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9 great ways to use summer zucchini

Nothing says it's summer like all that zucchini in the market -- or maybe taking over your vegetable garden.

So what do you look for when buying? Zucchini come in all shapes, but when shopping, avoid massive, older squash. Look for smaller zucchini -- the squash is more tender, with thinner skin. Also, check for squash that is firm and without any blemishes.

And what can you do with it in the kitchen? Well, pretty much anything. Steam it, boil it, grill it, fry it, saute it. Or skip the cooking all-together and serve it raw -- it adds a lovely crunch to a summer salad. If you need some specific ideas, we've gathered nine of them from our recipe database: 

Zucchini slaw: Zucchini are great cooked, but they can be just as wonderful raw -- light and crisp with delicate flavor. Shred a couple (or more) pounds of zucchini. Dress it with a light sherry vinaigrette, a bright vinegar with a lighter flavor that won't overpower the zucchini. Add some diced tomato; not only is the color vivid, but the soft tomato really emphasizes the crispness of the zucchini. And it's perfect served simply, with a sprinkling of toasted pine nuts and fresh-shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Huckleberry's zucchini tea cake: You'll love the combination of flavors and the rich, dense texture of this tea cake. We liked it best served warm out of the oven. And as deliciously rich as it is, it's also remarkably low in fat.

Zucchini, corn and green chile (calabacitas):  Calabacitas is a classic Mexican blend of stewed vegetables. This colorful mix of zucchini, corn and green chile is simply flavored with bacon, onion, oregano and garlic, with a little fresh cilantro to round out the harmony.

Wolfe's Market shell pasta salad: Sweet cherry tomatoes and vibrant zucchini strips lend bright colors to this pasta salad. The fresh lemon zest adds a nice zing in this easy-to-fix salad, the flavors rounded out with fresh chopped basil and rich Parmigiano-Reggiano. 

Garlic and herb-stuffed zucchini and tomatoes: A fragrant mixture of garlic, capers, crushed tomatoes, onion and a touch of wine are cooked to a rich, thick tomato sauce, while freshly made breadcrumbs, pine nuts and a few chopped anchovy fillets are the filling for a hollowed-out zucchini and small ripe summer tomatoes. Spoon the tomato sauce over the base of a gratin dish, and top with the stuffed zucchini and tomatoes. Dinner is ready to serve when the vegetables are softened and the breadcrumbs are lightly browned, about 30 minutes.

Coral Tree Cafe's vegetable soup: Fresh vegetables simmered with barley in a hearty broth makes for a perfect one-dish meal. What's more, your guests might not even notice it's vegetarian.

Zucchini, feta and basil frittata: These frittatas make excellent use of this summer vegetable, combining grated small or medium zucchini with crumbly feta cheese, green onion and chopped fresh basil or oregano. Make perfectly sized individual frittatas for dinner, saving any leftovers for snacks later.

Free-form zucchini lasagna with lemon-thyme cream: Fresh pasta casually layered with grilled zucchini strips, lemon-infused cream and dollops of garlic- and parsley-flavored ricotta. The recipe includes instructions for making your own pasta, and while you can substitute pre-made in a pinch, nothing beats the flavor of homemade. 

Baked zucchini with mint and garlic stuffing: Combine fragrant chopped fresh parsley and mint in a bowl with garlic and bread crumbs, moistening the mixture with olive oil. Spoon the mixture over zucchini halves and bake until the zucchini is tender and the topping is crisp. You can find the recipe below.

BAKED ZUCCHINI WITH MINT AND GARLIC STUFFING

Total time: 1 hour | Serves 4

Note: Adapted from Anna Del Conte’s “Italian Kitchen”

1 pound zucchini
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup dried bread crumbs
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1. Cut the zucchini in half lengthwise. Make some diagonal incisions on the cut side. Sprinkle the cut side lightly with salt and place the zucchini halves on a wooden board, cut-side down. This will allow some of the liquid to drain away.

2. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the chopped parsley and mint in a bowl and add the garlic and bread crumbs. Add half the oil gradually, while beating with a fork. Season with a good grinding of pepper and with very little salt.

3. Oil a shallow baking or lasagna dish large enough to hold all the zucchini halves in a single layer.

4. Wipe the zucchini halves with paper towels and lay them in the dish, cut side up. Spoon a little of the herb mixture over each half. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the oil over the halves and cover the dish with foil. Bake for 30 minutes.

5. Remove the foil and continue baking until the zucchini is tender and the top is crisp, 10 to 20 minutes longer.

6. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil while the zucchini is still hot. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Each serving: Calories 229; protein 3 grams; carbohydrates 9 grams; fiber 2 grams; fat 21 grams; saturated fat 3 grams; cholesterol 0; sugar 3 grams; sodium 61 mg

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