Zucchini: A Power House of Nutrition
Zucchini, the best known of the summer squashes, is discussed in this
article. How to grow, companion planting, and uses in the kitchen are
zucchini, summer squash, growing, companion planting, nutrients, uses in
Dating back to 7000 B. C., zucchini (Cucurbita pepo) is native to Central
and South America. Sometimes called by the nickname “Italian Squash,”
zucchini was brought to North America by its southern neighbours. Early
European explorers introduced zucchini to Italy and other countries in
Europe. Italians initially grew zucchini for their sweet, edible
blossoms, later the hearty fruits were experimented with producing the
delectable dishes that resulted in zucchini being dubbed Italian squash.
Up until the 20th Century, most Americans considered zucchini a treat
reserved for eating on special occasions and were store-bought instead of
grown in gardens.
Part of the summer squash family, zucchini is an excellent source of
manganese and vitamin C, a very good source of magnesium, vitamin A,
potassium, calcium, iron, folate, copper, riboflavin, niacin, and
phosphorous. Many of the nutrients have been shown to be helpful for the
prevention of atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease. Summer
squash’s magnesium has been shown to be helpful for reducing the risk of
heart attack and stroke. Together with the potassium in summer squash,
magnesium is also helpful for reducing high blood pressure. All summer
squash are perfect diet foods - low in calories, sodium, fat-free, and
provide a source of fiber. All parts of the zucchini are edible.
How To Grow
Zucchini is probably the best known of the summer squashes. It is a type
of narrow squash that resembles a cucumber in size and shape. It has
smooth, thin skin that is either yellow or green in colour and can be
striped or speckled. Its tender flesh is creamy white in colour and
features numerous seeds. Its edible flowers are often used in French and
Zucchini can be planted by direct seeding or by transplanting young
plants that have been started indoors. Seed directly into the ground as
soon as the soil reaches temperatures of 60°F/16°C. for vines. Fill the
holes with compost and mound slightly. Plant seeds 1in/2.5cm deep.
Zucchini is a member of the Cucurbitaceae family that includes cucumbers,
melons, gourds, and squash, all particularly sensitive to frost. Select
a sheltered spot, and prepare holes about 12in/30cm in diameter and
12in/30cm deep. Measuring from the centre, space the holes 36in/90cm
apart for bush types, 6ft/1.8m apart for vines. To conserve space,
squash can be trained over a sturdy trellis, in which case 2ft/60cm
between plants is enough.
Zucchini grows best when exposed to 6-8 hours of direct sunlight each
day. Regular watering is essential for summer squash. Feed the plants
with a high-potassium organic liquid feed to produce a higher yield.
Thick mulch added after planting will preserve moisture and keep the
fruits from touching the ground where they will become soiled and be
exposed to insects and diseases.
The flavor of zucchini is best when it is less than six inches long.
They should be firm, but not hard. Zucchini are prolific producers and
regular harvesting will promote continued yield throughout the growing
season. Harvest by cutting the stems from the plants gently with a
paring knife. As they are composed mainly of water, summer squashes
dehydrate rapidly. Harvest just before cooking and keep in the
refrigerator in a perforated plastic bag until cooking. Don’t forget
that squash blossoms are delicious to eat.
Small summer squashes are used skin and all. Larger squash need their
skin and seeds removed: slice lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with a
spoon. Wash summer squash under cool running water and then cut off both
ends. You can then proceed to cut it into the desired size and shape for
the particular recipe.
In the kitchen, zucchini can be steamed, sautéed, boiled, baked, fried,
grilled, and stuffed. Some ideas include: serve raw as an appetiser with
a vegetable dip or salad dressing, grate and sauté with thinly sliced
garlic, add to breads, muffins, cakes, stews, casseroles, soups, sprinkle
grated zucchini or other summer squash on salads or sandwiches. It can
be preserved by canning, freezing, and drying.
In the garden, some gardeners let the squashes ramble through the corn
patch, where their sandpapery leaves deter raccoons. Good companion
plants for zucchini are: corn, marjoram, and nasturtium. Don’t grow
zucchini and Irish potatoes together as they are incompatible.