Notes from the Nest
It was rather a daunting task that lay before me. For the past week and a half, each time I wandered in and out of the summer kitchen at the back of our home, eight zucchinis, the approximate size of Magic Johnson’s tube socks, had been winking at me.
“Turn us into something delicious,” they teased me. “We’re good for you,” they continued to murmur. And finally, “Everyone knows there’s no such thing as too much zucchini!” Followed by what I swear was the sound of eight over-sized zucchinis laughing at me.
Most folks are aware that the vast variety of this very, versatile (you probably think I’m going to say vegetable here but you’d be wrong) … fruit, zucchini, are as abundant at this time of year as hotdogs at a wiener roast. The fact that this elongated, cylindrical produce, that frequently looks like cucumbers on steroids, is botanically speaking fruit, may have surprised you.
Scientifically in a nutshell, fruits contain seeds like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, as well as apples, peaches and pears. Vegetables are reserved for other parts of the plant such as leaves, stems and roots. Which is why rhubarb, according to botanists, is a vegetable not a fruit. It’s how we choose to cook them that’s caused all of the confusion.
Zucchini is the plural form of zucchino, which is Italian for pumpkins or squash. If you live in France, Belgium or the UK, they’re referred to as ‘courgette,’ which means gourd marrow. If zucchini was to have DNA testing done to get its ancestry history, it would show origins in Mesoamerica but zucchini itself was developed in Italy, in the latter half of the 19th century.
Zucchini belong to the Cucurbitaceae family, as well as squash, cucumbers, melons and pumpkins. Surprisingly, these can contain toxins called cucurbitacin’s, which defend the plants from predators and taste bitter to humans. They’re bred for low levels of the toxin, so are safe to eat. Occasionally if cross-fertilization occurs with other plants containing high levels of it, bitter toxic fruit could be produced.
In 2015, a senior couple living in Germany, ate some zucchini grown by a neighbour. They noted the bitter taste and were hospitalized shortly after. Unfortunately, the gentleman succumbed to his illness. Toxicology results confirmed the presence of cucurbitacin. So, a good rule of thumb would be, if it tastes bitter, don’t eat it.
There’s a standing joke in many rural communities, referencing the proliferate quality commonly associated with this bountiful, high yielding fruit. A local fellow, showing his city friend around town was overheard saying, “We don’t lock our cars here, except in August and September, when our neighbours are likely to fill the backseat with zucchini.”
In terms of zucchini, bigger isn’t always better. If you turn your back for a moment or two while they’re growing, you could be looking at harvesting a large stack of mini-submarines. It’s best to harvest them when they are about 20 cm and the seeds are soft. Larger ones tend to be more fibrous but can still be used in many a recipe.
There’s no shortage of ways to prepare them. If you can think of a particular method of cooking, you can more than likely apply it to zucchini, including frying, steaming, boiling, grilling, stuffing and barbecuing. It’s also often incorporated into other recipes like soufflés, and baked into delicious goodies like breads, muffins and cakes. It’s usually cooked but can also be shredded, sliced and added to salads. If that isn’t enough to satisfy you, then don’t forget about ratatouille, the popular French dish which uses zucchini as its shining star.
As for me, for the past two weeks, its appeared as a feature dish at the Snider Homestyle Grill. It’s been sautéed, served as potato/zucchini cakes, made into ratatouille with plenty for the freezer, crisped into zucchini fries in the oven and baked into muffins and a delectable chocolate cake. Then with the remaining five zucchinis, I went to town with my food processor grinding it up for future use. I recently learned that April 25 is National Zucchini Bread Day and I plan to be ready.