Zucchini’s garden prowess is legendary. It seems that overnight, those brilliant yellow and orange flowers become a field of baseball-bat-sized zukes.

When a zucchini has grown bigger than a banana, it becomes woody, bitter and difficult to cook. Then, it’s best to shred for breads, muffins and cakes, or hollowed out, stuffed and baked.

Young zucchini, when just picked, is tender, mild tasting and delicious raw or cooked. Unless you have a garden or desperate neighbor, you’ll find the best at the farmers market. Look for ones that are firm and heavy for their size; store them unwrapped in the crisper and do not wash them until ready to use. The rough zucchini skin tends to hold dirt, so you want to gently clean zucchini with a vegetable scrubber under cold running water before you begin.

As with all squash varieties, zucchini is native to the Americas, and was first introduced to Europeans by Native Americans. The word “zucchini” is derived from the Italian for “little squash.” It’s related to the patty pan, sunburst and yellow “summer” squash, so what works for one works equally well for other tender squash varieties, too.

Young zucchini is terrific sliced and tossed into a salad, marinated briefly in citrus and oil, or sizzled in a quick stir-fry or sauté. Here are a few ideas to enjoy as your zucchini overfloweth:

• Add 1 cup of shredded zucchini to 3 cups of your favorite tomato sauce or chili recipe; it will melt right in.

• Add about 1/2 cup shredded zucchini to any standard muffin, quick bread or butter cake batter. It will be moister, so increase baking time by about 5 minutes.

• Add 1/4 cup shredded zucchini to your favorite brownie batter. It will be moister, so plan on adding about 5 minutes to the baking time.

• Work 1/4 cup shredded zucchini into 1 pound of hamburger for the grill.

• Swap out oven-roasted zucchini for eggplant in your favorite baba ghanoush.

 

Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.