Whether you call it zucchini or courgette, this little summer squash is nothing if not bountiful come summertime. Zucchini plants famously produce a lot of vegetables, and the individual squash grow super quickly, according to Clean Green Simple, so don’t be surprised if you’re seeing a lot of zucchini on your farmer’s market stands as the weather gets warmer.
But just because zucchini are popular, common, and inexpensive doesn’t mean people are always cooking them properly. In fact, there are loads of common mistakes cooks make leading to zucchini emerging slimy or bitter instead of tender and nutty. And that’s a shame! Rich in nutrients and, above all, in water, according to Livestrong, zucchini are the ideal summertime vegetable to add to your al fresco menus.
Want to avoid committing zucchini-related culinary crimes? You’re in luck! We’ve assembled all of the worst mistakes folks make with zucchini — and the best ways to right those wrongs.
Cooking zucchini at low heat
Some foods love being cooked low and slow, including lamb shoulder, which becomes soft and tender over time, or onions, which take on a luscious sweetness the longer they stew. But zucchini isn’t one of those foods. In fact, Fine Cooking finds zucchini is exactly the opposite, flourishing in a hot sauté pan or over a grill — anywhere that heat is direct and high.
This, the outlet asserts, is due to zucchini’s high water content: If it cooks too slowly, it will release its moisture before it sears, becoming soggy and sodden. Over high heat, on the other hand, zucchini becomes caramelized on the outside but retains a meaty, firm texture within. The high heat brings out its natural sweetness and also give you a far juicier final product.
Since zucchini is in season in summertime, it’s the perfect contender for grilling, either on its own or as part of a colorful grilled veggie kabob.
Cooking zucchini at too low a heat is not only one way you can wreak havoc on its texture. Overcooking zucchini is another big mistake to be avoided at all costs. And sometimes, avoiding an overcooked summer squash seems almost impossible! The Smiling Onion says zucchini is one of those vegetables that goes from undercooked to overcooked in mere minutes, which could be the time it takes you to transfer it from pan to serving dish. And unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to save overcooked zucchini except turn it into soup.
That said, there are a few tricks at your disposal. In addition to setting a timer — and watching your zucchini carefully — Well Plated notes that one way to avoid overcooking zucchini, and thus rendering it soggy, is to cut the squash into larger pieces. Roasted zucchini quarters, for instance, manage to get caramelized in the oven without becoming too soggy inside, and you have more leeway in terms of timing.
Not eating fresh zucchini
While zucchini is often grilled or sautéed, some forget that it doesn’t actually have to be cooked at all! Smaller zucchini, Fine Cooking notes, is firmer and is often sweeter, making it the perfect addition to a salad. The only downside? Raw zucchini can be quite mild, so you’ll want to jazz it up with a flavorful dressing for best results.
In this shaved summer squash recipe, for instance, zucchini or yellow summer squash are piled atop a bed of creamy ricotta cheese and seasoned with honey, lemon, garlic, and fresh herbs. Another summer squash recipe marries with assertive pecorino cheese, pine nuts, and mint. In any case, the trick to success here is ensuring that the zucchini ribbons are both thin and even. A mandoline or another specialized slicer are great options. But, with a bit of patience, a vegetable peeler works just as well!
Not draining summer squash
Before cooking zucchini over high heat, Fine Cooking recommends salting it to draw out some of its excess moisture to ensure that it really sears. And it turns out, this tip is fairly widespread among experts.
Seasoning zucchini with salt and letting it drain for about 10 minutes in a colander before cooking both allows some of the moisture to come out of the zucchini and seasons it on the inside, according to Fine Cooking. This ensures the zucchini takes on the best texture and flavor. Once it’s drained a bit, simply pat it dry with a paper towel or dish towel before using — you’ll have zucchini that’s far more flavorful and less likely to become mushy.
The Cooking Bar says a similar technique can be applied to grated zucchini before baking. The zucchini shreds can even be wrung out in a dish towel to remove even more water before using in your favorite recipe.
Using the wrong variety of zucchini for your recipe
The summer squash family refers to multiple varieties, ranging in shape, size, and color. And while they’re all related, and in some cases may even be interchangeable, specific types of seasonal squash are better suited to certain recipes.
