They are here.
They show up on your front steps. Leave your car unlocked, and you are liable to find a few of them on your passenger seat when you return. Well-meaning friends and neighbors might even bring them into your home before you realize what they've done.
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This time of year, it is nearly impossible to escape zucchini. It's a zucchini apocalypse.
"Here, take this sack of zucchini. I've got plenty," a generous neighbor will say.
One zucchini is more than plenty, really. Maybe even a lifetime supply. But if gardeners were able to grow just one zucchini, the common summer squash probably would be known as zucchino.
Zucchini, like zombies, multiply easily and are difficult to kill. Suburban gardeners pamper their pepper plants, treat their tomatoes with tenderness and baby their beans. Growing a zucchini in a suburban garden is about as difficult as finding an ice bucket challenge video on Facebook.
We don't even have a garden and we've got a zucchini growing near a bush where squirrels congregate to eat tomatoes they've stolen from our neighbors. The seed must have been planted by a squirrel that bit into a zucchini while making his escape with a tomato and didn't realize what he had done until he got to our yard and spit it out.
Zucchini recipients who are too decent or guilt-ridden to regift a zucchini bundle or accidentally drop them down the garbage disposal can make edible items out of zucchini. The secret, of course, is to mask the zucchini.
The best zucchini bread recipes call for more sugar than zucchini. Directions advise the baker to throw in butter, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and eggs. Then, if you can still taste the zucchini, throw in walnuts, pecans and lemon juice until the zucchini is completely overwhelmed.
As I write this column, I'm chowing down on a "zucchini brownie" from a plate of them brought into our newsroom by Daily Herald Assistant Opinion Page Editor Colleen Thomas. Her handwritten sign identifying the zucchini ingredient makes us feel as if we're being healthy. But no one says, "Man, these are great! You can really taste the zucchini!" Perhaps a zucchini was used instead of a wooden spoon to stir the chocolaty batter.
Restaurants fry zucchini. Whether it is alligator, Rocky Mountain oysters, crickets or zucchini, if you slice it thin enough, smother it in beer batter and deep-fry it, it is yummy. Some people suggest doing the same with the blossom of the zucchini plant. This is a culinary equivalent of a flu shot. If you remove all the blossoms, you can keep the plant from producing an actual zucchini. Eating a fried, batter-covered flower might not be ideal, but it certainly is better than having to stomach a dose of a bumper zucchini crop.
Zucchini is the forgotten cousin of the cucumber. While no one is going to confuse a cucumber with Italian beef, cucumber sandwiches are popular in some circles. We eat cucumber salads. Restaurants put slices of cucumbers in our water, and they even serve up cucumber martinis.
The recipe for a zucchinitini calls for sugary simple syrup, sake and gin. Then you grate a zucchini until your hands smell like zucchini. Throw away the cup of grated zucchini, and the hint of zucchini in the air shouldn't be strong enough to spoil your drink.
But the right zucchini in the right hands can be, dare we say it, tasty. A native plant of Italy, zucchini holds its own in the nation where chefs can make a cow's stomach or a squid's tentacles into good eats.
Italy native Sebastiano Maglio, a master potter profiled in "The House of Haeger, 1944-1969," has grown 6-foot-long Sicilian zucchini in his East Dundee yard and says his wife, Concetta, turns them into delicacies.
"A friend of mine, she had two, and she brought them to my house because I need it for minestrone," says Concetta Maglio, who also cooks the minestra di zucchine recipe she brought from Sicily when they moved to the United States in 1963. She can't understand anyone not loving these dishes.
"They don't like zucchini, they don't know what they're missing," she says.
Plenty of suburbanites missing fresh produce would love zucchini, says Erik Jacobsen, communications manager with the Northern Illinois Food Bank. The charity, with suburban centers in Geneva, Lake County's Park City and Loves Park near Rockford, provided 42 million meals to hungry people last year.
"We do accept any and all donations of zucchini," Jacobson says, noting donors can visit the solvehungertoday.org website to find a local food pantry. "I'm not aware of people saying, 'Oh, no, more zucchini.' At the food bank, we'll take as much as we can. If you have zucchini coming out of your ears, we'll gladly accept it."
Either that, or you can wait until you are desperate enough to look up the recipe for zucchini French toast with basil syrup.