Zucchini: An abundant Kentucky summer squash

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The name zucchini may sound a little odd but zucchini squash is one of the most abundant staples of Kentucky gardens and is the most popular summer squash purchases in the United States.

Summer squash are staples in Kentucky gardens and at local farmers markets.  Their versatility makes them easy to prepare for tasty summer meals and side dishes.  Two of the more popular varieties include yellow squash and zucchini.

Squash are fleshy vegetables protected by a hard rind.  They belong to the plant family that includes melons and cucumbers.  This skin and rind of summer squash are rich in the nutrient beta-carotene, but the fleshy portion of this vegetable is not.  To gain the full nutritional benefits of this vegetable, the skins or rinds must be eaten.

Squash has been a staple for Native Americans for more than 5000 years, and was a mainstay for early Europeans who settled in America.  George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were enthusiastic squash growers.  In the 19th century, merchant seamen returned from other parts of the Americas with many new varieties.  This resulted in the various colors, shapes, and sizes available today.

Even though some varieties grow on vines while others grow on bushes, squash are commonly divided into two groups, summer and winter. 

There are several types of summer squash, but zucchini is the most popular summer squash purchased in the United States.  Summer squash come in many different colors and shapes.  The different varieties of summer squash are interchangeable in most recipes, because most are similar in texture and flavor.

Choose squash that are firm and fairly heavy for their size, otherwise they may be dry and cottony inside.  Look for squash that have bright, glossy exteriors.  Avoid buying squash that have nicks or bruises on their skins or ones that have soft spots.  

Place summer squash in plastic bags and store in the refrigerator.  Fresh summer squash should keep for up to a week.  Thicker-skinned varieties will stay fresh for two weeks or longer.

For those who like to grow their own produce, summer squash is a good choice.  It can be started from seed and will take about 55 days to mature when planted directly.  A quicker way is to use a transplant which you start at home or purchase.  Transplants will mature in about 45 days depending on the environment.  As a general rule to avoid frost damage, plants should not be placed in Kentucky gardens until May 10.

Zippy Zucchini Cakes
2 cups shredded zucchini
2 large eggs
1 egg white
¼ cup skim milk
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
2/3 cup corn meal
1 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon dill
½ teaspoon black pepper

Combine the zucchini, eggs, egg white, milk and olive oil. Stir until just mixed.  Add the remainder of ingredients into zucchini mixture.  For added zip, substitute Pepper Jack cheese for the Mozzarella, add 1 tablespoon chopped jalapeno pepper or ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes.  Stir until moistened.  Spoon the batter onto a lightly greased griddle or large non-stick skillet to form 2 inch cakes.  Cook 3 to 4 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned.  Turn and cook on the other side for 3 to 4 minutes.  Serve.
Yield: 10, 2 inch cakes

Nutrition Analysis: 80 calories, 2 g fat, 0 g sat.fat, 30 mg cholesterol, 140 mg sodium, 10 g carbohydrate, 1 g dietary fiber, 1 g sugar, 4 g protein.

Source: www.fruitsandveggiesmatter.gov     

For more delicious recipes and information on preserving summer squash or other Kentucky Proud fruits and vegetables visit www.kentuckyproud.com

Jane Proctor is Trimble County’s Cooperative Extension agent for family and consumer services.