Delicious/Nutritious: The underappreciated zucchini

Zucchini: Ubiquitous in the hotter months, this dark-green vegetable is the very definition of summer squash. Its neutral flavor allows it to be either the star or sidekick in almost any meal, and its moisture content can allow it to show up in the most unexpected of places.

Delicious

Zucchini is one of those things that everyone grows but few know what to do with. I used to be perplexed by it.

Garden Vegetable Zucchini Boats

“Why are they growing it?” I’d ask. “They can hardly give it away!” And furthermore, it seemed like most recipes for zucchini were designed to hide the zucchini, to bury it within mounds of bread or chocolate. “You can’t even tell it’s in there,” they’d exclaim, and I’d think “Well why IS it, then?” I get the idea that it’s nice to add some nutritional value to a loaf of bread or a muffin, so it’s not lost on me, but it just makes me feel bad for the poor zucchini, whom I believe can stand on his own and shouldn’t be relegated to a secret ingredient for tricking kids into eating vegetables.

One of my favorite things to do with zucchini is make it into a boat. This makes the zucchini the star of the show rather than a supporting character. For vegetarians, this will often be a main dish, though you could add bacon or sausage to it for the carnivores in your life.

This can be done on the grill, but frankly, lately it has been too hot for us to want to grill, which is really saying something, so I did mine in the oven/stovetop.

Garden Vegetable Zucchini Boats

1 large zucchini

1/2 yellow bell pepper

Handful of grape or cherry tomatoes

Handful of diced onion (green, red, white, whatever you have is fine)

Clove of garlic

1 package cream cheese

Handful of croutons

Olive oil

Salt

Pepper

One large zucchini will yield four boats. I had a little filling leftover from this batch because my zucchini was only medium-sized.

Preheat your oven to 350 F and slice the zucchini in half, long-ways. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast in the oven on a cookie sheet for 15 minutes or until it softens through.

Dice the pepper and onion and slice the tomatoes in half or quarters. Mince the garlic.

In a saucepan, saute the vegetables in dab of olive oil, adding the tomatoes and at the very end for just a minute.

Then add the cream cheese into the pan with the vegetables and fold everything together. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Remove the zucchini from the oven and use a spoon to gently scrape the seedy center out. Dispose of the seeds and fill the “boats” with the cream cheese mixture.

Crush your croutons and sprinkle on top. Ready to serve!

Nutritious

Honestly, I love using zucchini as an addition to baked goods, specifically cookies and brownies. It adds great nutrition and moisture without extra fat. Plus, it tastes so neutral that unless you’re making zucchini bread, most eaters seem not to notice a healthy green interloper.

But, because I’m the “nutritious” half of this duo, I thought I’d share one of my other favorite ways of preparing zucchini in the summer: Noodles.

Zucchini Pasta Fresca

Yep. Zucchini’s adaptable flavor makes it the perfect no-cook substitute for pasta during the hotter months. Plus, it’s way healthier than pasta: One cup has 20 calories, zero grams of fat, and boasts 35 percent of your daily vitamin C.

There are many ways to make zucchini noodles, and you don’t have to have special equipment. That said, I did make the noodles for this shoot using a low-cost “spiralizer.” You can get one for about $30, if you really want to turn everyday veggies into noodles (or create curly fries). The kiddo loves it, and, as you can see from the photo, it really does appear to make noodles.

But, again, you don’t have to have anything fancy to make this recipe. A vegetable peeler and a knife work just as well. There are instructions in the recipe below, but basically, you can dress the zucchini however you like, from fat, fettuccine-style noodles, to thin, angel-hair-type strips. Easy peasy, as they say. And healthy, too.

Zucchini Pasta Fresca

Per serving:

1 small zucchini

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced

Salt and pepper to taste

After trimming both ends, spiralize the zucchini into long noodles. If you don’t have a spiralizer, use a vegetable peeler to thinly slice fat “noodles” the length of the zucchini. If you want them thinner, halve or third the fatter slices into thinner strips.

Place noodles in a serving bowl and top with the cherry tomatoes.

In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper. Pour the whisked mixture over the noodles and toss to dress.


— Megan Stuke is a working mom, a practical cook and an impractical hostess. Sarah Henning is a writer, blogger, vegetarian and mom. You’ll usually find her eating kale.