How to Buy and Cook Zucchini: A Complete Guide
Here's all you need to know about this low-cal veggie, including how to pick and prep it, and the best ways to cook it. Plus get top-rated recipes for putting your zucchini stock to good use.
How to Pick and Store Zucchini
Zucchini grown quickly, and they can become enormous if left unharvested. Leave zucchini on the vine too long, and the flesh becomes stringy, tough, and bitter tasting. Smaller zukes are typically the tastiest and most tender. They should be plump and firm without blemishes or soft spots and have a decent weight to them. Larger zucchini are good candidates for stuffing or turning into zucchini relish.
Zucchini are fairly delicate veggies. Store them in the refrigerator -- and if you have an abundance from the garden, it's okay to freeze them. To freeze zucchini, first bring a pot of salted water to boil; slice the zucchini in half and quickly blanch them for 2 minutes; then dunk them in ice water, pat dry, and store in the freezer in plastic freezer bags.
This long, slim green veggie looks a little like a smooth cucumber with paler green skin. Because zucchini are mostly water (more than 90 percent!), they're very low calorie. Nutritionally, they feature fiber, along with vitamin C and potassium.
Do You Peel Zucchini?
You'll get the most health benefits if you eat the colorful skin, which holds the healthy carotenoids. Zucchini skin is soft, thin, and perfectly edible, so don't peel it off.
How to Cook Zucchini
Mild-flavored zucchini is something of a blank canvas. Like tofu, it tends to take on the flavor profile of the sauces and spices that accompany it. That could be why zucchini is one of the most versatile vegetables. You can grill, sauté, steam, stew, or bake zucchini with delicious results.
How to Sauté Zucchini
Remember, zucchini are mostly water. So when you cook them, you'll find they release a lot of moisture. To remove excess water, you can salt sliced zucchini like you would eggplant. Set the slices aside in a colander to allow the salt to draw water from the flesh. It takes about 12 to 15 minutes. Once you've prepped your zucchini, use this simple method for sautéing zucchini:
- Add oil or butter to a skillet over medium heat.
- Add the sliced zucchini to the skillet, stirring occasionally, until veggies are tender.
- Add any seasonings such as garlic, salt, and/or pepper. Stir for an additional minute and remove from heat.
How to Grill Zucchini
The high-heat of grilling is a perfect method for cooking zucchini. No need to salt and drain it. The outside crisps up nicely while the insides remain firm. Fire up the grill and follow this simple steps for basic, grilled zucchini:
- Slice zucchini in half lengthwise.
- Add zucchini to a bowl and toss with oil.
- Place the grill on medium heat and lay the zucchini on the grates.
- Grill zucchini, covered, for 4-5 minutes.
- Flip and cook for an additional 4-5 minutes. Remove from grill with tongs and serve.
How to Cook Zucchini In the Oven
Cooking zucchini in the oven gives them a crispy texture and addicting flavor. They make a great alternative to potato chips or french fries. Follow this Easy Baked Zucchini Chips recipe for easy, oven-baked zucchini:
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Thinly slice a zucchini. Place slices in a bowl and toss with olive oil and salt.
- Spread zucchini slices on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, or until lightly browned.
How to Fry Zucchini
Grated zucchini can be easily formed into patties and fried for a low-carb alternative to hash browns. Learn step-by-step how to fry zucchini based on this Mom's Zucchini Pancakes recipe:
- Grate zucchini into thin strips. Blot dry with a paper towel.
- Stir zucchini, eggs, and onion in a large bowl. Mix flour, Parmesan cheese, baking powder, salt, and oregano in a separate bowl. Stir mixtures together.
- Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Drop spoonfuls of zucchini batter into hot oil. Pan fry until golden, about 2-3 minutes per side.
- Drain pancakes on a paper towel-lined plate.
Get ingredient measurements here:Mom's Zucchini Pancakes
How to Bake with Zucchini
Zucchini are great for baking. Try them in brownies, muffins, cookies, and the good ol' standby, zucchini bread -- and savory dishes, too. Learn step-by-step how to make zucchini bread, using this Mom's Zucchini Bread recipe:
- Grease and flour two bread pans. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
- Sift flour, salt, baking powder, soda, and cinnamon together in a bowl.
- Beat eggs, oil, vanilla, and sugar together in a large bowl. Add sifted ingredients to the creamed mixture and beat together.
- Stir in zucchini and nuts to mixture. Pour into prepared pans.
- Baked for 40 to 60 minutes. Cool on rack for 20 minutes before removing bread from the pan.
Get ingredient measurements here: Mom's Zucchini Bread
How to Make and Cook Zucchini Noodles
- Using a mandolin or spiralizer, cut zucchini (about 6) into thin, noodle-like strips.
- Discard the cores of the zucchini.
- Toss the strips with salt in a colander and allow the salt to draw out the measure. Let the strips drain for 30 minutes.
- Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add zucchini strips and cook them for 1 minute.
- Drain the zucchini and rinse it with cold water to stop it from cooking.
- Drain the zucchini once more.
- Sauté with garlic, butter, and fresh herbs over medium heat for about five minutes. Season to taste.
Related: Are Zoodles Really "All That"?
Can You Freeze Zucchini?
Absolutely, you can freeze zucchini. In fact, it's a great way to save some of your bounty when you cannot possibly cook and eat it all before the veggies start to go bad.
How you'll freeze zucchini depends on what you plan to do with it. For quick side dishes and skillet meals, slice or chop the zucchini. Blanche it in boiling water for one minute. Then scoop the zucchini out of the pan and into a bowl of ice water. (This helps stop the cooking process.)
If you're planning to save zucchini for future zucchini breads or brownies, go ahead and shred the zucchini. Blanche these shreds, too, but for only about 20 seconds. Then drain and dunk them in an ice cold bath.
To actually freeze the zucchini, you'll want to pour out the rounds, pieces, or shreds onto a baking sheet and into a single layer. Freeze until hard, or about 24 hours. Then scoop the zucchini into zip-top bags or freezer containers, and put them back in the freezer. Now, you'll have fresh zucchini waiting on you when you need it, even if your garden is done for the year.
Keep Reading: How to Freeze Zucchini
Zucchini Flavor Pairings
In savory situations, zucchini is especially well complemented by garlic, onions, tomatoes, dill, basil, marjoram, chives, oregano, and mint. Try zucchini in soups, stews, or in ratatouille and risotto, as a pizza topping, in stir-fries, and cold salads.
How to Make Fried Stuffed Squash Blossoms
And don't forget the zucchini blossoms are totally edible! And DELICIOUS!
Get Chef John's recipe for Fried Stuffed Squash Blossoms.