Growing, cooking and loving nature’s prolific veggie.
Story By Bailey Gilliam
It’s that time of year when exponentially multiplying zucchini gets harvested in local gardens, and every gardening neighbor offers you a portion of their lot. Zucchini, also known as green squash or courgettes, are hard to escape, and that’s okay with us. They are healthy, delicious, easy to grow and have quite a history. Zucchini is a type of summer squash, related to those grown in Mesoamerica over 7,000 years ago, but perfected by Italians and brought to the U.S. during The Great Arrival. It can be eaten raw, cooked into side dishes, cut into noodles as a pasta alternative, baked into bread and desserts – the list continues. Whether you’re looking to up your zucchini game or are a total courgette novice, keep reading to learn more about this fruit masquerading as a vegetable.
Many gardeners will tell you that zucchini practically grows itself and that they can produce an abundant harvest. While zucchini is a prolific grower, that doesn’t mean it can’t use a little assistance. Zucchini needs about six to eight hours of full sun and consistently moist, fertilized soil. Some zucchini varieties are vining types that require a trellis or a lot of room to sprawl. There are also bush types suitable for container gardening and small-space gardening. Match the zucchini type to the space you plan to grow it for the best results. Water thoroughly whenever the top inch of the soil is dry. Because disease can spread easily across zucchini plant leaves, direct water at the soil and not on the leaves. Harvest time depends on the variety, but zucchini are generally the most tender and have the best flavor when young. Carefully cut fruits off the plant with a knife or pruners when zucchini are between 3 and 8 inches long. To help them store longer, harvest with at least an inch of stem still attached.
Zucchini contains various vitamins, minerals and beneficial plant compounds with significant health benefits. Cooked zucchini is particularly high in vitamin A, which supports your vision and immune system. Zucchini skin contains several antioxidants that may provide various health benefits. Zucchini is rich in water and fiber, two compounds that can promote healthy digestion by reducing your risk of constipation and symptoms of gut disorders. Zucchini’s fiber may increase insulin sensitivity and stabilize blood sugar levels, potentially reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes. The fiber, potassium and carotenoids in zucchini may lower blood pressure, cholesterol and other risk factors for heart disease. It’s rich in manganese, lutein, zeaxanthin and vitamins A and C, all nutrients that contribute to healthy vision and may lower your risk of age-related eye conditions. Zucchini is rich in water and fiber yet low in calories, which may help reduce hunger and help you feel full. Zucchini may benefit bone, thyroid and prostate health. It also may have anticancer properties, but more research is needed.
Where to get zucchini
Farmers Market of Bluffton: Purchase locally grown zucchini from noon to 5 p.m., Thursdays in Old Town Bluffton.
Roadside markets: Certified roadside markets such as Barefoot Farms, Dempsey Farms, Pasture Shed Farm and Lowcountry Produce Inc. are the freshest sources for local produce.
Bigger is not better. The most flavorful zucchinis are smaller, and the darker the skin, the richer the nutrients. When choosing zucchini from the store, opt for smaller- to medium-sized ones with vibrant green skin and no wrinkles. Larger zucchini have a pulpier texture and higher water content, which spoils faster. Also, if available, choose ones that still have a little bit of the stem attached.
The recipes featuring zucchini are endless, but here are some quick cooking tips for using this green squash.
Bake: Drizzle with olive oil and bake at 450 for 8-15 minutes or until it begins to brown.
Grill: Heat grill to medium-high heat, place zucchini on grill, flip after 3 minutes, then cook covered for 2-3 more minutes.
Boil: Boil water, reduce heat, cover and boil for 3-5 minutes or until pierced easily with a fork.
Sauté: Heat oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add zucchini and cook, stirring every 2 minutes, for 7 minutes or until brown.
Fry: Add zucchini slices to a hot pan with oil, a few at a time and cook for 2-3 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels.
Air fry: Air fry at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes, shaking or tossing the zucchini halfway through cooking.
Microwave: Cover and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Check for doneness by piercing with a fork or knife.
Steam: Steam zucchini in a steamer basket on the stove for 5 minutes. Opt for less time if you want to preserve more of their crispness.
Instant pot: Cook on high pressure for 1 minute.
This zucchini risotto is light and creamy, topped with parmesan cheese and comes together in only about 30 minutes.
2 medium zucchini, grated
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, or olive oil
1 large shallot, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup white cooking wine
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
4 cups vegetable stock; substitute chicken stock or water
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Salt and pepper, to taste
 In a medium pot, heat the vegetable stock over medium heat until simmering. Remove from the heat and set aside.  Using a large box grater, finely grate the zucchini and set aside.  In a large skillet or stockpot, melt the butter over medium heat and sauté the shallots and garlic for about 5 minutes or until soft and fragrant.  Add the grated zucchini and cook down for 10 minutes until soft and tender.  Add the rice and stir frequently, for about 2 minutes. Then add the white wine to de-glaze the pan and scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot.  Add in 1/2 cup of the warmed vegetable stock and the fresh thyme, stir the risotto until completely absorbed, then add another 1/2 cup and repeat. Continue to add in the stock 1/2 cup at a time until it’s all absorbed and the rice is fully cooked.  Stir in the Parmesan and lemon juice. Then taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Garnish with microgreens and lemon zest and enjoy.
This simple recipe creates creamy, sublimely silky zucchini soup without any cream at all – a true celebration of the ingredient.
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced 1/4-inch thick
2/3 cup vegetable stock or low-sodium broth
1 1/2 cups water
Raw zucchini, julienned for garnish
 In a large saucepan, melt the butter in the olive oil. Add the onion and garlic, season with salt and pepper, and cook over moderately low heat, stirring frequently, until softened, 7 to 8 minutes.  Add the zucchini and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the stock and 1 1/2 cups of water and bring to a simmer; cook until the zucchini is very soft, about 10 minutes.  Working in two batches, puree the soup in a blender until it’s silky-smooth.  Return the soup to the saucepan and season with salt and pepper. Serve it either hot or chilled, garnished with julienned zucchini.
Mini zucchini quiches
Are you having a party or high tea? Mini zucchini quiches are tasty and easy. These cute little savory pies are ready in half an hour, so what are you waiting for?
12 square sheets of puff pastry
All-purpose flour for rolling
2/3 cup cream
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 1/4 cups grated Gouda cheese
1 3/4 cups feta cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Vegetable or olive oil, for coating
 Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a muffin tin with oil. Grate the zucchini or finely chop it with a food processor.  Whisk the eggs and cream in a medium-sized bowl. Add smoked paprika, zucchini and cheese. Season with salt and pepper.  On a floured surface, roll pastry squares until doubled in size. Cut two rounds per sheet with a 4-inch round cutter. Place pastry rounds in the muffin tin.  Fill each muffin tin with the zucchini mixture and finish with crumbled feta. Bake for 15 minutes or until the quiches are golden brown.