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Zucchini: Funny food, healthy choice

Zucchini is a summer squash, one that gets harvested before their shells get hard. While it has the shape and look of a cucumber, i's name comes from the Italian word "zucchino," or "small squash."
Zucchini is a summer squash, one that gets harvested before their shells get hard. While it has the shape and look of a cucumber, i's name comes from the Italian word "zucchino," or "small squash."

Zucchini is so popular, it has two national food days: Wednesday, Aug. 8 will be National Zucchini Day; and Thursday, April 25 will be National Zucchini Bread Day. It's a popular vegetable (or possible fruit) squash that is just that good.

National Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor's Porch Day (or National Zucchini Day)

If you've got zucchini in your garden, you already know by this time of year, you've got vines with hundreds of tiny squash that, if not picked, can grow to be really large. And besides that, one or two plants usually produce more than any gardener can consume.

How do you eat up all that zucchini? You don't. Thanks to Lebanon, Pa. resident, Tom Roy and his wife, we don't have to.

The Roys created 80 "national days," among them National Zucchini Day or Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Day.

To celebrate it, pick the excess zucchini in your garden, wait until it's really dark at night, silently creep onto your neighbor's porches and leave them your zucchini. You can add extra things like a couple of recipe cards or a bread loaf pan to make your secret gift more interesting if you want.

Or, you might consider that one day's harvest from a plant or two can easily feed dozens of hungry people. So, why not think about donating some of your zucchini to a food pantry. I know there are at least a couple, if not more, in La Salle County.

What exactly is a zucchini?

Zucchini is a summer squash, one that gets harvested before their shells get hard. While it has the shape and look of a cucumber, i's name comes from the Italian word "zucchino," or "small squash." Most of us use zucchini as a vegetable but if you're a botanist, you might set us straight because, really it's a fruit.

The largest zucchini ever grown was 69.5 inches long, weighing in at 65 pounds. While the smaller sizes often taste best, I love to stuff the larger oneswith sausage and peppers before baking them.

How do you eat one?

Not all zucchinis are equal. The most popular ones are green, but they can be tan and green stripped, gold and even white. For a sweet taste, pick then about three to five days after they flower, when they're about three to four inches long. The bigger ones are usually best for shredding and adding to breads.

Did you know that even those little flowers taste good? Use them in a salad with sliced cucumber, oregano and some feta cheese. This could easily become your favorite summer salads.

Zucchini bread can use up a lot of your harvest (and usually does) but there are other really good ways to eat zucchini. Grilled cheese sandwiches are good, but try a grilled zucchini sandwich or add zucchini next to cucumbers and celery when you're setting up a vegetable tray with dips.

Zucchinis equal good health

Zucchinis have more potassium than bananas. They're also loaded with folate, and magnesium, all good for your heart. It's one of the reasons they're often referred to as the super-food for the heart.

Zucchini can also be called a super-food for the eyes. There are no warning signs for eye diseases such as glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration. So, without even knowing it, you might be able to prevent those disease with zucchini, loaded with antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin.  Zucchini also is a good source for beta-carotene, another antioxidant that can improve your eye-health and protect against infections.

If you're watching your diet (and who isn't these days?), one cup of sliced zucchini will add about 19 calories to your diet. It's also low in cholesterol, so snacking on some raw zucchini only will help your weight loss program.

Zucchini and diabetes

According to the American Diabetes Association, in 2015, 30.3 million Americans (9.4 percent of the populartion) had diabetes. The percentage of Americans age 65 and older remains high, at 25.2 percent, or 12 million seniors (diagnosed and undiagnosed). Diabetes remains the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States in 2015, with 79,535 death certificates listing it as the underlying cause of death, and a total of 252,806 death certificates listing diabetes as an underlying or contributing cause of death.

If you're one of these statistics, zucchini could be one of your BDF (best diet friend) because it will help regulate your blood sugar. The fiber in zucchini can delay glucose absorption so if you're pre-diabetic, you might be able to better control the situation by putting more of this non-starchy food into your diet.