Zucchini is a type of summer squash, along with the yellow variety that is often called summer quash (adding to the confusion) and a member of the same gourd family. But, Eating Expired finds yellow summer squash has a slightly tougher skin. Within the zucchini family specifically, there are a few different pale and darker zucchini varieties, but they can be used interchangeably.
In addition to color differences, there are also multiple shapes of zucchini available. The long ones are perhaps the most common, but, according to SpicesInc, tiny, round globe zucchini are becoming more popular. This zucchini is great for stuffing and baking. Ooreka says trompette or "butter" zucchini are particular to Italy and common in the Côte d’Azur region of France. Consequently, BBC reports the trompette courgette is the most traditional choice for ratatouille, a classic summer squash dish in southern French cuisine.
Forgetting that zucchini can be used in dessert
Zucchini’s mild, nutty flavor and high moisture content makes it absolutely perfect for use in desserts, notably zucchini bread. The Nibble says zucchini bread first rose to popularity in the U.S. in the ’60s. According to the food outlet, this could be linked to an abundance of the vegetable in home gardens or to the healthier mindset of the hippie movement. Either way, they really became popular in the mid-1970s, when even James Beard published a recipe for the snack cake.
Zucchini adds moisture and lightness to banana bread. It pairs nicely with carrots in a veggie-rich zucchini-carrot bread that may help add some vitamins to the diets of pickier eaters, especially lighter zucchini varieties less likely to leave dark specks in the crumb of dessert breads. Zucchini can even be added to oatmeal cookies for a healthier snack that has a delightful texture.
Not washing your hands well after chopping zucchini
If you’ve ever been slicing zucchini and found that your hands feel a bit, well, odd, you’re not alone. One Redditor took to the site after experiencing a particularly strange reaction after slicing a large zucchini: a bit like their hands were peeling from zucchini and had gone slightly numb. Fearful they were experiencing a strange allergic reaction, they asked if other posters had ever had the same experience. Luckily, a chef with over two decades of experience was able to explain the problem in the comments.
Apparently, the "slime" in zucchini clings to the fingers when you’re slicing it, and it doesn’t wash off terribly easily. As it dries, it creates a film on your hands that can make it feel as though they’re tight, numb, or even peeling. But as when kids cover their fingers with Elmer’s glue and then peel it off, it’s an odd but totally safe sensation. If it bothers you, use gloves when cutting zucchini, or wash your hands with a exfoliator, such as salt or sugar, with your soap when you’re done.
In the case of many vegetables, a host of nutrients can be found in the colorful skin. And that’s definitely the case for zucchini, according to Livestrong. For that reason — as well as for aesthetics! — it’s best not to peel zucchini before enjoying it.
That said, as with any produce you’re eating the skin of, you’re going to want to wash it very well. And that goes doubly true for zucchini and other summer squash, which the Environmental Working Group ranked 25th in terms of most-contaminated produce. The EWG’s list seeks to help keep consumers informed about the likelihood of a given fruit or vegetable being contaminated with dangerous pesticides. As a result of its presence on the list, it’s best to choose organic zucchini and summer squash whenever possible for the best chance at avoiding pesticide contamination (and GMOs). Once you’ve sourced your squash, simply scrub off any visible dirt before cooking and eating.
Not knowing when to remove the seeds (or not)
Much like other squash, such as pumpkins or butternut squash, zucchini does have seeds inside. However, since zucchini are enjoyed so young, in many cases, the seeds are so small as to be unnecessary to remove. Indeed, according to Livestrong, the seeds of zucchini are safely edible. Consuming the seeds also cuts down on food waste, which is a pervasive problem.
That said, just because zucchini seeds can be eaten doesn’t mean that it’s always an enjoyable experience. American Café notes that due to their slightly bitter flavor, it’s best to remove zucchini seeds before shredding the vegetable for zucchini bread. And one Redditor explained that seeing as the seeds have less structural integrity than the flesh, they don’t hold up quite as well in dishes like zucchini noodles, where you’re looking for a firm texture. In dishes like grilled or sautéed zucchini, it may be more trouble than it’s worth to remove them, but rest assured: Either way, they’re totally safe to consume.