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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The seasonable Courgette or Zucchini

Zucchini or as the British call it, Courgette, is one of the most popular of the summer squashes. As far as origin goes regarding this vegetable, it seems that it is uncertain as to where it came from exactly. Courgettes were eaten all over Europe before the twentieth century and apparently there have been unknown sources that claim that they were developed from squash at the time of Christopher Columbus’ crusades.  Prior to that, squash had been cultivated in Central America for at least five thousand years and to this day, Courgettes (zucchini) are a staple food of Mexican cuisine.

In biological terms, Courgettes are a member of the cucurbit family and are related to watermelons, gherkins and cucumbers. These vegetable marrows (marrow: any of various squash plants grown for their elongated fruit with smooth dark green skin and whitish flesh) really belong in the fruit family, but they are almost always referred to as vegetables.

Nutritionally, Courgettes are a low calorie vegetable that has no saturated fats or cholesterol. The peel of the vegetable is a great source of dietary fiber and the peel is known to contain cancer preventing benefits. There is a good amount of folates in them, and these folates are crucial for proper cell division and DNA synthesis. Along with the folate, there is a good amount of potassium which helps in lowering blood pressure and overall heart health. Other vitamins and minerals? Vitamin A, Vitamin C, B-complex such as riboflavin and minerals to name a few.

There are so many ways to prepare Courgettes (zucchini) from grilling them to casseroles to roasted vegetable dishes. In the Fall, I make Calabacitas which is a popular dish in Mexican cuisine. There are several ways to prepare them, but this is what I do:
 Calabacitas:
 4-5 courgettes or zucchini, sliced and quartered
1 onion, well chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
4-5 tomatoes, chopped
1 tbsp. tomato paste
¼ to ½ cup evaporated milk
½ cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded.
Salt and pepper to taste
First, in a medium skillet I add about 1 tbsp. vegetable oil, I sauté the onion, garlic and tomatoes for about 5 minutes, then I add the zucchini and cook for about 10 minutes at medium heat. Lastly, I add the tomato paste, evaporated milk and shredded cheese and season with salt and pepper.  I cover and let the zucchini cook for another 10 minutes or so, just enough to make them soft. Taste for salt and pepper one last time.  There are also other variations to this recipe as sometimes I add corn or green chilies, that depends on your tastes.
A delicious retro recipe that I found for Zucchini is called Zucchini in Cream and it comes from “The New Housekeeping Cookbook”, published in 1963! (The price for the book at the time: $7.50. Wow!

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