We are all familiar with the term, the fruits of our labors, right? How come no one ever says the vegetables of our labors? Maybe it’s because the guys in charge of naming things, classifying them and otherwise lining up produce like advancing armies made such a mess of it. There are many examples of mislabeling in the garden and on the farm, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, olives, pumpkins and bell peppers are all fruits classified as vegetables. As is the zucchini. It has been classified and registered around the world as a vegetable. Until maybe 20 years ago, we treated it only as a vegetable in the kitchen.
Fortunately, zucchini is a forgiving, eager-to-please fruit. So much so that once a New York Times reader wrote to that paper claiming that zucchini grew even when it wasn’t planted. This member of the squash family is an amenable member of just about any food team. It plays well with other fruits and vegetables, it gets along with grains, pastas and is happy to play a supporting with meat, fish and fowl. It can stand up to spice or relax with cream. It is eaten raw, sautéed, blanched, roasted, grilled, stuffed, tempura-ed and pickled. It has added the populations of Asia, the Middle East and North Africa to its list of advocates. Maybe we could send it to the United Nations on our behalf.
Despite its Mesoamerican origins, this plant traveled east with the Spaniards to the Mediterranean where the Italians nurtured and developed it into the green squash we know. Zucchini re-crossed the Atlantic in the mid 19thC with Italian emigrants though it didn’t begin to be a popular addition to most American tables until the mid 20thC. While Italy gave it the name zucchini, it is called courgette by the French, Dutch, Portuguese and New Zealanders. The British, Irish and South Africans sometimes use the French word, but also call it a marrow. The Spanish call it calabaza. It is a wonder zucchini hasn’t developed a serious identity crisis.