Italian Heirloom Zucchini
Climbing Italian Heirloom or Ground Hybrid = Cucuzza
Whatever you choose to call them, these big zucchini are from the squash family, along with pumpkins, cucumbers, melons, and of course, squash, zucchini and gourds.
The reason I chose this particular type of zucchini is because it always amazes me how large these plants leaves get and how quickly their fruits grow. Yes, I said fruits, yet most people consider them vegetables. Fruits are sweet and the zucchini is savory, so in this sense it is used as a vegetable.
Biologically, when the flesh is formed around or by the seed-bearing part of a plant, it's a fruit. Because zucchini contains its seeds, it's a fruit. So are cucumbers, melons and tomatoes. So if you are a botanist, zucchini is a fruit, if you are a chef, it is a vegetable!
pronounced "koo-kootza" means squash in Italian
I was impressed when I first saw my father-in-law’s cucuzza hanging 4-6 feet down his garden trellis. Most people are awed because it doesn’t seem normal to them. I’ll post a video of a TV report on this phenomenal giant zucchini. It’s funny in the sense that they’re discussing it like it came from another planet. In reality, just because you can’t find these at your local supermarket, it doesn’t mean you can’t obtain the seeds to grow them. They can be purchased online or at your local nursery. See how pretty those zucchini leaves are? And though they aren't toxic, they are prickly and very irritating to the skin. I'd have to be pretty darn hungry to make a meal with those. LOL
Wide, Rambling Plants or Vigorous Climbing Vines?
You’ll need zucchini seeds, plenty of rich fertile soil amended with aged manure or compost, warm temperatures, lots of water and full sunshine. For the climbing zucchini a high fence or trellis to maintain this lush canopy of heart-shaped leaves and support those gorgeous 6-foot zucchini is a must.These plants practically grow overnight, considering their large size and abundance of produce. 50-70 days to maturity.
Sowing the Seeds
It's safe to begin their journey only when the spring weather is warm and settled and night temperatures stay above 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 C).Plant 3 seeds 1 inch deep, 4 inches from the support. Space the groups of seeds 2 feet apart from each other. Water immediately. Once they sprout thin to the strongest seedling for each pole or to 12 inches apart. Begin to train the vines up on an 8 foot fence, stakes or trellis tying them to their supports. The plants themselves may attain a height of 12-15 feet.
Don't Break Your Back - Enjoy Your Gardening
A long-handle digging shovel will literally cut your shoveling time and pain in half. Because of the extended reach, you may turn the soil in the more upright position, hence lessening the strain on your back and arms.
Harvest the climbing summer zucchini when they are 10 to 12 inches long. That's when they're the most tender. Their mild artichoke-like flavor and texture is perfect stuffed, sauted or in soups. No need to peel them, and they cook in just minutes. If they remain on the vines into the fall they become winter squash and their skin is tough so they need to be peeled and seeded. These can easily be stored in a cool, dark and dry place for a month or longer.The lush leaves at the right of the photo, after the beans, are Climbing Italian Zucchini plants.
Got Plenty of Space?
The ground zucchini squashes grow like magic in fertile soil, though they take up a lot of space per plant. The seeds are small and more is better than less. The strongest plants will prevail and the result will produce a healthy harvest. Again, the longer the fruit are left on the plant the larger and tougher they'll become, the skin will be inedible and they'll take longer to cook.
The compact and uniform types of ground zucchini squash I'm referring to are hybrid varieties such as Lebanese zucchini. A mid-sized fruit of approximately 12 inches long and 5 inches at its base. This early zucchini is very productive with only 50 days to maturity. Some species are dark or light green with pale meaty flesh and nutty flavor.
Climbing Zucchini Blossoms Get Married
My father-in-law literally unites the male and female zucchini blossoms on his vines, face-to-face, and ties them together with their own tentacles. If that seems a bit of a hardship at the top of a ladder, consider taking some of the pollen from the male blossom with a Q-Tip and transferring it to the female flower. The female blossom has a tiny zucchini at its base (the ovary), while the male blossom grows directly on the stem. Only the male blossom has a stamen in its center, and the pollen on this stamen is what pollinates the female plant.
Heirloom vs Hybrid
Simply said, heirloom refers to the seed of a specific type that is grown and passed along from generation to generation. It is capable of producing seeds that will produce seedlings just like the parent plant. Not all plants do this. This plant must be open pollinated. Free for all. The hybrid plant (seed) is cross-pollinated to produce a fruit or vegetable that is the best of two different plants. Hybrid does not mean genetically modified. Rather, it is “maximized” with the best features of both parents. Yes, plants are also male and female. Even trees.
Lush Stuff SlideshowClick thumbnail to view full-size
The blossoms from summer and winter squash are edible and divinely fresh and delicious. Store them in the fridge not more than one day. They can be used in salads, stuffed and baked or, my personal favorite, battered and fried. Remember to remove the bitter stamens from the male zucchini flowers and the pistils from the female flowers. Also triple check each flower for a surprise resident.
Zucchini or pumpkin flowers are available at your local market when they are in season. But if you're eating those from your own garden, you should pick mainly the male flowers, once they have wilted. Take only some of the female flowers, after they're wilted, being careful not to damage the baby zucchini. The wilting is normal; it means they're ready to be picked.
Preserving Zucchini Squash
You'll wind up giving away as many zucchini as you eat, but you may also preserve them. One for imminent use in the basement refrigerator for a month or longer. Others can be cubed, blanched and pickled in jars with dill, garlic, salt and vinegar. Once the jars are sealed the preserve will keep for years. The zucchini may also be dried and canned for future use. Keeps for twenty years!
Fence & Trellis
Zucchini Blossom Fritters (Frittelle di Fiore di Zucchini)
I can't resist including my mother-in-law's scrumptious recipe
20 male flowers with stamens removed, checked and rinsed
1 tbsp melted butter
1/4 tsp each of nutmeg, parsley, black pepper, salt
1 crushed garlic clove
3 basil leaves
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp Romano cheese
1/3 cup flour
Olive oil for frying
In a large bowl melt the butter, add all the spices and whisk. Chop the basil and zucchini flowers and add them to the bowl. Add the flour and baking powder and stir. Beat the egg separately, then add it to the mixture and stir well, gently. Add a little warm water if the mixture is too dry. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and drop the fritters in small spoonfuls. Flatten, flip and fry until golden.
Italian Heirloom Zucchini
This is an example of how big these cucuzza get, but it's only relatively new on this side of the world! And they grow just as well in North America as they do in Europe.