By Himanee Gupta-Carlson
Okay, everyone has a zucchini story. Here’s mine: In the first year that my husband and I gardened in upstate New York, we discovered that in our dry sandy soil, one vegetable grew especially well. That was zucchini. It grew, and multiplied, and got gigantic. We ate it, pureed it, made breads, soups, and froze it. And after that year, we were so sick of zucchini that we refused to eat it, grow it, buy it, or even accept it as a gift for at least two more years.
Now, however, it’s 2016, and I have to admit that I like zucchini. (But, please, don’t try to sneak it into my car or shopping bag at the farmers’ market when I’m not looking!) When it’s in season, I eat it – along with its yellow summer squash counterpart – almost every night. I have found ways to grill it, sauté it, and make it into soups, pizza crusts, and pseudo-noodles to keep it from getting dull. I troll the Internet and cookbooks regularly, looking for new ways to prepare it, as well.
On a recent search, I stumbled upon a Wikipedia site that revealed a surprising fact: Zucchini is not just an American thing. Worldwide, it goes by a number of different names and can claim an intriguing array of preparations. Did you know, for instance, that zucchini is called courgette in British English when it’s small but is better known as marrow when large? Or that while its ancestry is rooted in the Americas its botanical development reached fruition in Italy? Or that the British use of the word courgette is borrowed from French, and that courgette itself is a dimunitive for courge, the French word for squash?
How zucchini is eaten worldwide also is of interest. According to the Wikipedia site, it is fried and served with yogurt based dip in Bulgaria; cooked with tomato sauce, garlic and onions in Egypt; serves as a star of the summer fruit-and-vegetable stew ratatouille in France; stewed with green chili peppers and eggplants in Greece; and boiled, baked, fried, or deep fried in Italy. In the Levant, it is stuffed with minced meats, rice, herbs, and spices. In Mexico, the flower is used to fill the cheese-stuffed tortillas, quesadillas. Zucchini is coated with flour or semolina and then baked or fried in Russia and Ukraine as well as in other parts of the former Soviet Union. In Turkey, it is made into a pancake-like dish that includes a mixture of flour, eggs and the shredded fruit which is then fried in olive oil and eaten typically with yogurt. It also is used in kebabs throughout the Middle East as well as in dolma, the stuffed vegetable dish that is placed in a grape leave and then slowly steamed.
Here is my most recent experiment with zucchini, a light vegetable preparation that takes advantage of its freshness and ability to pair well with other seasonal produce:
Zucchini Noodle Sauté
• 1 zucchini, about eight inches long
• 1-2 cloves garlic
• ½ Poblano pepper
• parmesan cheese
• black pepper
• olive oil
1. Wash zucchini and slice lengthwise into ribbons. Allow the ribbons to sit on a plate or chopping board to dry slightly while preparing other ingredients.
2. Mince garlic and slice pepper into thin ribbons.
3. Heat olive oil in a wok or deep pan. Add zucchini, garlic, and pepper, and toss gently with two spoons until zucchini ribbons start to get slightly crisp.
4. Remove from heat. Sprinkle parmesan cheese and black pepper on top. Stir lightly and serve.