The zucchini/courgette is a small summer squash. Along with some other squashes, it belongs to the species Cucurbita pepo. Zucchini is the more common name in North America, Australia, Germany and Italy [zucchina/e], while courgette is more commonly used in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Ireland, France, the Netherlands, Portugal and South Africa. Zucchini can be yellow, green or light green, and generally have a similar shape to a rigid cucumber, though a few cultivars are available that produce round or bottle-shaped fruit.
In a culinary context, zucchini is treated as a vegetable, which means it is usually cooked and presented as a savory dish or accompaniment. Botanically, however, the zucchini is an immature fruit, being the swollen ovary of the female zucchini flower.
Firm and fresh blossoms that are only slightly open are cooked to be eaten, with pistils removed from female flowers, and stamens removed from male flowers. The stem on the flowers can be retained as a way of giving the cook something to hold onto during cooking, rather than injuring the delicate petals, or they can be removed prior to cooking, or prior to serving. There are a variety of recipes in which the flowers may be deep-fried as fritters or tempura [after dipping in a light tempura batter], stuffed, sautéed, baked, or used in soups.
In Mexico, the flower is often used for a soup, sopa de flor de calabaza, and it is quite popular in a variation of the traditional quesadillas, becoming quesadillas de flor de calabaza. Zucchini is also used in a variety of other dishes [rajas], and as a side dish.
Zucchini, like all summer squash, has its ancestry in the Americas. However, the varieties of squash typically called “zucchini” were indeed developed in Italy, many generations after their introduction from the “New World”.
In all probability, this occurred in the very late 19th century, probably near Milan; early varieties usually included the names of nearby cities in their names. The alternate name courgette is from the French word for the vegetable. It’s a diminutive of courge, French for squash.
“Zucca” is the Italian word for squash and “zucchina” is its diminutive, becoming “zucchine” in the plural. However, “zucchino”, the masculine form, becoming “zucchini” in the plural, is just as commonly used and is prevalent in Tuscany.
The first records of zucchini in the United States date to the early 1920s. It was almost certainly brought over by Italian immigrants and probably was first cultivated in the United States in California.