Posted on by Heather Grove
“Fooding” is a term relatively new to the American culinary lexicon, located somewhere on a continuum between understanding and enjoying the food we all eat. Each month at East End, we’re going to try our luck at fooding by uncovering some essential (and perhaps little-known) facts about specific foods. As summer comes to a close, we’ll be focusing this month on one of the most common summer seasonals, Zucchini.
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Awash in Difference: Why Zucchini isn’t Just a Squash
Zucchini and squash are terms that are often used interchangeably in the kitchen. In truth, the relationship between the two is more like a rectangle and a square: all zucchini are squash, but not all squash are zucchini. So, what makes the zucchini both so unique and so ubiquitous? Why is it not just julienned in a salad, but grated in those hocakes and covered in tempura batter, too? To understand just how essential the vegetable is to a variety of cuisines, we found it instructive to take a short look at its long history of cookery.
Indian, Latin, Italian. . .American? How Zucchini Got Onto Our Tables and Into Our Vocabulary
The English word “squash” is a contraction of a Narragansett or Massachusetts Indian word, akutasquash, meaning “eaten raw or uncooked.” Zucchini (Curcurbita Pepo var. Cylindrica) also goes by the names cocozelle, courgette and summer squash, and the most commonly used name is thought to originate from the Italian word zucca. Those same ever-resourceful Italians are thought to have bred modern zucchini from a squash found in North America after Columbus’ voyage in the late 15th century, though the genus has roots (pun . . . intended) stretching back to the absurdly verdant vertical gardens of Central and South America almost 6000 years ago.
Optimal Growing Conditions for Florida Squash
Mediterranean and subtropical climates like those mentioned above lend themselves to soil temperatures around or above 60 degrees Fahrenheit almost year round, meaning we can grow squash here in Florida from February into October. Healthy zucchini require full sun and lots of water, which are fortunately both plentiful in and around The City Beautiful. Growing zucchini is a simple process, but even in urban environments certain environmental factors can endanger your crop. Squash are also quite sensitive to heat and frost damage, so consider your growing period carefully.
“Oh My Squash:” Hints to Help Get the Most Out of Your Next Zucchini
Zucchini separates itself from later-blooming forms of squash, like pumpkin and butternut, in that it is harvested before its rind hardens, ensuring a soft and supple mouthfeel without having to remove the outer shell. It comes in yellow, orange and green, with varying degrees of sweetness in each. Don’t mistake it for yellow “goldbar” squash, noting that the neck of that variety is generally tapered or crooked, where a zucchini will maintain its cylindrical shape from end to end (even if the fruit itself is over a foot long). For the best flavor and texture, pick the fruits when they are around eight inches long, as they can sometimes grow tougher with sustained increases in size. This practice also encourages more fruit to grow, and using this method it’s possible to yield a bumper crop from surprisingly few plants. Once you’ve selected out the traits you desire most in your own plants, you can self-pollinate them to avoid allowing other characteristics to blow in on the wind.
The Good Stuff: More Reasons Zucchini is “Squashsome”
The zucchini commonly found in the subtropics of central Florida happens to be high in vitamins A and C, as well as folates—all antioxidants that can make your body feel rather “delicious” long after you’re done eating. Golden-skinned zucchini in particular are especially dense in nutrients called flavonoids, another form of antioxidant. The blossoms that grow on the end of each fruit are also hearty enough to be stuffed, fried and eaten (something called “nose-to-tail” cookery in culinary circles). Fresh-picked, uncut summer squash will hold between ten and fourteen days in the fridge, but can also be cut, blanched (don’t forget the ice bath!) and frozen in airtight containers indefinitely if you’re looking to extend your stash through those long, hard “winter months” here in Central Florida.
It’s almost October, which means a cinnamon-spiced wave of pumpkin-flavored everything is upon us; while the bars stock up on punchy pumpkin ales and coffee shops double down on hearty orange helpings of nutmeg and almond infused espresso, I’ll be dreaming in green—of the soft, subtle flavors of zucchini, my favorite summer squash.
SOURCES: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/15/zucchini-health-benefits-facts_n_5675246.html http://www.almanac.com/plant/squash-zucchini http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/zucchini.html http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/archives/parsons/publications/vegetabletravelers/squash.html Photo 1: http://www.wikihow.com/Shred-Zucchini Photo 2: http://kissmyspatula.com/2010/08/09/zucchini-crudo/ Photo 3: http://andloveittoo.com/zucchini-lasagna-gfcf-grain-free-soy-free-vegan-option-noted/