Compared to the tomato, the zucchini is far less threatening as a sweet item. It’s vegetable-like flavor is far milder, though like the tomato it is also technically a fruit. It’s flavor gets milder still as the zucchini grows and its sugars become diluted with water. This is why true zucchini lovers pick theirs when they’re young, no more than eight or so inches long. Left to its own devices a zucchini can grow up to three feet long, by which time it doesn’t taste like anything at all.
Zucchini are of course part of the squash family, whose ancestors can all be traced back to the New World. Though because the particular genetic mutation that created the fruit we know today happened in Italy (probably in the late 1800’s some time), most people think of it as an Italian, er…vegetable. Indeed the zucchini was first brought to America by Italian immigrants, and first cultivated in California. The name is the diminutive of the generic Italian word for squash, “zucca” (zucchini = “little squash”). The French call theirs “courgettes”, the diminutive for their word for squash, “courge”.
The fact that zucchini don’t have an English name per se reflects the fact that people in English-speaking countries have only really been enjoying them for a few decades. And enjoy we do. The zucchini’s bland taste, combined with its incredible abundance has led to a bewildering variety of food applications. Zucchini can be sautéed, baked, poached, stuffed, eaten raw, and of course baked into bread, which is what I plan on doing today.