Zucchini's strength is a chameleon-like ability to blend seamlessly into many dishes.
CNN  — 

The cry goes out from over-ambitious gardeners every summer: “What can I do with all this zucchini?” If you’ve ever been such a gardener, or the unwitting recipient of a surprise stack of squash on your front stoop, you can understand.

It might seem like zucchini is nothing to get excited about. But its strength is a chameleon-like ability to blend seamlessly into many dishes. There’s so much more to do with zucchini and the entire family of summer squash than baking up endless loaves of zucchini bread and muffins.

Zucchini and its ilk are the little black dresses – make that little green dresses – of summer vegetables. You can show off squash as the star of the meal or hide it away in a stew or a cake. It’s as easy to eat and easy to love as it is to grow.

Zucchini can be the star of your meal or be tucked away as a side dish.

Zucchini is a powerhouse of vitamins and nutrients, according to Michelle Dudash, registered dietitian, chef and author of “The Low-Carb Mediterranean Cookbook: Quick and Easy High-Protein, Low-Sugar, Healthy-Fat Recipes for Lifelong Health.” It’s a good source of fiber, potassium, and vitamins C and B6.

“Like most vegetables, zucchini is low-carb and cholesterol-free and low in total and saturated fat,” she added in an email. “Additionally, zucchini contains carotenoids like lutein, which helps support skin health by providing a level of protection from the sun (but still wear your sunscreen).”

Whether you’re eating batons of zucchini, scalloped pattypans or curvy crooknecks, all varieties of summer squash are similar in nutritional value. However, Dudash notes that yellow squash contains a lot more seeds than zucchini, giving it a slightly higher fiber content.

Yes, you can eat it raw

Zucchini carpaccio is prepared here with feta, walnut and dill.

Shaved squash salads are perhaps the simplest way to savor this vegetable in all its shapely varieties. Use a mandoline or hand-held vegetable slicer to make paper-thin slices of zucchini or other squash, then dress them up with vinaigrette.

Health-conscious eaters may want to skip the dressing, but Dudash recommends adding it. “Try to pair fat with your zucchini, since it helps boost the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients, including lutein,” she said. “Drizzle on the olive oil, pair it with Parmesan, and so on.”

Zucchini carpaccio is one way to do that. This vegetarian riff on traditional Italian beef carpaccio is frequently topped with olive oil, shaved Parmesan cheese and herbs like mint, parsley or basil. However, the sky’s the limit in terms of toppings, and you can make this dish completely vegan or as the base of a full vegetable salad.

There’s also a slight vitamin benefit to eating raw zucchini. “When you cook zucchini, it releases a lot of water, therefore reducing the water content in the vegetable. Water-soluble nutrients, like vitamins B and C, will be higher in raw zucchini, since they leach out of the water released,” Dudash said.

Eat it cooked

Zucchini fritters can be served with sour cream on top.

Fritters are a time-tested way to get even the pickiest eater to consume vegetables – after all, who can argue with a crispy battered bite? These pan-fried zucchini fritters can be adjusted to include other shredded vegetables, like sweet potatoes or winter squash, and don’t need a lot of oil to get the job done.

Stuffed zucchini boats are another easily adaptable dish that can fit with any culture’s cuisine. Dudash riffs on her Lebanese grandmother’s traditional stuffed koosa recipe by using a mixture of ground beef, quinoa and dill, and simmering or baking them in tomato sauce. They can also be made taco-style to replace your usual tortillas for Taco Tuesday.

Slurp up zoodles

Zucchini noodle pasta is served here with tomatoes and feta.

Time-crunched cooks can always buy packaged fresh or frozen zoodles at the store, but with so much fresh zucchini in season, why not take a stab at making your own?

Inexpensive vegetable noodle gadgets are widely available online and in home goods stores, but you can also use a multipurpose julienne slicer to make thin wisps of zucchini noodles that melt into sauces and baked casseroles.

Use your fresh ribbons of squash in zucchini alfredo, a lighter take on the cheesy Italian comfort food, or tossed with marinara and meatballs. Or use zoodles as a replacement for ramen noodles in coconut curry soup or a vegan take on cold peanut noodles.

You can also freeze your homemade zoodles for serving after squash is out of season. Spiralize the zucchini, then gently squeeze and pat out any excess moisture with a non-terry cloth kitchen towel.

Freeze in a single layer on a baking sheet, then transfer to a freezer-safe bag and store for no more than three months. Drop frozen zoodles directly into boiling water or thaw in the bag in your refrigerator before using, draining any extra liquid that might come out of the zoodles once they thaw.

Bake it into sweets

Zucchini is the secret ingredient in these chocolate brownies.

With its neutral flavor, zucchini has long been the go-to vegetable for parents trying to sneak a few more vitamins into their families’ desserts. Whether mixed with nuts and spices, chocolate or citrus, summer squash can adapt to any sweet disguise.

Zucchini brownies are a standard for the old vegetable sneak-in, since the moist, rich texture is an ideal foil for squash. To make it even more foolproof, puree the zucchini, as recommended in this recipe, instead of shredding it.

For those times when you don’t mind letting others know you’re baking with zucchini, a classic quick bread or cake is the way to go. The crunchy lemon glaze on this zucchini Bundt cake takes it from an everyday snack to something you’d be proud to serve at a party. For a spiced-up take on classic zucchini bread, a cardamom pistachio zucchini loaf will make any midday coffee break feel like a vacation.

Finally, why not have zucchini for breakfast? A zucchini bread-inspired baked oatmeal is a weekend brunch that could easily get you through most of your day.

Casey Barber is a food writer, illustrator and photographer; the author of “Pierogi Love: New Takes on an Old-World Comfort Food” and “Classic Snacks Made from Scratch: 70 Homemade Versions of Your Favorite Brand-Name Treats”; and editor of the website Good. Food. Stories.