The zucchini (pronounced /zuːˈkiːni/) or courgette (/kʊǝrˈʒɛt/ or [kɔːˈʒɛt]) is a small summer squash. Along with some other squashes, it belongs to the species Cucurbita pepo. Zucchini is the more common name in North America, Australia, Germany and Italy (zucchina/e), while courgette is more commonly used in Britain, New Zealand, Ireland, France, the Netherlands and South Africa. Zucchini can be yellow, green or light green, and generally have a similar shape to a ridged cucumber, though a few cultivars are available that produce round or bottle-shaped fruit.
In a culinary context, zucchini is treated as a vegetable, which means it is usually cooked and presented as a savory dish or accompaniment. Botanically, however, the zucchini is an immature fruit, being the swollen ovary of the female zucchini flower.
When used for food, zucchini are usually picked when under 20 cm (8 in.) in length and the seeds are soft and immature. Mature zucchini can be as much as three feet long, but are often fibrous and not appetizing to eat. Zucchini with the flowers attached are a sign of a truly fresh and immature fruit, and are especially sought by many people.
Unlike cucumber, zucchini are usually served cooked. It can be prepared using a variety of cooking techniques, including steamed, boiled, grilled, stuffed and baked, barbecued, fried, or incorporated in other recipes such as soufflés. It also can be baked into a bread, or incorporated into a cake mix. Its flowers can be eaten stuffed and are a delicacy when deep fried, as tempura.
The zucchini has a delicate flavor and requires little more than quick cooking with butter or olive oil, with or without fresh herbs. The skin is left in place. Quick cooking of barely wet zucchini in oil or butter allows the fruit to partially boil and steam, with the juices concentrated in the final moments of frying when the water has gone, prior to serving. Zucchini can also be eaten raw, sliced or shredded in a cold salad, baked into a bread similar to banana bread, as well as hot and barely cooked in hot salads, as in Thai or Vietnamese recipes.
Zucchini should be stored not longer than three days. They are prone to chilling damage which shows as sunken pits in the surface of the fruit, especially when brought up to room temperature after cool storage.
In 2005, a poll of 2,000 people revealed the courgette to be the Britain’s 10th favorite culinary vegetable. In Mexico, the flower (known as flor de calabaza) is preferred over the fruit and is often cooked in soups or used as a filling for quesadillas.
In Italy, zucchini are served in a variety of ways, especially breaded and pan-fried. Some restaurants in Rome specialize in deep-frying the flowers, known as fiori di zucca.
In France zucchini is a key ingredient in ratatouille, a stew of summer fruits and vegetables prepared in olive oil and cooked for an extended time over low heat. The dish, originating near present-day Nice, is served as a side dish or on its own at lunch with bread. Zucchini are stuffed with meat with other fruits like tomatoes or bell peppers in a dish named farcis (stuffed).
In Turkish cuisine, zucchini is the main ingredient in the popular dish mücver , or “zucchini pancakes”, made from shredded zucchini, flour and eggs, lightly fried in olive oil and eaten with yogurt.
In the Levant, zucchini is stuffed with minced meat and rice plus herbs and spices and steamed. It is also used in various kinds of stew.
In Greece, zucchini is usually fried or boiled with other fruits (often green chili peppers and eggplants). It is served as an hors d’œuvre or as a main dish, especially during fasting seasons. Zucchini is also often stuffed with minced meat, rice and herbs and served with avgolemono sauce. In several parts of Greece, the flowers of the plant are stuffed with white cheese, usually feta or mizithra cheese, or with a mixture of rice, herbs and occasionally minced meat. Then they are deep-fried or, less often, baked with tomato sauce in the oven.
In Bulgaria, zucchini are fried and then served with a dip, made from yoghurt, garlic and dill. Another popular dish is oven-baked zucchini—sliced or grated—covered with a mixture of eggs, yoghurt, flour and dill.
In Egypt, zucchini are cooked with tomato sauce, garlic and onions.