Zucchini can be considered the terrorist of the garden.
Mild in taste and modest in appearance, it nevertheless manages, usually under cover of night, to produce more of itself than any normal human being, or collection of human beings, could possibly consume.
The deception begins with the name, for this is simply a squash, an honest north American vegetable. The Narragansett called it “askutasquash” a word meaning you “can eat it raw if you haven’t got time to cook it.”
Indeed, it was unknown in Europe, and is still not common there. The name “zucchini” was likely invented by a marketing genius who wanted to make squash sound exotic—in Italy, this relatively boring member of the Cucurbitae family (Ma Melon, Pa Pumpkin, Cousin Cucumber et al.) is usually called zucchine with an “e.”
(By the way, those caps worn by the Roman Catholic hierarchy which look suspiciously like yarmulkes are called “Zuchetto”—in effect, a squash top.)
The French are, in this case, more honest as “courgette” means little squash, and the British more elliptical with “vegetable marrow,” a concept best not dwelt upon.
True trickery, however, is best displayed by the plant itself.
Innocent gardeners, even some old enough to know better, plant zucchini seeds. They gurgle proudly as the shoots appear, and admire the first tiny blossom on the fuzzy thumb-size fruits. And filled with pride at their manifest success at vegetable husbandry, they turn to other pursuits for a time.
This inattention—by a process not fully explained—stimulates the plant to an extraordinary degree. The next visit to the zucchini bed reveals a dozen or more of supermarket size and usually at least one specimen resembling a baseball bat, though of much greater diameter.
It is easy to see how, in a city like Berkeley, with a population that is largely pro-vegetable, guilt-prone and garden-inclined, zucchini could precipitate psychosocial disaster, possibly of pandemic proportions.
Thus an unsuspecting visitor happily agrees to take away a sample of a garden’s bounty, and is soon holding a 10 pound sack of squash, with a tomato or two sprinkled on top for cosmetic effect.
It may be acceptable to offer vegetables in lieu of spare change to a street person but most often the gift languishes in its new home, awaiting the results of a frantic search for a recipe that will allow the new owner to thank the grower with a clear conscience.
The zucchini, friends, can be sliced, diced, chopped and peeled. It can be sautéed, broiled, baked, stewed, used in soups and ragouts, eaten alone or combined with other vegetables.
No matter what approach you take, it will not lose its essential quality. It is a squash. It has very little taste.
Under the circumstances, it is probably best to combine it with something that has flavor enough to make you forget you are eating zucchini. Brown garlic or onions in sufficient quantity or a good fresh tomato sauce can do the trick, especially if you slice the zucchinis very thin, let them drain a while, and get them brownish.
But don’t invite me over. I’ve had my share for this year. Maybe next.