Most of us refer to this summer squash by its Italian name, zucchini. But it is also known as courgettes, long marrow, or garden marrow. Zucchina, aka zucchino, and its plural zucchini, is a member of the same family as water melon and cucumber. The Italian Ministry of Agriculture lists several varieties as native or traditional food of Italy including trombetta and genovese (Liguria), zucchina con il fiore (Lazio), lunga fiorentina, tonda fiorentina (Tuscany), and mora pisana.
Since summer squash varieties are harvested when the skin is soft and the pulp has a high level of water content, they can be eaten raw as well as cooked. Among vegetables, zucchini has one of the highest water contents at about 95% and one of the lowest caloric contents, about 20 food calories per 4 ounces (113 grams). Zucchini are especially high in Vitamin A and Vitamin C, Omega-3 fatty acids, Omega-6 fatty acids, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium and are high in dietary fiber and protein. Zucchini contain carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin which help prevent cataracts and macular degeneration.
Cooking and Pairing Ideas: Thinly slice tender, young zucchini and serve raw with only a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and sea salt sprinkled on top or combine with other young vegetables to make a fresh seasonal salad. Tender zucchini are ideal when used in risotto or sauteed as part of a sauce for fish, poultry and pasta. Mature zucchini have enough fiber to hold their shape and add delicious flavor and texture to many soups, frittata, braised dishes and dough. Small whole zucchini are often hollowed out, stuffed with minced meat and baked. Then slice into thick rounds (really attractive!) and serve with a meat or tomato sugo. Since zucchini contain such high water content, if steaming or boiling, do so briefly. Cooking zucchino shows this soft squash best when it is sauteéd, fried, baked, braised, grilled, or broiled. Versatile and adapting well to several cooking methods as well as supporting many ingredients, zucchini can be served from the beginning of an Italian meal, as antipasto, through the end of the meal, as an ingredient in dessert torta or candied as part of a crostata.
One of the most common vegetables grown in the Italian garden, zucchino is one of the few vegetables where its flower is just as popular as the actual vegetable. When immature, small zucchini with bright yellow flowers attached are prized in the kitchen and often cooked briefly to retain firm texture. Serve with a ripe tomato concassé. Zucchini flowers are stuffed with leftover risotto or semi-hard cheese such as pecorino, fresh ricotta flavored with parsley and garlic or flavored breadcrumbs, finely ground meat or fish and then sauteed, fried or baked. As a finger-food antipasto, dip fresh flowers into a thin batter similar to tempura and fry in hot oil for a minute until crisp. Serve with sparkling Prosecco.