Less than thirty years ago, the zucchini, formerly often referred to as green Italian squash, was hardly recognized in the United States. Today, it is not only widely-recognized but a particular favorite of home gardeners. Notwithstanding its prolific growing nature, its popularity is probably due to in large part to its versatility as a vegetable as well as in breads and desserts.
Zucchini, Cucurbita pepo, is a member of the cucumber and melon family. Inhabitants of Central and South America have been eating zucchini for several thousand years, but the zucchini we know today is a variety of summer squash developed in Italy.
The word zucchini comes from the Italian zucchino, meaning a small squash. The term squash comes from the Indian skutasquash meaning "green thing eaten green." Christopher Columbus originally brought seeds to the Mediterranean region and Africa.
The French snubbed zucchini for a long time until chefs learned to choose small fruits which are less bland and watery. The French term for zucchini is courgette, which is often used interchangeably for yellow squash as well.
Although the term summer squash can mean a variety of different squashes depending on to whom you are speaking, you can pretty much use the different summer squash varieties interchangeably.