Even the blossoms are tasty. 

Photo: Helen Norman

This summertime vegetable is more versatile than you think. Virginia Willis shares her favorite ways to cook with zucchini in her column Cooking with Virginia.

Digging in the dirt is one of my family's favorite traditions. When I was growing up, Mama always had a little patch for planting squash, okra, and tomatoes in the backyard, while my grandfather's garden was nearly the size of a football field. He came of age during the Depression and, like many Southerners of that generation, was accustomed to growing much of his own food. He was an amazing gardener; we used to say he could put a stick in the ground and it would grow.

When it came to harvesting, he'd pick the butter beans and okra when they were young and tender. With zucchini, however, his thrifty sensibilities took over. He considered baby vegetables a waste of potential, so he picked zucchini and yellow squash only when they were fully grown. He grew them in large mounds so the vines could spread and produce as much as possible. On some occasions, a squash would slip by unnoticed and grow to the size of a Little League baseball bat. Regardless of my grandfather's "bigger is better" philosophy, I recommend choosing medium zucchini (about 8 inches long) for best results with these simple, flavorful recipes.

Photo: Linda Pugliese; Prop Styling: Kay E. Clarke; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Pair Grilled Zucchini with Tomatoes and Mint with any protein. It’s delicious with grilled fish or shrimp, skirt steak, or chicken and the fresh mint adds a surprising bright and fresh note.

Photo: Linda Pugliese; Prop Styling: Kay E. Clarke; Food Styling: Torie Cox

This Zucchini Noodle Salad makes a fantastic light supper or lunch, especially if you’re cutting back on carbohydrates. Instead of the usual pasta, use a spiralizer (or vegetable peeler) to cut fresh zucchini into noodle-like strands. Some grocery stores now sell premade zucchini noodles. Look for them in the produce department.

WATCH: Make Linguine from Zucchini

Photo: Linda Pugliese; Prop Styling: Kay E. Clarke; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Zucchini Rice Gratin is a comforting one-pot casserole that’s not overloaded with heavy cream or cheese so the fresh zucchini flavor shines through.