Out of all the crops I grew in my garden this summer, only one elicited more curious eyebrows and caused more whiplash than anything else — my Zucchino Rampicante (Cucurbita moschata), an Italian heirloom zucchini also known as Zucchetta Rampicante or Tromboncino squash.
These prolific specimens are a fascinating oddity, with long, slender, snake-like forms that slither vigorously around vines, trellises, fences, and sometimes each other. They look like crooknecks on steroids, growing up to 4 feet long if left to their own devices. The bulbous ends contain most of the seeds, while the necks are solid and smooth. My Rampicante foliage is among the more distinctive in the garden, having large, attractive leaves with silvery white variegation along their veins.
True to its name, Rampicante starts out much like any other vining squash — hefty leaves and clusters of orange-yellow blossoms on long, trailing vines — but quickly becomes rampant, sprawling across the ground en masse and sending down new roots at the nodes. It will take over your garden and probably even your neighbor’s garden.
You’ll be very well-fed though — I had two Rampicante plants that produced enough squash to sustain my whole street. Despite being a zucchini, its flavor is less like zucchini and more like butternut squash, to which it is more closely related.
Rampicante is also a rampant climber and can be trellised on very tall, sturdy supports. When the vines are allowed to climb, the zucchini tends to grow long and straight… but that’s no fun!
Rampicante is a unique variety in that it is considered both a summer squash and winter squash. It can be harvested young at any stage, when the skin is striated and lime green in color.
It can also be left to mature on the vine until the skin hardens and turns a solid beige, and treated as a winter squash similar to butternut. When fully ripened at this stage, it will store for long periods of time like any other winter squash.
I harvest my Rampicante at the “small” stage — small being around 2 feet long, with the neck around 2 inches in diameter. The color is just starting to transition from green to beige.
The flavor and texture is said to be sweeter and more tender when it’s still a little green. I liken the taste to that of a very mild squash with slightly nutty tones.
Since the flesh is so dense, it’s perfect for grilling… especially grilling for a party. A big, hungry party! Slice up that 2 or 3-foot long neck into thick rounds, and load ‘em up with thick-sliced heirloom tomatoes, pepperoni, capers and herbs, all topped with melted cheese. It’s like pizza, only better.
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