If you can't find a porch ...

Celebrate National Zucchini Day with some tasty recipes. Better yet, celebrate this healthy vegetable (or do you call it a fruit?) every day. It doesn't matter how you make it: add zucchini to a salad, grill it on a shish-kebob, make bread and muffins or just snack on it raw. It tastes good and your healthy body will thank you!

ITALIAN SAUSAGE STUFFED ZUCCHINI (simplyrecipes.com)

Makes 4 servings; prep time, 15 minutes

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1/2 pound Italian sausage, out of casing

1 large zucchini, 12 to 14 inches long (about 1 1/4 to 2 lbs)

or 3 to 4 medium zucchini

1 cup chopped onion

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

About 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs

2 medium tomatoes, chopped

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, or 2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano

3/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1 egg, lightly beaten

3/4 teaspoon salt (less or more to taste)

1 teaspoon ground black peppe

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in medium skillet on medium to medium high heat. Add sausage and gently cook until sausage is mostly (but not all) cooked through. Stir frequently; break up sausage into smaller pieces while it cooks. Remove to large bowl and set aside.

Cut zucchini in half. Use metal spoon to scoop out insides of zucchini, leaving shell about 1/4-inch thick. Remove any thick seeds from insides you've scooped out. Chop up about half of remaining zucchini flesh (you should have about a cup). You should have 1 tablespoon of fat in pan (rendered from the sausage). If not, add more olive oil. Heat pan on medium high heat. Add onions and cook until softened. Add garlic and cook 30 seconds more. Add chopped zucchini and cook minute or

two more. Add to the bowl of sausage.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Add rest of stuffing ingredients to sausage and onions. Place zucchini halves in baking dish. Stuff them with stuffing. (At this point you can make ahead, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to bake.) Add 1/4-inch of water to bottom of the pan. Bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes.

ZUCCHINI GRILLED CHEESE (delish.com)

Serves 3 to 4; total time, 30minutes

2 cups grated zucchini

1 large egg

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

2 green onions, thinly sliced

1/4 cup cornstarch

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Vegetable oil, for cooking

2 cups shredded Cheddar

Squeeze excess moisture out of zucchini with a clean kitchen towel. In medium bowl, combine zucchini with egg, Parmesan, green onions and cornstarch. Season with salt and pepper. In large skillet, pour enough vegetable oil to layer the bottom of the pan. Scoop about 1/4 cup of zucchini mixture onto one side of the pan and shape into a small square. Repeat to form another patty on the other side. Cook until lightly golden on both sides, about 4 minutes per side.

Remove from heat to drain on paper towels and repeat with remaining zucchini mixture. Wipe skillet

clean. Place two zucchini patties in the same skillet over medium heat. Top both with shredded cheese, then place two more zucchini patties on top to form two sandwiches. Cook until the cheese has melted, about 2 minutes per side. Repeat with remaining ingredients. Serve immediately.

ROSEMARY ZUCCHINI (wellcat.com)

Serves 4; approximate cooking time, 10 minutes

Very nice over rice or pasta.

1 tomato, peeled & chopped

1 tablespoon finely chopped onion

2 teaspoons finely chopped rosemary

Salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Thinly slice the zucchini and place in saucepan with all other ingredients. Cover and simmer gently until soft, stirring frequently at first to avoid sticking.

PARMESAN ZUCCHINI (food.com)

Serves 4

2 medium zucchini

2 teaspoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon seasoning salt, to taste (Lawry's or Johnny's)

1/3 to 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, to taste (and size of zucchini)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Clean medium zucchinis well, cut ends off, and slice lengthwise into quarters so that you have eight pieces.

Coat bottom of baking dish with olive oil and place zucchini pieces in dish. Sprinkle with seasoning salt (I sometimes lightly spray the zucchini with pan spray before sprinkling on the seasoning salt),

then with Parmesan cheese. Place uncovered in oven and bake for 20 minutes on 350 degrees F. Serve two pieces to each person as side dish.

