Good zukes! In defense of zucchini

Recently, Herald editor and occasional food critic Randal Smathers penned a none-too-flattering piece about the zucchini — a Dylanesque jeremiad that nearly reached “Positively 4th Street” levels of contempt.

In his opinion, the veggie is overabundant, flavorless and ultimately unwanted — a scourge of summer gardens that growers are only too eager to pawn off to friends and enemies alike.

While the piece gave me a chuckle, I had to take exception to his assertion that only “one-in-10,000” people actually like zucchini. I personally know many zucchini lovers out there who openly celebrate their love for the great, green gourd. (Some town even go as far as to hold festivals for it.)

In the summer months, I myself have been known to cook and eat zucchini with reckless abandon. I’m not ashamed. I’ve proudly served it to family and friends without fear of ridicule or retribution.

It’s true that around this time of year, however, zucchini ubiquity can be a nuisance — one can’t visit a friend’s garden or even a stroll down the street it seems without having one or several foisted upon you.

Indeed, this time of year you will likely find 8-pound zukes left on doorsteps like orphaned children— delivered via a late-night knock on the door and a desperate note asking you to “give it a good home.” (Hint: it’s usually best not to humanize your adopted zucchini; it makes eating them that somewhat off-putting.)

Still, despite their abundance I love zucchini. It reminds me of my childhood. I’m not sure if people remember their first vegetable they liked, but mine was zucchini. ( I think. I also have fond memories of mushrooms and black olives, though, technically speaking neither are actually vegetables.)

As a child, I remember eating zucchini from my grandfather’s garden: sliced into semi-thick circles, boiled or steamed and tossed with salt, pepper and butter. It’s a simple preparation that holds up — the butter sweetly accenting the zucchini’s slight nuttiness.

On the other side of my family, the Italians embraced zucchini with the same vigor that accompanied anything they could cook, eat and drink wine with.

In their kitchens, they were called “cocozelles” — Italian for the variety of green summer squash with light green or yellowish stripes. The favored recipe was to pan-fry them and serve with marinara. Prepared this way, they are a simple side dish; or when baked in the oven with some mozzarella, they become a hearty (read unhealthy) vegetarian entrée.

So there you have it. Hopefully, my words have helped to save the zucchini from the culinary oblivion into which Mr. Smathers had cast it. While it’s true that during the summer their abundance can border on nuisance, I say bring it on. I’ve never met a zuke I couldn’t eat.

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