Learn how to make the most of summer squash while they're deliciously in season.

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Do you thrill in anticipation of zucchini season? When you think about dinner, is zucchini your first choice? For most, the answer is a resounding no, and we understand that feeling of zucchini ennui all too well. After all, the fruit (yes, fruit!) can be big, bland, boring. Except, of course, when you're thinking of baby zucchini from the farmers' market, still attached to its warm yellow blossoms, or those first petite squash in our backyard gardens. In those situations, our hearts melt and we are pleased. Today, we want to rekindle that flame of appreciation and remind you how much there is to love about this prolific summer squash. Zucchini can feature in every course of a meal from appetizers to entrées, and right through dessert. We'll explain how.

fresh zucchinis on slate surface
Credit: Aniko Hobel / Getty Images

Our first zucchini tip is to think of these mild squash in strictly seasonal terms, which can be hard to do when they'e always available in supermarkets—that's why it's important to seek them out only when they're truly in season. Deprivation is the key to appreciating vegetables and fruit in their natural and local season, and if you have been on a zucchini fast for three seasons of the year, suddenly the summer squash seems a lot more appealing. Second, think about size. Zucchini are known for their sheer bulk, which is a pity. Harvested and sold small and young, the vegetable has far more flavor. Choose smaller, narrow, firm zucchini, which will offer far more flavor and better texture than overgrown fruit. If you grow your own, harvest them young. And pounce on those baby zucchini with flowers attached at local markets. They are a delicacy. To keep zucchini fresh at home don't wash them until you are ready to use them, as moisture will make them deteriorate quickly. Kept well-wrapped or covered in the refrigerator, they will last for at least a week.

Third, prepare zucchini in a way that will make you love them. Ratatouille, the Provençal ragout that epitomizes the culinary peak of summer vegetables, features zucchini, peppers, eggplant, onions, tomatoes, herbs, and olive oil. A good ratatouille will make you wipe the plate clean, and it's open to endless variation, becoming the nest for baked breakfast eggs, a topping for toasts, a sauce for ziti, or a bed for roasted chicken breasts.

But there is zucchini life beyond ratatouille, and it can be very good. Let's work our way right through the menu. First, breakfast: Start your day with a fluffy cornbread and zucchini muffin. Moving on to lunch and dinner: Raw zucchini are a delicious vehicle for other flavors. An appetizer of shaved zucchini easily makes a vegetarian carpaccio, a light and seasonal interpretation of the raw beef appetizer. Diced into tiny bites, raw zucchini tossed with lemon juice and dill become a vibrant salad. Pliable shreds of zucchini paired with crisp apple, celery, and sunflowers seeds create an appealing summer slaw.

If you do need to use larger zucchini, salting the grated flesh is a simple way to draw out some of that notorious moisture before assembling this plateful of crunchy and spicy zucchini bruschetta. A curried zucchini soup is comforting served hot and refreshing when sipped chilled. Zucchini is best friends with mint, and our mint and zucchini soup is a light and reviving summer supper. For more substantial fare, sausage-and-herb-stuffed zucchini are a fortifying main course (and only your imagination is the limit of the stuffed zucchini theme—try them with tomato and mozzarella, too). This southern French tian with polenta and Gruyère is a vegetarian-friendly one-dish wonder.

We know you've been waiting for it, and here it is: dessert. Our moist walnut, chocolate, and zucchini cupcakes are perfect for party. A rich slice of chocolate zucchini bread calls for a cup of coffee. And, everyone's favorite treat, this luscious chocolate and zucchini sheet cake, uses four cups of those bumper-crop squashes.

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