Easy, fast zucchini skillets

(Photo provided — Yvona Fast)

(Photo provided — Yvona Fast)

It’s the middle of summer, and zucchini are everywhere. These summer squash plants are so fruitful that by early August, even our North Country gardens are overflowing with an abundant crop. In fact, Chase’s Calendar of Events lists August 8 as Sneak Some Zucchini onto Your Neighbors’ Porch Day!

In addition to the cylindrical dark green, zucchini come in many shapes, colors, and sizes. There are round zucchini as well as tubular; and these prolific squash come in many shades of green and yellow, with some speckled or striped. The smaller the squash, the more tender and flavorful it will be. When large, they can be tough and woody and are best shredded and used in baked goods, or stuffed. Their delicate sweet flavor and creamy texture blend well with many foods, so zucchini is perfect in many summer dishes. There are countless ways to use this summertime bounty, and entire cookbooks are devoted to zucchini.

Along with winter squashes, melons, gourds, and cucumbers, summer squashes and zucchini are members of the Cucurbitaceae family, native to the western hemisphere. Squashes were a part of the Three Sisters: corn, beans and squash and were dietary staples for many Native American tribes. They have been cultivated for thousands of years in Mexico and Central America. Early European explorers brought zucchini to the Old World, and it became so popular in Italy that it became known as “Italian squash”. The Italians first grew them for the sweet, edible blossoms, but soon discovered that the hearty fruit is delicious in many dishes. Our name zucchini derives from the Italian zucchino; in Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand they are known by their French name, courgettes.

Because of their high water content (95 percent) and plentiful fiber, zucchini are low in calories – just 11 calories per half-cup serving. They are good sources of fiber, magnesium, potassium, manganese, copper, phosphorus and vitamins C, beta-carotene (vitamin A), folate and riboflavin. Many of these nutrients aid in the prevention of heart disease. Summer squash also offer some antioxidants, including lutein, which is famous for its vision protective ability and may also have cancer fighting properties.

They are easy to prepare; just rinse and cut the ends off. You don’t want to peel them, since the tender peel contains most of the nutrients. They can be sliced, diced, or shredded and there are a myriad ways to prepare them: stir-fried, sauteed, steamed, boiled, fried, baked, roasted, broiled, microwaved or grilled. Just don’t overcook; it’s best when still a bit crisp. Zucchini is great raw in salads, or cooked as a side dish. You can even shred it into long ribbons with a spiralizer and use in place of pasta; it’s great this way with pesto. Shredded zucchini gets stirred into everything from soup to zucchini bread or desserts like cookies or brownies. The possibilities are endless.

Summer fare calls for fresh, light meals that don’t heat up the house by using the oven, and don’t require standing long over a hot stove. Zucchini cooks quickly and can easily make a fast weeknight skillet supper; the most time-consuming part is slicing and dicing the vegetables. Cook pasta, grain or potatoes while you’re preparing the skillet. Here are a couple ideas.

Greek Style Zucchini Skillet

Ingredients:

1 teaspoon olive oil or other fat

1/2 lb. ground lamb

Salt & pepper

1 large onion

2 cloves garlic

3 medium zucchini (about 6 cups, diced)

2 cups diced tomatoes

1 Tablespoon fresh oregano (or 1 teaspoon dried0

1 Tablespoon fresh basil (or 1 teaspoon dried0

1 cup olives

1/2 cup feta cheese

Directions:

Coat bottom of skillet with oil. Heat to medium; add meat, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and brown two to three minutes, stirring occasionally and breaking up large pieces with a fork. Lower heat to low.

Peel and dice the onion; add to the skillet, cover, and continue cooking and stirring four to six minutes more. Peel and mince the garlic, add.

Rinse the zucchini, chop off ends and dice. Add to the skillet; cook about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. If needed, moisten with a tablespoon or two of water or broth.

Wash and dice tomatoes; add, along with the herbs and cook five to 10 minutes longer. Slice olives and add, along with feta cheese; cook, stirring, two to three minutes until cheese melts.

Serve over pasta, with a tossed salad of fresh greens.

Serves two to four.

Creamy Chicken-Zucchini Skillet

Ingredients:

1/2 lb. chicken breast, skinless-boneless

Salt & pepper

1 large onion

2 cloves garlic

1 or 2 medium zucchini (3 to 4 cups, sliced)

1 red bell pepper

1/3 cup sour cream

1 Tablespoon flour

1/4 to 1/3 cup minced fresh dill

Directions:

Coat bottom of skillet with oil. Heat to medium; add chicken, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and brown two to three minutes, stirring and turning occasionally. Remove to cutting board; set aside to cool, then slice into bite-sized pieces.

Peel and dice the onion; add to the skillet, sprinkle with a little salt, cover, and continue cooking and stirring four to six minutes. Peel and mince the garlic, add, along with zucchini. Cover and continue cooking on low about five minutes.

Dice the bell pepper, stir into the skillet, and continue cooking about 5 minutes.

In a small bowl, blend together sour cream, flour and some of the liquid from the skillet. Stir this back into the skillet, along with the dill. Heat one to two minutes; taste and adjust seasonings if needed.

Serve with young potatoes and a salad of fresh greens.

Serves two to three.

Note: For a vegetarian option, omit meat and stir in 2 cups cooked or canned garbanzo beans (chick peas) at the end with the dill.

Author of the award-winning cookbook Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at www.wordsaremyworld.com or on Facebook as Author

Yvona Fast.

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