Summer Squash is one underrated vegetable. It only takes a couple of plants to supply a family with enough ripe squashes to last through summer, with plenty leftover at season end to freeze or save for fall and winter meals. Its mild flavor and soft texture make it an incredibly versatile food. Unlike winter squashes such as acorn or spaghetti, zucchini is a summer squash, with tender, edible skin. Best of all, it’s easy to grow and can be planted in gardens in every U.S. growing zone!
Zucchini plants produce a bountiful harvest throughout the summer months and sometimes into fall, especially in warmer climates. There are several varieties available, with different colors, shapes and sizes, and different harvest times. What’s left on the plant when frost time approaches can be frozen or dried for winter use.
Harvest plants when they’re approximately 7 or 8 inches long. They should be firm but not hard to the touch, with glossy skins. Wear gloves, as some varieties have prickly stems. Regular harvesting will promote continual production throughout the warm season.
Cut the fruit off at the stem with a sharp knife. Make sure to wash the squash well, to remove any traces of dirt from the soft skin, before readying it for cooking or storing.
You can prepare your dishes containing zucchini ahead of time, like soups, stews and casseroles, then freeze in individual serving sizes for quick re-heats of side dishes or entrees throughout winter. Or, you can prepare the squash cooked or uncooked, and freeze in the exact required quantity to be ready to thaw and add to future recipes.
Freezing zucchini couldn’t be simpler. There are many ways to do it, but the easiest is just to poke with a fork and then blanch or cook in a microwave for a minute to remove some of the moisture content, which prevents it from becoming mushy when frozen. Uncooked or blanched zucchini can be shredded, diced, cut into strips or sliced into rings for freezing and later use. Freeze in freezer bags, plastic containers or vacuum-sealed packets.
For some dishes, it’s preferred to remove the skin before freezing, like for deep frying. The breading sticks better to the flesh than the skin. However, the skin is where much of the nutrient content is, and if your vegetables will be mixed into other dishes, the skin also adds color.
Traditional canning works well with zucchini. It can be canned alone, either in chunks or pureed, or it can be combined with other ingredients to make zucchini marmalade, and tomato or mixed vegetable relishes. It adds the perfect background flavor to onions and bell peppers. For canning, many cooks prefer to remove the seeds, for a smoother, creamier consistency when cooked.
Zucchini is a staple in many ethnic cuisines, like Mexican and Korean soups that are served as entire mealsor parmesan-topped Italian casseroles. Combine squash with wheat flour, cinnamon and nutmeg and you can bake one of the world's most popular dessert breads. Tiny diced squash can be turned into a sweet compote, or canned with pineapple juice to make a sweet treat, or preserved like traditional dill pickle spears.
Squash can be dried in a food dehydrator for later rehydration in cooking. Zucchini cut into thin slices can be dried then lightly salted, and make excellent chips to serve with dips.
Zucchini is one of nature’s finest offerings for a healthy diet. It is fat-free, low in calories and high in fiber, Vitamin C and potassium. There are countless ways to make your squash harvest last throughout the cold, blustery months, without a single, boring meal!