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Zucchini can add a bit of zest to your dish

July 14, 2010|By LYNN LITTLE / Special to The Herald-Mail

The zucchini is probably the best-known member of the summer squash family. Zucchini is very low in calories and a good source of vitamin C, fiber, potassium and magnesium. The green-skinned variety is a source of carotenoid pigment that helps protect against cataracts and macular degeneration, so be sure to eat the tender skin on the zucchini.

When choosing zucchini, pick firm, slender squash that are free of soft spots or wrinkled skin. For best quality, choose those that are 6 to 8 inches long and not more than 2 inches in diameter. Larger zucchini are better suited to baking. Zucchini can grow quite large, but when allowed to do so, they have coarse, stringy flesh and large seeds.

Zucchini are easily damaged and should be handled with care. Place them in a perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator, where they will keep for about one week. Wash them just before using. One pound of zucchini will make about 3 cups of slices.

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To enjoy zucchini now try the following ideas:

Raw zucchini bites. Sprinkle zucchini slices with garlic powder or combine garlic powder and Parmesan cheese.

Grilled zucchini spears. Enjoy the zucchini on the grill. Cut zucchini into spears and brush with fat-free Italian dressing and grill using direct heat until golden brown, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Zesty skillet zucchini. Put 1/2 cup tomato or vegetable juice in skillet along with 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Cook on high heat for 3 minutes. Add 1 medium chopped onion, 1 medium chopped tomato and 1 cup canned, drained mushrooms, cover and cook on medium heat for 5 minutes. Add 2 medium zucchini, sliced thin, cover and cook for another 5 to 7 minutes. Eat hot, as is, or serve over noodles or rice.

Zucchini-crusted pizza. Make a crust from 3 1/2 cups grated zucchini, 3 eggs, beaten, 1/3 cup flour, 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese and 1/2 teaspoon dried basil. Combine all the ingredients and spread into an oiled 9-inch-by-13-inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes until the surface is firm and dry. Brush the top with a little oil and broil it, under moderate heat for 5 minutes. Top with your favorite pizza ingredients and bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes. Serves 4 to 6.

You can also try serving zucchini cold as a variation on traditional coleslaw. Add 2 cups coarsely shredded zucchini to 2 cups shredded cabbage, 1 medium shredded carrot, 2 sliced green onions and 1/3 cup low fat mayonnaise. Combine all ingredients, cover and chill at least one hour before serving.

Sauteed zucchini. Saute slices or chunks of zucchini in stock or a mixture of stock and a little oil. Use a nonstick skillet, if possible and toss frequently to keep the zucchini from browning. Cooking time will be 3 to 6 minutes.

Zucchini can be frozen but this results in a softer flesh. Wash and cut into 1/2-inch slices. Blanch in small quantities 2 to 3 minutes translucent. Cool promptly, drain and package, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Seal and freeze. If you like to bake with zucchini you can wash and grate young, tender zucchini. Steam blanch in small quantities 1 to 2 minutes until translucent. Pack in measured amounts into containers, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Cool by placing the containers in cold water. Seal and freeze. If watery when thawed, discard the liquid before using the zucchini. Once frozen the squash will keep for 3 to 4 months.

Visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation ( http://www.uga.edu/nchfp) for more recipes and ideas for preserving zucchini.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.

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