There’s a monster in my garden. I can see its arched back as it writhes through the foliage. A leviathan made of my own abandon. It’s a zucchini. A ridiculously massive zucchini. A zucchini plant is like a pesky teenager this time of year. They know when you’re not watching, and as soon as they’re left unsupervised, they take the opportunity to do exactly as they please. In this case, grow like hell. When August hits, it’s as if a zucchini has no other desire than to try and fully realize its true squash-self, and it can only do that by getting much, much larger.
Typically a badge of horticultural shame, a mammoth zucchini is evidence that one is not on top of their gardening game. A lack of attentiveness that most people blame on being out of town (suuure you were visiting your “girlfriend” in Niagara Falls). I think perhaps that’s the real reason so many of these behemoths end up on the compost pile. People are embarrassed about the one that got away. Better to say it’s unusable and hide its existence than to put on display a wanton example of botanical neglect.
This year, I saw it as a challenge. I even noticed it growing, and didn’t pick it right away. “Bring it,” thought I. When it was finally plucked, I think I damaged my rotator cuff hoisting it around. I didn’t weigh it, but can say confidently that there were double digits involved. It was almost as big as my daughter, who had a hard time keeping it lifted for the brief photo shoot we did.
This is the million dollar question: what do you do with it? Here’s what I learned. You have to shift your thinking from zucchini to zucche. In Italian, the ini ending is a diminutive add on. When attached to a word, the ini implies that it is smaller or more endearing. For my monster, that ini was mocking me. It was no longer a zucchini—a cute little summer squash. It had realized its destiny, transformed itself from zucchini into zucche, a big squash, and had to be treated as such. I believe this is the mistake most folks make when dealing with their own monsters. They keep trying to treat it like an ordinary zucchini, and when it can’t perform, it’s dismissed as being too big. You have to think about it more like a typical squash–butternut, acorn, spaghetti, pumpkin–with tough skins, big seeds, and thick flavorful walls. Once you do that you’re halfway there.
As soon as I sliced it open, and saw the stringy center with giant seeds, I knew. I adore roasted pumpkin seeds, so saved the seeds as I was cleaning it out to see if they would fare similarly in the oven. When it was cleaned out and sitting there in its lengthwise hollowed out halves, all beautiful and half-moon, I decided to stuff and bake it. Ground beef from a friend’s cow butchered at CJs Meats in Wapato, garden tomatoes, garden tomatillos, garden onions, garden herbs, and some of the zucchini itself, all came together in the sauté pan to make the lovely stuff of the stuffing. Each half was so big it required its very own baking dish and was put in the oven at 350 for about 40ish minutes with a little water in the bottom of the pan. All roasted up and scooped out of the skin, it definitely had a texture more in line with a squash than a typical zucchini. It was fantastic. The seeds were cleaned up, oiled, salted and baked at 325 until golden. Wow. And these were just two options that I could do easily. I’m excited to continue my experimentation.
I don’t know what you have under your bed, but I know now the monster in your garden is a friendly one. Don’t let it be a monument of ignominy, just treat it like the grown-up squash that it is and know that it will do right by you. Just think how pleased your girlfriend in Niagara Falls will be to see you more often.