A popular summer squash with an off-white flesh with a light, somewhat bland flavor. Zucchini can be steamed, grilled, sautéed, deep-fried, and baked.
The zucchini or courgette is a summer squash which can reach nearly a meter in length, but which is usually harvested at half that size or less. Along with certain other squashes, it belongs to the species Cucurbita pepo. Zucchini can be dark or light green. A related hybrid, the golden zucchini, is a deep yellow or orange color.
In a culinary context, the zucchini is treated as a vegetable, which means it is usually cooked and presented as a savory dish or accompaniment. Botanically, however, the zucchini is an immature fruit, being the swollen ovary of the zucchini flower.
When used for food, zucchini are usually picked when under 20 cm (8 inches) in length, when the seeds are still soft and immature. Mature zucchini can be as large as three feet in length. The larger ones are often fibrous. A zucchini with the flowers attached are a sign of a truly fresh and immature fruit, and are especially sought by many chefs and gourmands for its sweeter flavor.
Unlike cucumber, zucchini is usually served cooked. It can be prepared using a variety of cooking techniques, including steamed, boiled, grilled, stuffed and baked, barbecued, fried, or incorporated in other recipes such as soufflés. Zucchini can also be baked into bread similar to banana bread or incorporated into a cake mix. Its flowers can be eaten stuffed and are a delicacy when deep fried, as tempura.
The zucchini has a delicate flavor and requires little more than quick cooking with butter or olive oil, with or without fresh herbs. The skin is left in place. Quick cooking of barely wet zucchini in oil or butter allows the fruit to partially boil and steam, with the juices concentrated in the final moments of frying when the water has gone, prior to serving. Zucchini can also be eaten raw, sliced or shredded in a cold salad, as well as lightly cooked in hot salads, as in Thai or Vietnamese recipes. Mature (larger sized) zucchini are well suited for cooking in breads.
In 2005, a poll of 2,000 people revealed the zucchini or courgette (as it is called locally) to be Britain’s 10th favorite culinary vegetable.
In Mexico, the flower (known as flor de calabaza) is often cooked in soups or used as a filling for quesadillas. The fruit is used in stews, soups (i.e. caldo de res, de pollo or de pescado, mole de olla, etc.) and other preparations. Both the flower and the fruit are eaten readily throughout Mexico.
In Italy, zucchini are served in a variety of ways, especially breaded and pan-fried. Some restaurants in Rome specialize in deep-frying the flowers, known as fiori di zucca.
In France zucchini are a key ingredient in 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. Zucchini are stuffed with meat with other fruits like tomatoes or bell peppers in a dish named courgette farcie (stuffed zucchini).
In Turkey, zucchini is the main ingredient in the popular dish mücver, or “zucchini pancakes”, made from shredded zucchini, flour and eggs, lightly fried in olive oil and eaten with yogurt.They are also used not infrequently in kebabs along with various meats.
In the Levant, zucchini is stuffed with minced meat and rice plus herbs and spices and steamed. It is also used in various kinds of stew. Stews that have low salinity are favorable in such cooking. It can also be stuffed with a mixture of rice, meat and eaten with yogurt.
In Greece, zucchini is usually fried or boiled with other fruits (often green chili peppers and eggplants). It is served as an hors d’œuvre or as a main dish, especially during fasting seasons. Zucchini is also often stuffed with minced meat, rice and herbs and served with avgolemono sauce. In several parts of Greece, the flowers of the plant are stuffed with white cheese, usually feta or mizithra cheese, or with a mixture of rice, herbs and occasionally minced meat. Then they are deep-fried or baked with tomato sauce in the oven.
In Bulgaria, zucchini are fried and then served with a dip, made from yogurt, garlic and dill. Another popular dish is oven-baked zucchini—sliced or grated—covered with a mixture of eggs, yogurt, flour and dill.
In Egypt, zucchini are cooked with tomato sauce, garlic and onions.