I knew it was foolhardy when I did it.
In May, planting a dozen zucchini seedlings in my newly expanded garden filled an empty space but I knew the planting would come at a cost.
My grandfather and my dad had planted zucchinis year after year since my grandfather emigrated from Abruzzi Italy in the early 20th century. But I never had been responsible for the seasonal crop till this year. The men in my family knew how to manage these bountiful producers but for me it was a new experience and I paid for it.
Things were going along well until the end of July. The plants resisted their natural enemies, the vine borers, and we watched dozens of bright yellow zucchini flowers sprouting on the vines. Small fruits started to form. Then we went away for a few days and came back to zucchini madness. I turned my back on these plants only for a few days but suddenly they were transformed. Instead of delicate batons, there were dozens of baseball bat sized fruits lurking under the plants’ large leaves. At least we caught them before they grew to a meter in length with pumpkin-like seeds throughout their flesh, the national horror story.
We harvested dozens of them and walked around to all the neighbors offering our garden bounty. Actually the timing coincided with national zucchini day in early August. affectionately known as the day to sneak around in the night to leave overgrown produce on your neighbor’s porch. We did not have to do that. Most of the neighbors were generous and took them off our hands without too much explanation.
As an Italian American, I can’t quite come to grips with the distaste for zucchini in this country, believing it’s a failure in harvesting and preparation rather then the fault of the fruit itself. I love their delicate, subtle, green and creamy flavor. Of course, if you let a vegetable grow to the size of a baseball bat and steam it into a soupy mess it wouldn’t make an attractive dish.
My grandmother had one sole preparation for zucchini, based on her family’s Abruzzi traditions. She cut it into slender slices, sautéed it with onion and garlic, perfectly paired with fresh tomatoes and hot pepper flakes. When on occasion the mix was too spicy, she added small cubes of potatoes to absorb the extra heat. It all worked. I never experienced the mushy steamed zucchini so written about in the annual August publications.
And in any case, today there are other choices. At our nearby CSA, they offer “Eight-Ball” zucchini, a recently developed varietal that never grows beyond a cueball size and is flavor-filled. And also, there is the summer grill, when you can vertically slice the zucchini, grace them with olive oil , lay them on the grill and burn off most of their 95% water content, resulting in gorgeous strips of grilled vegetable just waiting to be rolled with goat cheese or some other filling for an appetizing snack.
So on the waning days of summer I say bring it on. Zucchini should be more respected and I’m doing my part to restore its reputation.
- 1 medium zucchini, diced
- 1 cup fresh corn
- 1 small red onion, chopped
- 2 jalapeño peppers, seeds and ribs removed, chopped
- 1 2/3 cups drained and rinsed canned black beans (one 15-ounce can)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 ½ cup Monterey jack cheese, grated
- 8 large (burrito-size) flour tortillas
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil
- Saute the zucchini and corn for 3-4 minutes to soften. In a large bowl, combine the zucchini, corn, onion, jalapeños, beans, salt, pepper, and chili powder. Toss gently to distribute the seasonings and then stir in the cheese.
- Heat the oven to 200°. Set the tortillas on a work surface. Put about 1/3 cup of the filling on one half of each tortilla. Spread the filling to the edge and then fold the tortilla over the filling.
- In a large nonstick frying pan, heat 1/2 tablespoon of the oil over moderate heat. Add two of the quesadillas to the pan and cook, turning once, until the cheese melts, about 1 1/2 minutes per side. Remove from the pan and keep warm on a baking sheet in the oven. Repeat in batches with the remaining oil and quesadillas. Cut the quesadillas in wedges and serve.
This is my submission for Weekend Herb Blogging #398 being hosted by Simona of Briciole, started by Haalo and an ongoing tradition in English and Italian.