By Robin Jean Marie Conte
I’ve always thought of zucchini as a friendly vegetable.
I suppose that’s because I associate it with my Italian grandmother, who grew her own zucchini and made marvelous things with it. She baked, breaded, fried, grated, relished and parmesan-ed it; she turned it into chocolate cake and breakfast loaves.
Since I was old enough to dream of what shape my adulthood would take, I dreamed of having a garden and planting zucchini. My childhood wish was finally granted, in the form of a cleared-out piece of soil behind my mailbox, which is about the only spot in my yard that gets enough sun to support produce.
I planted tomatoes, basil, parsley, thyme, and oregano, and of course, a friendly little sprout of zucchini, and I attempted to beautify the area by fronting it with an attractive curbside camouflage of flowering annuals and perennials.
The tomatoes got pretty tall and unruly. But the zucchini … well the zucchini took me by surprise. What started as an innocent, green sprig about the size of my pinky finger soon turned my mailbox garden into The Little Shop of Horrors. The thick squash vines and massive green leaves stretched across the vincas in front, effectively strangling the flowers and threatening to do the same to my mailman.
Other people have attack dogs; I have an attack plant.
So I learned that zucchini can be quite intimidating. And I learned that, unlike most living things, zucchini thrives when neglected.
My husband and I went out of town for a week and left the squash in the care of my son, who promptly neglected it, and it grew unattended to phenomenal proportions.
When my son eventually went out to water my garden, he discovered an enormous zucchini protruding from beneath the elephant-ear-like leaves of the vine. He picked it and enthusiastically texted me a photo of it, which did not come close to doing justice to the thing.
I returned home to find that single zucchini taking up the entire bottom shelf of my refrigerator. It was like a mortar shell, like a green submarine, like an Austin Mini Cooper. You could string it and use it as a cello; you could put propellers on it and fly it across the Interstate; you could hollow it out and paddle it down the Chattahoochee.
It was truly a remarkable thing, most worthy of documentation. I considered mounting the stem on a wooden plaque and hanging it on my wall … because, for some reason, I took pride in its size, as if I had more to do with its uncommon monstrosity than pure inattentiveness.
I behaved like a fisherman who had finally caught “the big one.” I took pictures with my zucchini. I got photos of me measuring it against my arm and against my thigh, photos of me bench pressing it and curling it.
Then I dressed up and put on mascara and got some more photos.
I have more photos with the zucchini than with my son at his graduation—probably because the zucchini wasn’t complaining. But I wanted the enormity of it fully authenticated before I went in for the slaughter. So I took one final photo of it with a measuring tape (it measured 16″ long with a 4″diameter, FYI) and commenced with the cooking.
I put it in a colander in my sink and started washing it with the vegetable scrub brush, and I felt like I was bathing a small child.
I cut it in half, and then in half again, and again and again, until it was of edible portions. I only had room in my skillet for half of it—which turned out to be roughly equal to eight normally formed zucchini. I sautéed it with an also massive Vidalia onion, tomatoes, basil, parsley, oregano, and salt and pepper, and served it up with a mess of pasta, and it made a fine dinner. I gave the other half to my mother.
So this year will forever be known in my house as the summer of my zucchini.
And I think that next year, I’ll plant cucumbers.
Robin Conte is a writer and mother of four who lives in Dunwoody. She can be contacted at email@example.com.