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Prairie fare: prolific zucchini has many uses

Recipe Swap: Skillet Zucchini with Chopped Tomatoes and Beefy Zucchini Casserole


Julie is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

I was admiring my neighbour’s garden the other day, especially her robust zucchini plants. I noticed some tender, young zucchini squash peeking out from under the foliage.

I could almost taste the warm zucchini bread and muffins you can make. I didn’t plant any zucchini plants this year because I was a little overzealous planting many different vegetables. Zucchini plants take more space than other plants.

I think my neighbour will share a zucchini or two to try with the recipe I have included in this week’s column. I noticed the tomatoes in my garden are getting red and some onions are getting large enough to sample, so they will be added to the garden-fresh recipe, too.

As I pondered my future menu, I thought back to a story inspired by one of my children.

“What’s that thing?” my daughter asked as I pulled a zucchini from my purse after returning home from a meeting. She was about eight at the time.

“It’s a zucchini,” I responded. “Remember, we had some last summer.”

“Where did you get it?” she asked. She looked at me a little strangely because I usually do not pack a zucchini in my purse.

“Someone gave it to me. Some years, zucchini grows well, so people have lots of it to share,” I said.

Sometimes they sneak it into your car or on your doorstep. Sometimes they hand a zucchini to you as you are leaving a meeting, and you put it in your purse, I thought to myself.

“It looks like a squash, but it smells like the sea,” she commented while examining and sniffing the zucchini.

“It grows in a garden, not under water,” I told her, although I was a little curious about the aroma she detected. I sniffed it, too. I guess she thought it smelled like seaweed.

“It’s time to make something with it,” I told her.

She gamely put on her apron and went to the sink to wash her hands. I was pleased. We pulled out our bowls and measuring cups and made muffins. She washed and then grated the zucchini.

“This is really fun,” she said. Cooking with kids not only teaches them skills, such as measuring and following directions, it makes some good memories, too.

A native vegetable of the Americas, zucchini has had several names through the years. Early American colonists called it “squash” based on several Native American words. Italians named it “zucchino” and the French named it “courgette.”

Zucchini also was known as vegetable marrow or Italian marrow. It can be served raw, boiled, baked, fried, steamed or stuffed. It’s used in numerous quick-bread recipes as creative cooks experiment with bounteous zucchini.

Zucchini is about 95 per cent water. A 1/2-cup serving has about 15 calories, plus it contributes some fibre, vitamin C, potassium, B vitamins and beta carotene to the diet.

Zucchini’s mild flavour makes it useful in a variety of foods from salads to dessert. When selecting zucchini in a garden, farmers’ market or at the store, choose zucchini that is heavy for its size with a narrow diameter.

Smaller zucchini are tenderer and can be sliced for use in soups and lasagna. Zucchini’s mild flavour allows blending with ingredients such as tomatoes, cheese and onions.

Mature zucchini is tougher and has large seeds. After removing the seeds, zucchini can be grated and used in bread, muffins and other foods. Rinse zucchini under running water just before you plan to use it in a recipe. Use fresh zucchini within a few days for best quality.

Here’s a recipe retrieved from the national “More Matters” program of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The program reminds us that most people need to eat more fruits and vegetables. You can have this vitamin C-rich recipe ready to eat in about 20 minutes from garden to table. I like to sprinkle it with Parmesan cheese.

Skillet Zucchini with Chopped Tomatoes

  • 1 tsp. olive oil or canola oil
  • 1 c. chopped onion
  • 4 small (6-inch) zucchini, thinly sliced
  • 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

In a large, non-stick skillet, heat oil over medium heat; add onions and cook, stirring until softened. Add zucchini and cook for two minutes. Add tomatoes and cook for three to five minutes or until zucchini is tender-crisp. Season to taste with pepper and add a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese if you wish.

Makes four servings. Each (1-cup) serving has 70 calories, 2 grams (g) of fat, 12 g of carbohydrate, 3 g of protein, 15 milligrams of sodium and 70 per cent of the daily recommendation for vitamin C.

And a second recipe because you’ll always have one more zucchini…

Beefy Zucchini Casserole

I selected this recipe from the Peak of the Market website where you can find loads more ideas for using the abundant vegetables coming into season right now.

This meaty casserole will help use plentiful zucchini and it’s an easy dish to prepare for feeding a hungry crew at harvest. — Lorraine

  • 1 zucchini, sliced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 2 c. cooked rice
  • 1 kg lean ground beef, cooked and crumbled
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup

In a large casserole, place a layer of zucchini. Place half of onion, half of tomato, half of rice and half of ground beef. Pour half of the soup over the top. Repeat layers beginning with zucchini. Bake in preheated 350 F oven for 1 hour.

Serves: 6

About the author


Julie Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

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