Sunday, December 18, 2011

VEGETABLES OF BRAZIL - Abobrinha (Zucchini)

The pale-green, elongated squash known in Brazil as abobrinha (which simply means "little squash" in Portuguese) and in various parts of the English-speaking world as either zucchini or courgette, like all members of the squash family originated in the Americas. Even though the English names derive from either Italian or French, the entire squash family is genetically New World, not European.

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.
Abobrinha italiana
Abobrinha menina

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.


  1. Recently I've been seeing abobrinhas in my local supermarket here in Jabotacabal, SP that resemble a butternut squash. They are very long, pale yellow and have firm yellow flesh. The taste is almost a cross between a winter and summer squash. Have you seen these before (I've only lived in Brazil for six months), and do you have any cooking suggestions?

    1. Sorry, I haven't seen any abobrinhas here in Fortaleza that match your description. But there are so many different types of squashes that it doesn't surprise me at all. For me, they're all delicious, that's what counts. Good luck in finding recipes.

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