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!