The ode to zucchini


Call it zucchini, courgette, marrow, or summer squash — now is the season of this versatile keto veggie.

What is your favorite go-to vegetable on the keto diet? For many, it is cauliflower, which makes a great replacement for rice, pizza, risotto, hash browns and more. Cauliflower has become so popular with low-carbers in recent years that there have been newsworthy shortages as well as the birth of a multimillion-dollar cauliflower product industry.

Since going low carb almost four years ago, I’ve fallen in love with cauliflower’s chameleon flavor and versatile uses, so I always try to make sure I have a cauliflower in my refrigerator crisper. In Canada, however, ahead of cauliflower can often be $7 or $8 — so not exactly the cheapest of low carb veggie staples. But zucchini, that is another story. It is abundant, cheap, versatile and delicious. And right now it is the height of zucchini season in the northern hemisphere.

My local farmer’s market is selling beautiful, flawless specimens for $1, and at the local grocery store, it is more like 3 for $1. But who needs to buy them? Even if you don’t garden, if you have gardening friends, they are likely giving them away right around now.

I have a veggie garden and every year, try as I might, I cannot for the life of me consistently grow a successful cauliflower (tips anyone?). I have been gardening for more than 25 years and I like to think I have a pretty green thumb. Every year I plant cauliflower —sometimes from seeds, sometimes from transplants — and every year I am lucky if a get a tiny shriveled excuse for a head.

Not so zucchini. Even the most novice gardener will be likely rewarded with an abundant, even excessive, crop. As US humorist Dave Barry notes: “You cannot grow just one zucchini. Minutes after you plant a single seed, hundreds of zucchini will barge out of the ground and sprawl around the garden, menacing the other vegetables. At night, you will be able to hear the ground quake as more and more zucchinis erupt.”

I am currently awash in zucchini. My three garden plants are spawning them in ever-increasing numbers like Day of the Triffids replicants. I turn around, and suddenly there is one I missed picking, hiding under the plant’s enormous leaves, now the size of a small zeppelin. “Come get some zucchini” I email friends. “Please!” I am leaving them on neighbors’ doorsteps, bringing them to parties as hostess gifts, giving them to friends at lunches and coffee klatches. “Great to see you… I brought you a zucchini!”

You’d think that a vegetable that grows so reliably and effortlessly, like a weed, would have been around for eons, but it was first cultivated in Italy only about a 100 years ago. In France it is called a courgette. The UK and Ireland also borrow the French word, and use it in English with a more-or-less French pronunciation. Everywhere it is also known as a summer squash, notable from other squashes by its thin, edible skin.

Is it nutritious? You bet. It is a good source of folate, potassium, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, and manganese, as well as reasonable sources of copper, phosphorus, zinc, magnesium and more. One cup of chopped zucchini has about 4 grams of total carbs.

Compounds in its skin, called cucurbitacins, are being investigated for its “immense pharmacological potential”— including anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. It is so powerful that under certain conditions, such as too dry weather or under-watering, cucurbitacins can build up to potentially toxic levels in zucchini skin and flesh (as they can in other members of the cucumber and squash family). So if a zucchini ever tastes bitter, don’t eat it. I never let zucchinis get too big (unless I miss seeing them under all that foliage and then I toss it in the compost.) The younger, smaller ones are the most sweet tasting and the ones I pick and share.

The other day I took a dozen over to my sister’s house and we spent a few hours cooking together, browning and seasoning hamburger, making a basal garlic tomato sauce, and slicing the zucchinis into thin strips, to replace the pasta in this delicious lasagna. We each put three big casseroles into our freezers for easy fall meals.

zucchini lasagna

I have also made recently from Diet Doctor’s great collection of recipes zucchini chips, zucchini boats, and zucchini, mushroom and chorizo rollups (yummy!). Next up to try is the gorgeous-looking zucchini carpaccio, just posted on the Diet Doctor site a few weeks ago. It is so attractive that I may make it a feature of some future dinner party. Zucchini doesn’t need to be fussy. Some nights we just slice zucchini into rounds, brush them with olive oil and garlic and grill them on the barbecue. And of course you can always just zoodle them with a spiralizer to replace pasta in any dish.

Here is a recipe for a favorite, quick lunchtime meal of salmon zucchini fritters. I grate a whole zucchini, wick off extra moisture with a paper towel and then mix it with a tablespoon of psyllium husk, a teaspoon of salt, a drained can of salmon, an egg. I make the mixture into fishcake patties, then I fry them in hot olive oil, serving it with a homemade tartar sauce of minced dill pickles, horseradish, mixed into mayo, greek yogurt and whipping cream. Of course, zucchini are so abundant this time of year that many get tired of them, or overwhelmed by their ubiquity. So in North America, a new use has come into vogue: zucchinis, especially the big ones, decorated and decked out as racing cars and pitted against each other on a sloped track. Zucchini races are a feature now in many fall fairs and markets. Talk about your fast food!

Soon, my bounty will be over. My garden gifts of zucchini replaced by kale, but until now, I am baking and freezing and giving away as much as I can.

What is your favorite way to use zucchini?

Anne Mullens


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