
- ½ cup mozzarella cheese, grated
- Preheat oven to 450°F. Generously grease a large, rimmed baking sheet.
- In a large bowl, drizzle zucchini with olive oil and toss to coat.
- In a smaller bowl, mix together the bread crumbs, salt, pepper, and half the Parmesan.
- Dip the coated zucchini rounds into breading mix, then place in single layer on the baking sheet and bake until browned, about 25 minutes. Remove from oven and reduce heat to 400°F.
- Grease a small casserole dish and cover the bottom with marinara. Cover with a layer of baked zucchini, then with some of the mozzarella, then Parmesan.
- Keep layering sauce, zucchini, and cheese, finishing with a cheese layer on top.
- Bake until cheese is melted and bubbling, about 15 minutes. Serve warm.
This was an easy recipe that we especially liked because the zucchini was baked rather than fried. Everyone thought it was delicious. It only makes 8 rather small side servings, so keep that in mind. (The zucchini rounds shrink up quite a bit when baked.). This dish would work well as a vegetarian entrée; I’d say the recipe as written makes 4 main dish servings. However, everything can be easily doubled and baked in a larger casserole dish if bigger quantities are desired.
A few additional cook’s notes:
We needed two large baking sheets to accommodate all the zucchini rounds Store-bought Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs worked quite nicely Moving at a leisurely pace, you can expect to spend about 45 minutes prepping in addition to the 40 minutes of cooking time.
Approximate Cost: $9.00 (Note that zucchini were out of season and thus more expensive than in late summer months)
Meatless Monday Recipe: Mary Catherine’s Chocolate Zucchini Cake
- ¾ cup shortening or butter
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- 3 eggs, beaten
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 2 ½ cups flour
- ½ cup cocoa
- 2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
- 1 ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ cup milk
- 3 cups grated zucchini
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Grease two 8×4 loaf pans.
- In a large bowl, cream shortening and sugar, then add eggs, vanilla, and milk.
- In a separate bowl, mix together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon.
- Quickly mix together wet and dry and ingredients. Stir in zucchini.
- Scrape mixture into prepared pans and bake 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool almost completely before serving.
This recipe makes two generous loaf-sized cakes, easily 12 servings. The batter seems really thick, but once the shredded zucchini is stirred in, it cooks up nice and moist and rises surprisingly well. Very delicious, especially when slightly warm.
There is an error in the original recipe. The sugar should be creamed into shortening according to directions (step 3). It should NOT be mixed into the other dry ingredients as stated in directions (step 4).
Be sure the shortening or butter is softened before using. We found that 2 small-medium zucchini yielded about 3 cups shredded zucchini. Working at a leisurely pace, the cake should take about 30-35 minutes to prepare, plus an additional hour to cook.
Approximate cost: $6.00 (definitely would cost less if zucchini was in season)
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