I’m out of my gourd


by Steve Skinner, Aspen Daily News Columnist


Tuesday, September 12, 2017


I’m feeling squashed again. And the feeling’s just begun. Proceed with this seedy column at your own risk. Hope you have a thick skin. The views and opinions expressed forthwith are my own and do not reflect the new and upstanding ownership of this newspaper.

Anyone who goes to the store and purchases a zucchini right now is certifiably nuts. No offense but this is zucchini season, which is kind of like hurricane season, except that it’s raining zucchinis instead of water. What we have here is something of an emergency: a squash surge.

I’m with you. I don’t particularly care to eat zucchini. Eating it straight up in a salad or steamed on the side brings me a borderline gag reflex. It must be good for me then, right?

My daughter writes a blog (Moodystark). In “s--- you don’t need,” she writes that the No. 1 thing you don’t need in your life is zucchini. Coincidentally, the last thing on the list of things you don’t need in your life is “food that doesn’t taste good.”

It’s not my fault. I tried and tried to get her to eat zucchini. To her credit, once a year, she always sampled whatever zuke incarnation I presented. But not even fresh-picked baby zucchini masterfully sautéed in butter and garlic could pass her yuck test.

Zucchini bread? No. She knew it was in there.

My eating habits have changed. If someone hands me a local zucchini, I’m going to find a way to ingest it. Local food is the healthiest, best-tasting and freshest. Whenever possible, I eat the locally sourced stuff. Even donuts. And yes, even zucchini. If you are going to eat it, eat the local stuff.

Did you know that you can put a zucchini through a spiralizer? One of these hand-crank peelers cleverly turns zuke meat into long green noodles. Dress with carrot-top pesto and you are off to the races, yes? Stop! I am practically hurling just thinking about it. Noodles need to taste like noodles. Sorry.

Disguising only works when you disguise the taste. It’s fine to disguise the look but more important to disguise the taste.

If I have to deal with zucchini, I will often slice it, lube it, salt it and grill it. I know it sounds cruel but the babies are the tastiest. One of the most palatable ways to gag down zucchini is to grill the babies. The big monsters are woody and bitter.

The longest zucchini courgette ever officially measured by the Guinness World Records was 8 feet, 3.3 inches and was grown in 2014 by the wonderful wizard Giovanni Batista Scozzafava in Niagara Falls, Canada. He claimed that he had used “no manure” on the plant, just lotsa Niagara water.

I recently discovered that zucchinis can be poisonous. Zucchinis can and have killed! Maybe I have an inner sense that repels me from dangerous vegetables because I knew something was up.

Perhaps I don’t like zucchini because they, like other cucubita pepe, including pumpkins, contain cucurbitacins. These toxic steroids help plants fend off predators. To add insult to injury, the toxin often adds bitterness to the squash. If you come across a particularly bitter zuke, you might want to skip it — you can thank me later.

Wikipedia features a story of an elderly couple sickened by eating zucchini that the neighbor brought over. They noticed a bitter taste before they keeled over. The man died, and the wife barely made it. You guessed it: cucurbitacins. Still, you are probably more likely to choke to death on a squash than die from too many cucurbitacins in your fake noodles.

Last Sunday night, I was presented with a zucchini casserole. The steaming concoction was layered with fresh mozzarella, basil and tomato sauce and topped with squash blossoms (yellow zuke blossoms are considered a delicacy in many countries, including Mexico). I must admit that it was pretty tasty considering that I knew what it was.

Zucchini grows well in our climate. Keep the predators out, add sunshine and water and stand back. Never turn your back on a bed of zucchini as it can triple in size when you are not looking. Harvest those pepos early and often for best results. Look under the leaves because the big ones have a way of hiding under there.

If you find yourself inundated by zucchini and your friends start locking their doors and pulling closed their shades when they see you coming, take heart. Get busy preserving, pickling and candying. Then you can give zucchini to your friends for Christmas.

Steve Skinner nearly went out of his gourd when he heard that these fruits we treat like vegetables are actually swollen ovaries of the zucchini flower. Reach him at nigel@sopris.net.


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