Abobrinhas belong to the squash sub-category called summer squashes, which means that they are relatively tender, perishable and can be eaten with the peel. Winter squashes, in contrast, are less tender and require longer cooking times, can be stored for long periods of time and have hard skins that are not edible.
Squashes are one of the most varied families of vegetables, ranging from the enormity of the current Guinness record-holder heavyweight pumpkin at 1810 lbs or 820 kgs, to the minature zucchinis and pattypan squashes that accompany one-hundred dollars plates at fine restaurants.
Brazilians are used to seeing two types of abobrinhas in the market and use them interchangeably. One is known as abobrinha italiana, and it is the classic dark-green or shocking-yellow zucchini that's familiar to diners in the Northern Hemisphere. The other is called abobrinha menina (little-girl squash) and it appears to be a hybrid cross between a zucchini and a type of squash called marrow. Vegetable marrow is a common squash in the Mediterranean region, though not well known in North America. It is small and round, about the size of a baseball, and is a light celadon green, sometimes subtly striped. The abobrinha menina gets its light color from the marrow but its shape is elongated but with a bulb at one end - as if someone had glued a marrow on to the end of a zucchini. The taste of these two types is virtually identical and they can be used interchangeably in recipes.
Brazilians use abobrinhas as a vegetable dish, but more commonly in salads. In salad preparations, though, the vegetable is cooked and cooled before being added - it's not common for Brazilians to eat raw abobrinha. In parts of Brazil that have Italian-immigrant communities, stuffed abobrinhas make common main-course dishes.
Tomorrow, we'll publish a prize-winning Brazilian recipe that features this tasty and versatile vegetable.