Culinary Arts

5 Ways to Cook Zucchini: Summer Squash Basics and Easy Recipes

Written by MasterClass

Apr 13, 2019 • 3 min read

Nothing says summer like stacks of emerald zucchini squash at the farmers’ market or grocery store. On the other hand, nothing says autumn like a warm slice of spiced zucchini bread. Here’s what you need to know about the humble fruit we treat like a vegetable.

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What Is Zucchini?

A zucchini is a summer squash of the Cucurbita pepo species. Though the Cucurbita genus has roots in the Americas, zucchini as you know it today are a result of Italian cultivation in the 19th century; it takes its name from the Italian word for squash, zucca. (In French, it’s called a courgette.) Common zucchini, dark green in color and sold in grocery stores everywhere, goes by the name "Black Beauty."

Zucchini and Squash on Black Background

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What Is the Difference Between Green Zucchini and Yellow Squash?

Both zucchini and yellow squash are varieties of summer squash, with certain characteristic differences:

  • Shape, size, and color. Where zucchini range from light to dark green in color and take the shape of a long cylinder, yellow squash are typically curved and slightly wider on one end. Yellow zucchini and crookneck squash both feature goldenrod skin, but the yellow (also known as "straightneck") squash have a higher water content and swollen bottom with a curved, swan-like neck.
  • Flavor and flesh. The two are very similar in flavor, both featuring a mild, just-barely sweet flavor profile. Some types of squash, like pattypans, can feature larger and more prominent seeds, and thus, a more moist flesh. Pattypans are the flying saucers of the squash universe—pale and scallop-edged—while eight ball zucchini are wider discs that are exceptionally good for stuffing.

What Is the Difference Between Zucchini and Chayote Squash?

Chayotes (or mirliton squash) have light green skin and a pear shape, with a more fibrous texture than zucchini. They’re especially good raw, with a mild flavor that feels like a cross between an Armenian cucumber and a squash.

How Long Do Zucchinis Last?

Unlike heartier varieties of winter squash, like butternut squash or acorn squash, anything in the summer squash family is best enjoyed as fresh as possible, though it will last a week or two in the crisper of your fridge.

What Are Zucchini Blossoms and How Can You Cook With Them?

Zucchini flowers are usually harvested throughout the season, right before the fruits have a chance to develop, but you can also find them still attached to a miniature zucchini. The delicate yellow-orange squash blossoms are delicious no matter what you do with them: they’re most popular lightly battered and fried as an appetizer, sometimes stuffed with a soft cheese like ricotta; although a chiffonade of their mild, nasturtium-esque peppery petals make a great garnish for things like pasta and pizza.

What are the Benefits of Zucchini?

As far as health benefits go, fresh zucchini are high in dietary fiber and potassium—useful in maintaining good blood pressure—and help achieve the recommended daily value of vitamin C and B6.

5 Ways to Prepare Zucchini

Zucchini recipes are an easy, quick, and low-calorie addition to a meal, either as a side dish or the main event.

  • Boiled stems: Instead of discarding the stems of summer squashes, save them for a simple summertime appetizer: trim the exposed stem to get a clean edge and boil until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from water and serve them in a puddle of olive oil with a sprinkle of flake salt.
  • Zoodles: Use a spiralizer to create a gluten-free zucchini noodle, or “zoodle,” as the base for a cold pasta salad or as the base of a poke bowl. The raw squash tendrils maintain their crunch even when lightly tossed with a vinaigrette or sauce.
  • Zucchini fritters: Grate 3 medium zucchini on a box grater, squeeze out excess moisture, and place in a large bowl. Add 2 eggs, ⅓ cup whole milk ricotta cheese, 2 finely chopped scallions, the zest of 1 lemon, and ½ cup all-purpose flour. Season with salt and black pepper, and mix well to combine. Heat an inch of olive oil in a cast iron skillet, then carefully drop spoonfuls of the batter (flattening slightly) into the hot oil. Fry until golden brown, 2-3 minutes, and repeat on the other side. Remove to a paper-towel lined plate.
  • Roasted zucchini: Slice zucchini lengthwise, and hit them with olive oil, salt, and black pepper before a trip into the oven. Roast at 375°F until just tender and golden brown. Serve alongside grilled meats or whole grains like freekeh or quinoa. Or, try Chef Thomas Keller’s roasting method here.
  • Sautéed zucchini: True luxury is slices of zucchini sautéed in good olive oil with paper-thin slices of garlic and paired with fresh burrata, a few tears of fresh basil, and crusty bread.