zucchini

Zucchini are infamously prodigious growers. Urban legend has zucchini-growers leaving bushels and bushels of the green-growing monster on strangers' front steps, under the cloak of darkness.

Take heart! For the past ten thousand years, cooks have found ways to use zucchini. In the 1400s, European explorers who came to the Americas brought back what they considered strange foods. The zucchini eventually found its way to Italy, where it was named zucchino. The French call it courgette, a name that has been adopted by the English. The English also refer to a variety that is slightly larger and plumper as a vegetable marrow.

The colonists of New England adopted the name squash, a word derived from several Native American words for the vegetable which meant "something eaten raw." George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were early zucchini enthusiasts.

With a very high water content (more than 95 percent), zucchini are very low in calories; there are only 13 calories in a half cup. Nutritionally, zucchini provide some beta-carotene, Vitamin A, folic acid, small amounts of vitamin C and calcium, and potassium.

Zucchini can be enjoyed in countless ways. Its flavor is light and sweet with flesh as delicate as a squash blossom and a texture that makes it almost melt in the mouth. Cut raw zucchini into thin strips and include them in a platter of crudites or shred them into salads. Prepare a salad of shredded zucchini, diced sweet onions and shredded carrots, tossed with your favorite dressing. Puree zuchini in the blender with a little water, and add seasoning to create a cold sauce or salad dressing.

If you feel like a stove session, zucchini can be steamed, boiled, baked, fried and stuffed:

• Steamed: With their high water content, zucchini can be cooked without water in a pot with a tight fitting lid.

• Baked: Slice zucchini, chop onions, shred carrots, chop peppers, chop tomatoes. Layer the vegetables in a casserole with seasonings and herbs. Cover and bake at 350 for about 45 minutes.

• Stuffed: Core out the centers of each zucchini. Chop onions, mushrooms, peppers, tofu, tomatoes. Add seasonings and stuff. Bake covered in a casserole with tomato sauce at 350 for about 45 to 60 minutes.

RECIPE

Parmesan and Pepper Zucchini

Serves 6-8

2 strips bacon or vegetarian breakfast strips

1 cup finely chopped sweet onion

3/4 cup peeled and chopped fresh tomato

1 pound (about 2 cups) unpeeled, thinly sliced zucchini

ground black pepper to taste

1/3 cup parmesan cheese

Fry bacon until crisp in a large skillet. Remove, leaving fat in the skillet (if using vegetarian strips, use vegetable oil spray).

Place onion in skillet and cook until soft. Add tomato and zucchini, season with pepper, cover and simmer until squash is tender, about 10 minutes. Crumble bacon; stir into zucchini; sprinkle with cheese and mix to combine. Serve hot.

Notes:

1. Bacon is not necessary. Vegetable oil spray works fine.

2. If you have leftover cooked or fresh corn, toss in instead of cheese.

3. If you like, you can brown this dish under the broiler before serving.

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