I think it’s high time I got back to writing some shorter, spur-of-the-moment posts, so, here goes!
You’ve all heard of courgettes aka zucchini, right? But how about tromboncino aka zucchetta? Perhaps not. Snake-like and slightly suggestive, these climbing summer squashes are a revelation. Not only are they phenomenally easy to grow but they’re vigorous, tasty, nutritious and resistant to the powdery mildew that so often blights courgettes. That’s because tromboncino is a cultivar of Cucurbita moschata, a Central American species that also gave rise to butternut squashes. Their genetics make them more tolerant of heat and humidity than courgettes, which are cultivars of Curcurbita pepo. That’s the science bit over!
Because tromboncinos (or should that be tromboncini?) are natural climbers equipped with the most spectacularly effective tendrils (they’ll even wrap themselves around blades of grass!), the plants can be trained over a pergola or arch, or allowed to clamber up a jute net saving space on the ground. Growth is rampant and cropping heavy. The long, meandering fruits carry all their seeds in the bulbous tip meaning that the majority is firm, nicely-textured flesh. One should pick tromboncinos when they’re 25-30cm long and use them straight away or leave them to grow into serpents a metre long. As they ripen they become a pale straw-yellow with a tough skin that allows them to be stored for a few months before cooking in a similar way to butternut squash.
We discovered two years ago that tromboncinos are far more rewarding to grow than courgettes, tastier and nicer to cook with, never collapsing into a wet, mushy pulp. Henceforth we’ve never grown courgettes again. They make a mean side dish simply sliced, roasted and drenched in butter or diced and added to a vegetable frittata. The flavour is sweet and nutty. Tromboncino flesh has the kind of bite that would lend itself well to a curry, tagine or stew instead of meat. Whatsmore, the elegant yellow flowers can be picked, stuffed, battered and deep fried just like courgette blossoms.
Although we start our tromboncinos off in pots under glass in late April they’re just as successful sown directly into the ground in late May or June, rapidly producing vigorous vines that tend to find their own way. The stems may need a little guidance but no tying in. Plant them somewhere sunny and sheltered, water generously and watch them go. As I write this post in late July our plants have already gone over the top of a 6ft net and will double in size before autumn. Spare a moment for the leaves which are deep green with silver marbling. If it were not for the eye-catching fruit they would get much higher billing.
You’ll find that seeds are sold under various different names from plain old ‘Tromboncino’ to the fancier sounding ‘Tromboncino d’Albegna’ but as far as we can tell they’re all the same thing. (If you find seeds labelled Zucchetta ‘Serpente di Sicilia’ (Serpent of Sicily) this is something similar in appearance but a little different.) One or two plants are probably sufficient to keep the average household in curvaceous cucurbits for a season. Naturally, we grow more than that and end up with lots to spare!
If you want to make your mother-in-law blush or get the neighbours’ tongues wagging, grow your tromboncinos in full view and just wait for the reaction. As the fruit develops it goes through all sorts of contortions, frequently resembling something that should be kept in one’s trousers. It’s all part of the fun and probably why people of all ages find them so amusing. The first year we grew them they were on a framework adjacent to the local carpark. Such was the intrigue that anyone would have thought we were keeping tigers on our plot. Now we’re known as the men that grow rude vegetables. I’ve been called worse things. TFG.
Have you grown tromboncinos? Do you have a favourite tromboncinco recipe? If so, let me know!
Categories: Beautiful Strangers, Climbers, Flowers, Foliage, Fruit and Veg, Plants, Practical Advice
9 comments On "All Hail The Tromboncino!"
I’m growing tromboncinos for the first time this year, having seen them romping over a fence in my area and then subsequently seeing them somewhere online, perhaps a FB post by you Dan? They certainly do climb. So far I’m not that enamored of their flavor, but give it time. I definitely want to leave some to grow into keepers–what a great solution to the courgette glut problem! And they really are a whole lot less trouble than courgettes. Have you tried malabar spinach? That’s my other vertical experiment this season.
Hi Jane. Malabar spinach is on the list to try. Does it need a greenhouse or can it be grown outdoors?
It’s very likely we tempted you at some stage as we’ve posted quite a few, slightly immature pictures of them over the years! The flavour is subtle but I think a shade better than courgette. Neither will set your tastebuds alight but they make a good ingredient or side dish. Have a wonderful weekend. Dan
I started off the malabar spinach seeds in a propagator, then grew them on in the greenhouse. They were very slow to get going but are now planted outdoors and climbing well. They’re pretty plants with red stems and little pinkish flowers.
How lovely to see this kind of specialised post from you again. Really informative and suits your characterful writing style. Look forward to seeing more! Thank you!
Thanks Annie. It’s been too long. Need to get back into it again. Thanks for the encouragement!
My mouth is watering , I’m going to have a go with them next year 😊
Okay, sold. Now I just have to sort out somewhere to grow one or two….possibly netting on the fence? Would they grow in a large container for more nourishing soil?
Have you ever grown the oddly named asparagus pea ( a bit like a pea I suppose but bears no resemblance to asparagus?) because I am thinking of trying it/them next year
They are probably enjoying the unusually warm weather there. They perform very well here, where such warmth is normal. If we put the seed out too early, they grow slowly, and then get eaten by snails if the weather does not get warm enough to promote faster growth.
Yes, exactly the same here Tony. It rarely pays to sow too early and the later sowings always catch up eventually.