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.

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).

RECIPES: 15 easy dinners - pasta, enchiladas, shrimp skewers, more

A fragrant mixture of garlic, capers, crushed tomatoes, onion and a touch of wine are cooked to a rich, thick tomato sauce, while freshly made breadcrumbs, pine nuts and a few chopped anchovy fillets are the filling for a hollowed-out zucchini and small ripe summer tomatoes. Spoon the tomato sauce over the base of a gratin dish, and top with the stuffed zucchini and tomatoes. Dinner is ready to serve when the vegetables are softened and the breadcrumbs are lightly browned, about 30 minutes.

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.

For more ideas, click through our easy dinner recipes gallery and check out our Dinner Tonight page, devoted to recipes that can be made in an hour or less. Looking for a particular type of recipe? Comment below or email me at noelle.carter@latimes.com.

FREE-FORM ZUCCHINI LASAGNA WITH LEMON-THYME CREAM

Total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes, plus resting time for the pasta dough

Servings: 4

3/4 cup flour, plus more for dusting

Olive oil

1 egg

1 pound zucchini, about 3 medium

Salt

1/2 cup diced onion

3 tablespoons white wine

1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1 cup heavy cream

6 sprigs fresh thyme

Grated zest of 1/2 lemon

1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided

3/4 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon minced parsley

1. Make fresh pasta dough by pulsing the flour and 4 teaspoons olive oil in a food processor. Add the egg and pulse until the dough forms a ball that rides around on the top of the blade. Remove the dough from the food processor and knead until smooth and shiny; this should take only about a minute. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

2. Roll the pasta dough very thin on a pasta machine, about a 6 setting on most machines, flouring as necessary. The sheets should be at least 4 inches wide. Cut the pasta sheets into squares, dust lightly with flour and set aside until ready to use.

3. Cook four or five pasta sheets at a time in plenty of rapidly boiling salted water. The pasta will be done when the sheets float to the surface, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the boiling water and drain on a tea towel if using immediately, or transfer to a large bowl of water to store. Repeat using all of the pasta.

4. Heat a stove top or grill pan over medium-high heat. Trim the ends from the zucchini and slice lengthwise into strips about one-eighth-inch thick. In a large, shallow bowl, toss the zucchini with 3 tablespoons olive oil and one-fourth teaspoon salt. Place the zucchini strips on the grill and grill for about 2 minutes on each side, until the zucchini is softened and has defined grill marks. Set aside.

5. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the white wine, garlic and thyme leaves and cook until aromatic, about 2 minutes. Add the zucchini strips and toss. Season to taste, then remove from heat and set aside.

6. In a small saucepan, simmer the cream over medium-low heat with thyme sprigs, lemon zest, one-half teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon of the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Cook until the cream reduces slightly, about 10 minutes.

7. In a small bowl, beat together the ricotta, one-fourth teaspoon salt, garlic and parsley until mixed. (The dish can be prepared to this point at least 1 hour ahead of time. The zucchini and cream sauce can be held at room temperature. Cooked pasta sheets should be stored in a large bowl of water and drained and patted dry before using.)

8. Place the cooked pasta in a large mixing bowl and pour the cream sauce through a fine strainer over the pasta. Mix gently to lightly coat the pasta squares. Place one pasta square on an oven-proof plate and spoon about 3 tablespoons of ricotta in the center. Arrange a few strips of zucchini on top. Place another pasta square on top of that. Sprinkle with some of the remaining grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and scatter more zucchini over the top. Repeat with three more plates.

9. Place the plates on a cookie sheet and place in the oven to heat through, about 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

Each serving: 603 calories; 12 grams protein; 27 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 49 grams fat; 21 grams saturated fat; 162 mg. cholesterol; 706 mg. sodium.

GARLIC AND HERB-STUFFED TOMATOES AND ZUCCHINI

From California Cook, "Shades of Summer" by Russ Parsons and Leslie Brenner, Aug. 10, 2005

Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Servings: 6

Note: Salted anchovies are available at Nicole's in South Pasadena, Bay Cities in Santa Monica, Market Gourmet in Venice and Surfas in Culver City. Canned anchovies in oil may be substituted.

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling (optional)

1 onion, minced (about 1 cup)

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1/2 cup white wine

3 tablespoons capers

Salt