How to Choose Zucchini and Keep It Fresh

This summer vegetable stays good in the refrigerator for several days

Zucchini, Courgettes, Summer Squash
Peggy Trowbridge Filippone

Although it is available year-round in most markets, prime season for zucchini is from May to August. Since it grows profusely during this season, it's also known as summer squash. Learn more about this tasty vegetable.

How to Choose Zucchini

Zucchini should be handled with care because it is easily damaged. When you are buying zucchini at the grocery store or in season at the farmers market, look for a moist stem end and a slightly prickly yet shiny skin as indicators of freshness. Ideally, green zucchini should be no more than six inches long and one to two inches in diameter with firm skin free of cuts or bruises and at least one inch of stem still attached.

Baby fingerling zucchini is a popular new item in the markets as well as with home gardeners who have the luxury of picking them at any time. Fingerlings are much smaller than standard zucchinis and can be steamed, sauteed, or pickled whole.

Zucchini Blossoms

Zucchini blossoms, also a favorite with home gardeners, can be stuffed with cheese (or not), then dipped in egg, spices, and flour, and fried to a golden brown. Picking the flowers actually encourages more fruit. Some markets carry squash blossoms, often with a tiny zucchini attached. Look for bright, perky flowers with no wilting. Flowers should be sprinkled with water, wrapped gently in paper towels, and refrigerated. You should use them as quickly as possible and handle them extremely gently as you bring them home.

How to Store Zucchini 

Zucchini will stay fresh for four or five days if you store it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper drawer. Do not wash the zucchini until just before you are ready to use it. If you notice the zucchini wilting, you should use it immediately. Softness is a strong sign of deterioration. Cooked zucchini will stay good for up to two days in a covered container in the refrigerator.

If you've got more fresh zucchini than you can use in a few days, you can freeze it for later use. To freeze, slice the zucchini into rounds, blanch for two minutes, plunge into cold water, drain, and then seal it in airtight containers or freezer bags. In addition to rounds, it can be frozen in other formats, included shredded or cut into long zucchini noodles. Don't cut it too small or it will defrost into mush. Frozen zucchini will keep for 10 months to a year. 

How to Use Zucchini

This vegetable shines when it's just breaded and fried or sauteed. Adding parmesan cheese to the breadcrumbs for breading or just sprinkling it on top after it's cooked turns up the taste quotient. But there are many other ways to use it. Zucchini bread is a way to make something sweet nutritious, and there are many variations on the recipe for it. Zucchini lasagna is a favorite of vegetarians and anyone else who loves that essential Italian dish but wants to cut down on red meat. Or add zucchini and bell peppers to corn chowder for a healthy twist on that recipe. Use fresh corn, peppers, and zucchini for a savory late summer treat. There are so many tasty ways to prepare this versatile vegetable from zucchini pancakes to zucchini grilled cheese.