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Zucchini and other summer squash are versatile as they are healthy

The Spanish are credited with introducing squash to Europe; they believed the squash to be melons.

The Italians later downsized the huge gourds in the 18th century into the delicate green vegetables we today know as the zucchini. This dainty vegetable, with its elegant flavor and tender flesh, was immediately popular in France as well as Italy.

The English acquired the vegetable through the French and therefore called them courgettes, whereas Italian immigrants brought them to America, and we have always called them by their Italian name, zucchini.

Zucchini are best for you when eaten while they are young and tender — and as a vegetable, not in a baked good.

Most people would say there is no difference between green and yellow zucchini as long as the vegetable is young and tender. The difference in flavor is when the green variety grows large and the skin becomes tough.

Here in the United States, we generally prefer straight, dark green zucchini; consumers in Syria prefer a tapered, pale green zucchini to which the edible blossoms are still attached.

When choosing zucchini, select a small one with a fresh, bright appearance.

Zucchini lends itself to many food preparation techniques. A couple of ways you might consider are grilling and stuffing.

Grilled zucchini are excellent served hot as a side dish, as well as cold in salad. They also make a wonderful side dish with any meat that you have prepared.

To grill zucchini, work with a medium hot heat. You can determine this by holding your hand over the coals. If you can hold your hand over the coals for five seconds, it is ready for the zucchini.

It is very important to brush the zucchini slices generously with oil. Another option is to use an Italian salad dressing — just make sure it has some oil in it. Plan on grilling the zucchini slices about five minutes on each side, and turn them only once.

Some other ideas for zucchini and other summer squash varieties are to serve them sautéed or steamed as a side dish, or battered and deep fried.

Or, they may be baked with seasoning, cheese and crumbs. When hollowed out, they can be refilled with a seasoned stuffing of meat or their own flesh.

Summer squash can also be puréed for soups, or eaten raw in salads or with dips. The delicate squash blossoms can be stuffed, battered and deep-fried as well.

The other varieties of summer squash that you will find are crookneck, patty pan, and scaloppini. They all should have a thin edible skin and soft, barely developed seeds. Zucchini exist in a wide range of shapes, colors and sizes. I encourage you to try it.

Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross is an Extension educator in consumer family science. Write to her at 17746 E. C.R. 34, Goshen, IN 46528; call 574-533-0554; fax 574-533-0254; or email

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