Zucchini: The Summer Squash That Will Make Your Garden Overflow with Flavor!
Zucchini (Cucurbita pepo) is native to Central and South America and dates back to 7000 B. C. Zucchini, also known as “Italian Squash,” was introduced to North America by its southern neighbours. Early European explorers brought zucchini to Italy and other European countries. The hearty fruits were later experimented with producing the delectable dishes that resulted in zucchini being dubbed Italian squash. Until the twentieth century, most people considered zucchini to be a special occasion treat that was purchased rather than grown in gardens.
Zucchini, a member of the summer squash family, is high in manganese and vitamin C and low in magnesium, vitamin A, potassium, calcium, iron, folate, copper, riboflavin, niacin, and phosphorous. Many of the nutrients have been shown to help prevent atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease. The magnesium content of summer squash has been shown to help reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. Magnesium, like potassium in summer squash, is beneficial for lowering blood pressure. All summer squash are ideal diet foods because they are low in calories, sodium, fat, and fibre. Every part of the zucchini is edible.
Zucchini is the most well-known of the summer squashes. It is a narrow squash that is similar in size and shape to a cucumber. It has smooth, thin skin that can be striped or speckled and is yellow or green in colour. Its tender flesh is creamy white in colour and contains a lot of seeds. Its edible flowers are popular in French and Italian cuisine.
Zucchini can be planted directly from seed or by transplanting young plants started indoors. For vines, seed directly into the ground once the soil temperature reaches 60°F/16°C. Fill the holes with compost and slightly mound it. Plant the seeds 1 inch/2.5cm deep.
Zucchini is a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, which also includes cucumbers, melons, gourds, and squash, all of which are frost sensitive. Choose a sheltered location and dig holes 12in/30cm in diameter and 12in/30cm deep. Space the holes 36in/90cm apart for bush types and 6ft/1.8m apart for vines, measured from the centre. Squash can be trained over a sturdy trellis to save space, in which case 2ft/60cm between plants is sufficient.
The best growing conditions for zucchini are 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day. Summer squash requires consistent watering. To increase yield, feed the plants a high-potassium organic liquid feed. After planting, apply thick mulch to retain moisture and keep the fruits from touching the ground, where they will become soiled and vulnerable to insects and diseases.
Zucchini has the best flavour when it is less than six inches long. They should be firm but not brittle. Zucchini are prolific producers, and harvesting on a regular basis will ensure a consistent yield throughout the growing season. Harvest by gently removing the stems from the plants with a paring knife. Summer squashes dehydrate quickly because they are mostly water. Harvest just before cooking and store in a perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator until ready to use. Don’t forget that squash blossoms are edible.
Small summer squashes, skin and all, are used. Larger squash require the removal of the skin and seeds: slice lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Summer squash should be washed under cool running water and both ends should be cut off. You can then proceed to cut it into the size and shape required for the recipe.
Zucchini can be steamed, sautéed, boiled, baked, fried, grilled, or stuffed. Serve raw as an appetizer with a vegetable dip or salad dressing; grate and sauté with thinly sliced garlic; add to breads, muffins, cakes, stews, casseroles, soups; and sprinkle grated zucchini or other summer squash on salads or sandwiches. It can be kept fresh by canning, freezing, or drying.
Some gardeners let the squashes ramble through the corn patch, where their sandpapery leaves keep raccoons at bay. Corn, marjoram, and nasturtium are all good companion plants for zucchini. Growing zucchini and Irish potatoes together is not recommended because they are incompatible.