ZUCCHINI FRIES with LEMON AIOLI (kraft.com)

Serves 8; total time, 35 minutes

3 zucchini (1 pound.)

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 packet chicken coating mix

1 egg

1/2 cup mayonnaise with olive oil

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

1 small garlic clove, minced

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Cut zucchini crosswise in half, then cut each piece into 1/4-inch-thick matchlike sticks. Add cheese to coating mix in shaker bag; shake gently to combine.

Whisk egg in medium bowl until blended. Add zucchini, in batches, to egg; toss until evenly coated. Use tongs to add 1/4 of the zucchini to coating mixture in shaker bag; close bag, then shake to evenly coat zucchini.

Spread onto rimmed baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray. Repeat with remaining zucchini.

Bake 12 to 13 min. or until zucchini is golden brown, turning after 7 minutes. Meanwhile, mix remaining ingredients until blended. Serve zucchini sticks with mayo mixture.

ZUCCHINI and CHEESE DROP BISCUITS (tasteofhome.com)

Serves 12; total time: 25 minutes

“These colorful little drop biscuits are very easy to put together and yet are packed full of flavor.”

3/4 cup shredded zucchini

1 1/4 teaspoons salt, divided

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 cup cold butter, cubed

1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1/4 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons finely chopped oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, patted dry

2 tablespoons minced fresh basil or 2 teaspoons dried basil

1 cup 2-percent milk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place zucchini in colander over plate; sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and toss. Let stand 10 minutes. Rinse and drain well.

Squeeze zucchini to remove excess liquid. Pat dry. In large bowl, whisk flour, baking powder and remaining salt. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in zucchini, cheeses, tomatoes and basil. Add milk; stir just until moistened. Drop by 1/3 cupfuls into

greased 13- by 9-inch baking pan. Bake 22 to 26 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm.

CHOCOLATE ZUCCHINI BREAD (simplyrecipes.com)

Makes 2 loaves; prep, 10 minutes; bake 1 hour, 10 minutes

“Chocolate zucchini bread that's rich, moist, and with a tender crumb. Made with cocoa powder for extra chocolate intensity.”

4 cups grated zucchini (from about a pound and a half of zucchini)

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa (use natural unsweetened cocoa, not Dutch processed)

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 1/2 cups granulated white sugar

2 eggs

3/4 cup unsalted butter (12 tablespoons or 1 1/2 sticks), melted

1/2 teaspoon instant coffee granules

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Drain excess moisture from grated zucchini: Place freshly grated zucchini in sieve over bowl to catch any excess moisture as it drains, while you work on prepping the other ingredients ,and preparing the recipe. If for some reason your zucchini is on the dry side, hydrate the shredded zucchini by soaking it in water first,

and then place in sieve.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with rack in middle. Grease two 9- by 5-inch loaf pans with baking spray or butter. Vigorously whisk together flour, unsweetened cocoa, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in large bowl. Whisk until well combined. In separate large bowl, beat together sugar and eggs until smooth, about a minute. You can do this with an electric mixer on medium speed, or by hand with a wooden spoon.

Add melted butter, instant coffee granules, and almond extract and beat until smooth. Mix shredded zucchini into sugar egg mixture. Add flour to zucchini mixture in three additions, stirring to combine

after each addition. Work quickly, and divide batter between two prepared

loaf pans. (Work quickly because once dry ingredients have mixed with

wet ingredients, the leavening has begun.)

Place into oven. Bake for 50 minutes at 350 degrees, or until skewer inserted into center comes out clean and easily. Remove to rack. Let cool in pan for 5 minutes, then run blunt knife around edges to separate bread from pan. Remove from loaf pans and let cool completely on a rack.

Note: if you try to slice chocolate zucchini bread before it has completely cooled, it will be rather crumbly. It's also easiest to slice with a bread knife.

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