It will be old news by the time you read this, but today as I write this – August 14th - is National Zucchini Day. Fortunately, you don’t have to worry if you missed it, because if you’re a long time reader of this column, you know that I have been regaling you with zucchini recipes in August for years. So better late than never.
This year will be a little different, because in addition to a recipe, I’m including a few facts about this versatile vegetable that you may not be aware of. (Pardon the dangling participle.) Like it isn’t really a vegetable. Technically, the zucchini is a fruit, just like the tomato. It’s a member of the summer squash group, which also includes the yellow crookneck and scallop (patty-pan) squash.
The zucchini we know and love today is a descendant of plants that were first cultivated around 10,000 years ago in what is now Mexico and Guatemala, and had it not been for our conquering European forefathers in the 1500’s and 1600’s, it would still be there being grown by the natives primarily for its seeds, which were used for medicinal purposes.
These explorers knew a good thing when they saw it and began bringing it back to their home countries, one of which was my ancestral area – Italy – where the popular green squash got its name.
I’m proud to say that the Italians are credited with breeding today’s modern zucchini, calling it “little gourd” with “zucca” meaning gourd and “ini” meaning little.
I won’t get into medical science with you (like I really know anything about that subject), but the old cavemen had it right thousands of years ago, using the seeds for medicinal purposes, because in many ways, the zucchini happens to be an excellent source of vitamins A and C, and contains an unusual amount of antioxidant nutrients rivaling carrots in health benefits to the eyes.
Other medical benefits include B-complex vitamins for healthy blood sugar regulation, zinc, magnesium, and omega-3 fats (in the seeds), as anti-inflammatory aides, and while we eventually expect to see well-documented anti-cancer benefits from summer squash in large-scale human studies, the anti-cancer research on these vegetables (or should I say fruits?) is still in a preliminary stage.
I’ll put away my doctor’s hat now and give you one final fact: The largest recorded zucchini measured 69.5 inches long and weighed 65 pounds. I don’t know about you, but I’d have to hop up on my kitchen stool to look that one in the eye.
This monster of a zucchini was grown by Bernard Lavery, author of the booklet, “How to Grow Giant Vegetables.” Well thanks, Bernie, but I prefer my green squash small and tender – I think they tend to lose flavor as they become larger. But you gotta admit it would keep you in zucchini bread for decades!
To change the subject for a minute, I have to mention that as I write this, tomorrow (August 15) is (was, to you) National Lemon Pie Day. I made my lemon pie last week to get it over with and make way for National Zucchini Day. I should also mention that August is
National Make a Will Month, so if any of you reading this are thinking of including me in your bequeaths, now’s the time to get crackin’!
Getting back to zucchini, since I mentioned other summer squash in this informative commentary, it’s only fair that I include at least one in my zucchini recipe. I’m going with the yellow squash, mainly because I have never had a patty-pan in my kitchen, much less ever come in close contact with one. But rest assured, it will be placed high on my bucket list.
SUMMER SQUASH GRATIN
1 medium zucchini 1 medium yellow squash
1 medium potato 1/2 cup heavy cream*
4 oz. extra sharp cheddar, grated** Salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 425?. Slice the zucchini and yellow squash about 1/8 to 1/ inch thick. Slice the potato into paper thin slices. Place all the sliced vegetables into a bowl and toss to mix them up. Place a single layer of mixed vegetables in the bottom of a 2-quart baking dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sprinkle on 1/3 of the cheese. Repeat layers twice more and pour the heavy cream over the top. Cover the dish in foil and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes.
*I used half & half
**You can use Swiss or any cheese of your choice