Brought to you by Bells, who asked for the recipe at the bottom of this blog post.
Zucchini, known as courgettes in parts of Europe and Australia, and as summer squash to some gardeners. Because that's what they are - summer squash. While they're not as closely related as cabbage and its cultivars, all summer squash are descended from giant pumpkins. They're thought to be native to central or south America, and have been cultivated in the area for about five thousand years - possibly longer.
During the Great Exchange (the botany/history geek term for all the plants that got moved around after Columbus discovered the new world), pumpkins and some other types of summer squash were taken to Europe. They didn't catch on very quickly. In the 1800s, Italians started tinkering with the different summer squash and developed what we call the zucchini. Roughly translated, zucchini means 'little squash' in Italian. The French began using them soon after, and they didn't get popular in Britain until the 1950s and 1960s when food writers began discussing them. I assume from there they spread to the Americas, Canada, and Australia, though I can find no information on it. (Zucchini apparently are too low-class and/or recent to interest food historians.) Linguistically, I assume Italians brought zucchini to America and Britons took courgettes to Australia.
Technically speaking, zucchini are not vegetables. They are fruits. But then, the term 'vegetable' is meaningless in botany/biology, so there you go. They are best eaten when immature - less than 1 foot or 20cm in size - and very fresh. They don't store for crap, particularly not when cooled. (Though I bet you could freeze the cleaned, shredded meat.) They are members of the Curcurbitaceae (gourd) family, related to those pumpkin I mentioned as well as squash of all kinds, cucumbers, watermelon, and, haha, loofahs. (Yes, the bath scrubbie.)
I've tried to figure out why they grow like crazy, and can't find any explanation in any of my plant books (of which I have several dozen). They were developed to grow in a temperate climate on the warm side, but they grow well all over the place, even up into Canada and Scotland and Germany, which aren't as warm in the growing season sense, even if they are temperate. But zucchini still practically blast out of the ground and spit fruit at you. The only thing I can think of is, they're a recent species, meaning they're a hundred-odd years old as opposed to ten thousand. Because they were bred so recently, it's possible they respond to pests and climate better. (This was discussed, in part, over here.) Or it could just be that they're crazy. SOMEONE should research it, though, because the world could use more food plants that grow so easily.
And, by request, a recipe. Predictably, it is for zucchini bread, but several folks claim it's the best zucchini bread they've ever had. (Don't ask me. I hate zucchini bread.) It was slipped to me as a wedding present and is kind of a secret recipe, so, uh, don't tell anyone you have it.
L'S ZUCCHINI BREAD:
-1 cup vegetable oil
-2 cups white sugar
-3 cups all purpose flour
-1 teaspoon baking soda
-1 teaspoon salt
-1 teaspoon baking powder
-1 teaspoon cinnamon
-3 cups grated zucchini, with the water drained off
-1 cup nuts any will work but walnuts were used
-1 tablespoon vanilla
beat eggs, oil, and sugar together; add all dry ingredients, zucchini, nuts. Pour into two greased loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes to one hour. Freezes well.
This puts me in mind of a joke I heard once in New England: During summer, people don't lock their cars because of tourists - they lock them to keep their friends from filling their cars with zucchini. (I used to say the same thing in Hawaii about avocados when they were ripe, but that's another blog post.)