Zucchini, Zucchini, Zucchini!
So rejoiced an email from Martha Stewart, America’s incomparable empress of home ec.
Available were recipes — so many, a bumper crop — to help “make most of this wonderful and versatile summer squash.”
You have to hand it to Martha. She’s staying focused. No matter what befalls us in this strangest of seasons, no matter our fears or follies, there is always zucchini.
Here’s a recipe sampling: zucchini rollatini, zucchini dill pickles, “zoodle” soup, zucchini waffle, zucchini-Parmesan bread, zucchini lasagna, zucchini pizza, sugared zucchini blossoms, chocolate-zucchini sheet cake and, of course, the classic, French vegetable stew, ratatouille — or as we say around here, radda-too-whee.
A memory, short version:
Well into adulthood, I did not know ratatouille from Huey, Dewey and Louie.
At the home of a friend one evening, the dish was served.
“What’s this?” I asked, ignorance unfurled.
“Just try it.”
“Anything weird?” I said, making matters worse.
I dug. One of those moments where you regret a youth wasted at 25-cent burger joints and all-night pancake hangouts.
Eggplant, olive oil, garlic, cherry tomatoes, onions, bell pepper, zucchini, vinegar, spices in a skillet or Dutch oven. Maybe an hour later, hunk of bread, glass of red wine, a little cheese on the side — may I suggest an artisanal fromage de chevre? — and you’re set.
Zucchini is a lovable bit of produce. It grows quickly — 1 to 2 inches a day! — and has more aka’s than organized crime: Ambassador, Eight Ball, Seneca, Gold Rush, Nimba, Greyzini, Caserta, Gadzooks.
It is not boring like the cucumber nor a self-promoter like the pumpkin, grabbing publicity from Halloween through the drowsy dessert hour after Thanksgiving dinner.
As a reporter in the 1960s at the Albany Knickerbocker News — the beloved and long gone, “Knick” — I wrote a story about a minister who had grown what I recall was a 113-pound pumpkin. Maybe it was 112 — a bruiser, in any case. Isn’t that overdoing it? Whatever happened to the meek inheriting the earth? I should have pressed the pastor.
Zucchini is steady, centered and with international appeal.
In Millbrook, Ontario, folks attend an annual zucchini festival. (What cards, the Canadians.)
Participants compete in zucchini boat races and zucchini decorating contests and zucchini slingshot matches. There are zucchini songs and poetry.
Jackie Brown, former festival laureate:
Welcome to the world M'Lord
You handsome devil, George the gourd
So sweet and firm and very teeny
A royal squash, a young zucchini.
Another laureate, Avery Morris:
So glorious when ripe and green
No veggie could ever beat it
Until of course you then are forced
To open wide and eat it.
Thank you, Jackie and Avery.
But, OK, enough, already.
This isn’t really about zucchini — Lord George of Canada or his ripe and ready cousins at Long Island farm stands.
In circumstances so remarkable that I still wear a surgical mask when visiting the mailbox as if to perform an appendectomy and not collect the day’s shopping circulars, we do what we must to stay marginally sane.
Martha Stewart may not have intended to serve as social distance psychologist but her bright communiqué somehow lifted my spirits. The exclamation point in Martha’s headline alone was reassuring. Zucchini!
Likewise soothing are the blissful television ads portraying a carefree world of air fryers, cellphone cup holders, matchmaking services and foot-long heroes. How much can be wrong if we are ready to bolt down a salami sandwich?
Hold that answer. We know where we stand. And how.
Friends from around the country get in touch.
“How you doing?”
“Oh, you know, we’re doing,” we say.
“Yeah, that’s us, too. Haven’t been out for months.”
“Zero human contact.”
“When this is over, we may speak only with grunts and snorts.”
The trick is to keep the faith, we all agree, look forward.
For our age demographic, at least, that’s pretty much the story.
Someday soon, we may applaud a virus vaccine and liberation. For now, I’m sitting tight, waiting out summer and cheering for zucchini.