I live surrounded by Italians. Next door, across the road, in fact half the street is Italian. Many of them came in the great waves of European migration during the late 40’s and 50’s.
They arrived in a world completely unlike that which they had left. Australia was not the culinary powerhouse it is today. It was a land of white loaves and roast lamb dinner, or bread and dripping the next day.
And so some of the more entrepreneurial immigrants began to import the flavours of Europe. Pasta, olives, anchovies, polenta. Others began to manufacture the traditional goods of home. Prosciutto, salami, gelato, bread. Still others took to the fields and established the circle of market gardens that would eventually feed this entire city. There they grew the vegetables of Italy.
While zucchini had been grown in small amounts prior to the 1950’s, it was largely considered a continental vegetable, and was abandoned in favour of peas, beans and potatoes. In fact we called them ‘courgettes’, the French term that is also used in Britain.
‘Zucca’ is Italian for pumpkin or gourd, and ‘zucchini’ is its diminutive, meaning ‘little gourd’. The fruit (and yes it is a fruit, not a vegetable) first appeared in the 19th century in northern Italy as a mutation of squash that had originated in the Americas. This new plant was hardier and produced more fruit, and hence was quickly popular with growers and consumers. You’ll find green zucchini available almost all year round, but they are best at the start of Spring. Right now you’ll also find yellow zucchini at your grocer. They are sweeter than the green, but you’ll pay a little more.
The fruit emerges as the stem of the female zucchini flower. You’ll find these flowers for sale through Spring and into Summer. The fruit can grow up to a metre long, but it becomes more bitter and dry as it matures. So always choose the smallest zucchini to get the best flavour and texture and cook them within a couple of days of purchase.
Zucchini gorgonzola and pine nut tart