Zucchini: The Hardiest Vegetable

fresh-zucchini“You’ve never eaten zucchini?” I asked.

“Never, the name alone implies that it must taste really bad.” My husband, Ed replied, peering suspiciously into the stir-fry pan.

“Does the name zucco sound more appetizing?” I asked throwing one word of my limited Italian on him.

“Not really, but it smells delizioso, so I’ll trust the zucchini stir-fry will be magnifico!” He replied with a big smile.

“Oh, that’s right! My zucchini hay days were before we met.” I said.

It seemed like yesterday since my kids destroyed an entire vegetable garden trying to do-away with the zucchini plants. Zucchini, zucco or “zuc” as my kids used to call it, must be one of the hardiest vegetables on the planet.

One summer when the zucs were just coming-on, my children, Holly and Brian, ages 8 and 6 at the time, came to the kitchen expressing a surprising enthusiasm for gardening. The kids often took delight in chasing the birds away from the corn seeds and checking to see when the pumpkin seeds began popping their tiny heads out from under the dark soil. But, this particular year I was clueless of their mission to save me from the perils of growing the green gourd and conveniently saving themselves from having to eat it.

“Mom, can we fertilize? Can we?” They asked eagerly.

“What’s the harm? You’ve seen me do it: 1 teaspoon of fertilizer granules sprinkled on the dirt beside each plant. Do you understand?” I asked.

Their little heads nodded up and down in agreement. Oh, how they loved to see the garden grow, I thought, beaming with maternal pride and returned to the house.

A short time later I heard my future agriculturists stomping up the back porch steps, “Mom, we’re done! Can we go over and play with Seth?”

“That was fast! Sure, go ahead, just be home before dinnertime.” I couldn’t put my finger it, but my motherly instinct was waving red flags. Oh, I’m just being silly – what could be wrong? I thought and went back to my chores.

The next morning I ambled out to the garden to begin hoeing weeds. “Oh, my gosh! What have they done?” I shrieked from the garden gate. Everything seemed to shift into slow motion as I ran about surveying the damage.

The kids had used a full 25-pound sack of vegetable fertilizer in one application. They had poured cupfuls of fertilizer over the top of the plants, which burned them beyond saving. The empty fertilizer bag lay empty and deflated next to the zucchini plants. It was strangely suspicious that the zucco had taken the brunt of the attack. I found sand pails and shovels carelessly left at the end of the last zucchini row. The zucchini seed package, in spite of witnessing the ugly crime, remained on its stick sprightly identifying the destined-to-die plants.

“It can’t be true. All this time and care to raise a bountiful garden and now it’s all ruined beyond repair.” I cried in disbelief.

Admittedly, there were summers when I barely crawled out from under the mound of zucchini in my garden. The first year I grew zucchini I experienced nightmares about the vigorous vines first overtaking the garden, then the house and ultimately all three barns. So there is probably some validity in the kids trying to save me from the gourd. The underlying factor for them, I believe was they were plain sick of zucchini and were attempting to ensure that our meals be completely barren of zuc.

We spoke sternly with the kids for destroying the garden. I don’t recall if we punished them for their crime, however, justice prevailed when the zucchini was the only vegetable prolific enough to spring back from the disaster. Much to the children’s dismay there was no shortage of zucchini soup, zuc bread, stuffed zucco or zucchini anything; in fact that was the same year I created my recipe for Italian Zucchini Stir-Fry.

Italian Zucchini Stir-Fry

1/4 cup canola oil
8-ounces boneless chicken breast, sliced into 1/2” x 2” strips or
8-ounces raw shrimp, peeled with veins removed
1-2 garlic cloves, chopped fine
4-5 small green zucchini squash, scrub (do not peel) and cut into 1/8” thick slices
1-2 small yellow crook-necked squash, scrub (do not peel) and cut into 1/8” thick slices
1 large sweet onion, quartered and sliced
5 large fresh mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
4-5 peeled and sliced tomatoes or 1-28 ounce can Italian tomatoes, undrained
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
8-ounces medium size pasta shells, cooked and drained
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, coarsely grated
Freshly ground pepper

Heat 1/4 cup oil in a stir-fry pan over medium-high heat; add chicken or shrimp and garlic. Cook for about 5-6 minutes, or until there is no visible pink; stir frequently. Push up sides of pan.

Add green and yellow squash, onion, and mushrooms. Continue stirring and frying until some of the vegetables begin to brown (do not over cook). Add tomatoes along with the liquid, oregano and basil; lower heat and stir well. Cover and simmer for about 5 minutes; stirring frequently. Vegetables should be hot all the way through but still firm (Note: Except for the chicken, it’s best to undercook rather than overcook this dish. The key difference between making a really good or a really bad summer squash dish is making sure the veggies are barely cooked to retain their crispness). Remove from heat. Stir in cooked pasta and finely grated Parmesan cheese.

Garnish with coarsely grated Parmesan cheese and ground pepper or for some real pizazz, garnish with dried red pepper flakes. Add a loaf of crusty garlic bread and a glass of chilled Chardonnay and you’ll have all you need for a delightful summertime meal. Yield: 6 servings

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