Free-form zucchini lasagna with lemon-thyme cream

Served with a lemon-thyme cream.
Recipe: Free-form zucchini lasagna
(Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times)

While you generally find zucchini in markets year-round, they're naturally a summer squash, and right now is prime season. Check out these tips on buying, along with some recipe ideas -- zucchini is wonderfully versatile in the kitchen and can be used in so many ways.

So what do you look for when buying? Zucchini come in all shapes, but when shopping, avoid massive, older squash. Look for smaller zucchini -- the squash is more tender with thinner skin. Also, check for squash that is firm and without any blemishes.

Free-form zucchini lasagna with lemon-thyme cream: Fresh pasta casually layered with grilled zucchini strips, lemon-infused cream and dollops of garlic- and parsley-flavored ricotta. Sound like fun? It is, and the flavors combine to form something magical. The recipe includes instructions for making your own pasta, and while you can substitute pre-made in a pinch, nothing beats the flavor of homemade. The whole thing comes together in just over an hour, with a little extra resting time needed for the homemade pasta dough (if you'd like, make the pasta the night before or first thing in the morning, then let it rest in the fridge until it's needed).

Zucchini, feta and basil frittata: Love frittatas? These frittatas make excellent use of this summer vegetable, combining grated small or medium zucchini with crumbly feta cheese, green onion and chopped fresh basil or oregano. Make perfectly sized individual frittatas or a bunch of tiny ones for dinner, saving any leftovers for snacks later.

Baked zucchini with mint and garlic stuffing: Combine fragrant chopped fresh parsley and mint in a bowl with garlic and bread crumbs, moistening the mixture with olive oil. Spoon the mixture over zucchini halves and bake until the zucchini is tender and the topping is crisp. You can find the recipe below.

Baked zucchini with mint and garlic stuffing

Total time: 1 hour | Serves 4
Note: Adapted from Anna Del Conte’s “Italian Kitchen”

    1 pound zucchini
    Salt and freshly ground black pepper
    2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
    1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
    2 cloves garlic, chopped
    1/4 cup dried bread crumbs
    6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1. Cut the zucchini in half lengthwise. Make some diagonal incisions on the cut side. Sprinkle the cut side lightly with salt and place the zucchini halves on a wooden board, cut-side down. This will allow some of the liquid to drain away.

2. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the chopped parsley and mint in a bowl and add the garlic and bread crumbs. Add half the oil gradually, while beating with a fork. Season with a good grinding of pepper and with very little salt.

3. Oil a shallow baking or lasagna dish large enough to hold all the zucchini halves in a single layer.

4. Wipe the zucchini halves with paper towels and lay them in the dish, cut side up. Spoon a little of the herb mixture over each half. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the oil over the halves and cover the dish with foil. Bake for 30 minutes.

5. Remove the foil and continue baking until the zucchini is tender and the top is crisp, 10 to 20 minutes longer.

6. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil while the zucchini is still hot. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Each serving: Calories 229; protein 3 grams; carbohydrates 9 grams; fiber 2 grams; fat 21 grams; saturated fat 3 grams; cholesterol 0; sugar 3 grams; sodium 61 mg

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