Believe it or not, squash seeds have been found preserved in Mexican caves for more than 10,000 years. Squash originated in Mexico and Central America, but soon became popular in North and South America. Native Americans even considered it one of their top three foods. Although it has been eaten for thousands of years in the Americas, the zucchini we know today is a variety of summer squash developed in Italy, which is most likely due the fact the Columbus brought seeds back with him when he returned home. Zucchini comes from the Italian word zucchino, meaning a small squash.
Zucchini, Cucurbita pepo, is a member of the cucumber and melon family. In the culinary world, it is a vegetable, but botanists classify it as a fruit. It can grow up 3 feet, but is usually harvested when it is between 6 and 10 inches
My current home state of Georgia is one of the top squash-growing states in the U.S. The states of Florida, California, Georgia and New York produce more than 650 million pounds of squash per year.
Picking, Storing and Cooking
It's best to buy a zucchini that is no longer than 10 inches. Larger ones tend to be tougher and bland, where as smaller, younger ones have more flavor and more tender. Look for firm, heavy-feeling zucchini with unblemished bright and glossy skin.
The best way to store zucchini is in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Never wash or cut it before you are going to use it as either will speed up spoilage. It will last up to 5 days in a fridge.
Once you are ready to prepare it, wash the zucchini well and trim off the ends. You can slice, chop, grate or dice. Zucchini is such a versatile vegetable that it can be baked, fried, grilled, steamed, stewed or sautéd. You can store cooked zucchini covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
And don’t forget the zucchini flowers, which are often used in French or Italian restaurants where the smaller ones are often fried in a light batter and the larger flowers are typically stuffed with tomatoes & herbs or goat's cheese.
Zucchini Nutrition 411
Even though zucchini is a high water content vegetable, it is a great source of fiber, folate, potassium, and vitamins A and C. One ½ cup of cooked zucchini will add 15 calories to your daily intake. Here are some of the health benefits eating zucchini:
- Lower Cholesterol
- Cancer Prevention
- Improved Prostate Health
- Anti-Inﬂammatory Benefits, including the determent of asthma, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
- Decreased Risk for a Heart Attack or Stroke
- Lower Blood Pressure
- Better Blood Sugar Control
The Bottom Line
Zucchini can be used as a thickener, “bread” for a sandwich, fries, lasagna layers, nacho chips and, of course, “pasta” or zasta (just use a julienne peeler and stick in boiling water for 45-60 seconds). I throw it into just about everything from tomato sauce to eggs, like this Real Bite Garden Vegetable Bake. So why not grab some zucchini and take a Real Bite out of MY favorite vegetable. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.