Summertime is zucchini time. And if your garden is like mine, it’s in abundance. Not growing any? Then check the supermarkets. There’s locally grown North Carolina squash reasonably priced and available just waiting to be cooked in amazing recipes.

The most popular variety of summer squash is green zucchini; however, in the South yellow crookneck or straight-neck squash (often times called summer squash) rules supreme. Botanically speaking, like the tomato, zucchini is actually a fruit. Harvested when immature, summer time squash are characterized by thin, edible skins, soft seeds and a mild flavor. Their tender flesh has a high water content and cooks quickly.

In terms of nutrition, one medium zucchini is low in calories (31 calories), carbohydrates (5 grams) and sugars (3 grams); contains no cholesterol or fat and is high in essential nutrients like potassium, manganese, and antioxidants like vitamin C and vitamin A plus 2 grams fiber.

When picking or buying, choose small to medium-size zucchini that are firm and feel heavy for their size. The skin should be shinny, smooth with no blemishes plus brightly colored — either bright green or yellow. Store unwashed zucchini in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to five days.

This versatile vegetable (fruit) can be grilled, steamed, stir-fried, stuffed and baked to use in appetizers, salads, stir-fries, pasta dishes, side dishes, soups and quick breads. The thin skin requires no peeling. Some basic ways to use them include:

• Using them instead of crackers for dips and spreads.

• Tossing raw into a salad or make “zoodles” (zucchini processed through a spiralizer or into thin strips with a vegetable peeler) then used in dishes in the place of pasta.

• Hollowing-out zucchini, stuffing with seasoned cooked rice and bake until tender for a savory side dish.

• Adding to meat loaf, burgers, quiches, sauces, soups and frittatas to add moistness, flavor and extend into larger servings.

• Used as a topping for pizza. When shredded and added to baked goods like muffins, quick breads and cakes they “melt” into the final result to add texture and interest (plus extra fiber).

Below are some examples of great food that highlight using zucchini from appetizer to a decadent dessert. By the way, yellow squash (summer squash) can be used interchangeably in these recipes.

Potato Zucchini Frittata

Top this easy to make, hearty frittata with shredded cheese and/or crumbled bacon for more flavor and extra protein.

1 russet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

4 large eggs

1/4 cup milk

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon hot sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 small zucchini (about 6 ounces), shredded and squeezed dry

In small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring potatoes and enough water to cover to a boil. Cook until potatoes are just tender, 6 to 8 minutes; drain and pat dry. In bowl mix eggs, milk, cilantro, salt and hot sauce. Preheat broiler to medium-high. In medium (10-inch) ovenproof nonstick skillet over medium high heat, heat oil. Add onion; cook, stirring occasionally, 2 minutes. Add zucchini; cook until tender, 3 minutes more. Add cooked potatoes; cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes begin to brown slightly, about 4 minutes more. Evenly pour egg mixture into skillet. Cook, over medium heat, tilting pan and lifting edges to let uncooked egg flow underneath. Broil, 5 to 7 inches from heat, until eggs puff and are golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Makes 4 servings.

Zucchini ‘Noodles’ with Sesame-Peanut Sauce

Spiralized zucchini stands in for pasta in this ultra-light dish, while the sauce creates a burst of flavor. Make it more filling by adding a legume such as edamame or chickpeas.

3 small zucchini (about 18 ounces)

1/2 red bell pepper, cut in thin strips

1 tablespoon peanut butter (natural is nice)

1/2 - 1 tablespoon water

1/2 tablespoon cider vinegar

1/2 tablespoon soy sauce

1 - 2 cloves garlic, grated or finely minced

1/4 - 1 teaspoon sriracha or other chile sauce

1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil 

1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

Use a spiralizer, vegetable peeler or mandolin to turn zucchini into “noodles.” Line a large serving bowl with paper towels or a clean tea towel; add zucchini noodles and red bell pepper; set aside. In small bowl, whisk peanut butter, 1/2 tablespoon water and all remaining ingredients. If mixture is hard to combine, add up to another 1/2 tablespoon water (avoid making to watery). Remove towels from under zucchini noodles; add sauce. Stir well to coat noodles completely. Serve right away.

Makes 2 servings.

Zucchini Parmesan Crisps

Serve these crisps as an appetizer, snack, with cocktails at a party or as a fun side dish. Coat the zucchini ahead and have them ready to pop in the oven about 20 minutes before serving.

Non-stick cooking spray

2 medium zucchini (about 16 ounces), sliced into 1/4-inch thick rounds

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (3/4 ounces)

1/4 cup dry bread crumbs

1/8 teaspoon salt

Black pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Coat baking pan with cooking spray. In medium bowl, toss zucchini and oil. In small bowl, combine Parmesan, bread crumbs, salt and pepper. Dip each round into Parmesan mixture, pressing coating on to stick evenly on both sides; place in a single layer on prepared baking pan. Bake until browned and crisp, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove with spatula. Serve immediately.

Makes 4-6 servings.

Zucchini Spice Bread

A classic quick bread that’s delicious and great with coffee or tea any time. Don’t let the long ingredient list deter you, it’s easy and quick to put together. Make more than one, tightly wrap and freeze to have on hand.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Pinch ground cloves

1/2 cup vegetable oil ( grapeseed, canola, coconut)

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 medium zucchini (about 8 ounces), coarsely shredded (about 1 1/2 cups)

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch loaf pan; set aside. In medium bowl, stir flour, baking powder, allspice, ginger, salt, baking soda, nutmeg and cloves. In large bowl, stir oil, sugars, eggs, and vanilla until well combined. Stir in zucchini then flour mixture until just combined (do not over mix). Spread batter in prepared pan; bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Cool in pan for 30 minutes; remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes 1 loaf.

Double-Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes

Using a cake mix for these rich, moist chocolate cup cakes saves time and measuring.

1 package (15.25 ounces) devil’s food cake mix

3 eggs

1 medium zucchini (about 8 ounces), coarsely shredded (about 1 1/2 cups)

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup powdered sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line muffin pan with 18 cupcake liners or spray with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. In large bowl of electric mixer or with spoon, beat cake mix, eggs, zucchini, sugar, oil, vanilla and cinnamon until blended. Stir in chocolate chips. Fill pan using scant 1/4 cup batter for each cupcake. Bake 18 to 21 minutes or until center springs back when touched. Remove to a wire rack to cool completely Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.

Makes 18 cupcakes.

Summer: what a great time for fresh veggies. And zucchini time is now. Get inspired and be thankful for the abundance. Don’t forget to share. Enjoy!

Betty Bianconi loves food from growing it to cooking. Her career in food includes writing articles for Good Housekeeping, Woman’s Day, editing cookbooks and as food editor for Woman’s World. She is co-owner of Food Cures U, a cooking school for healthy eating and a certified Square Foot Gardening instructor. Betty can be reached at seedsofpromise01@gmail.com.