The garden at secret menu headquarters has not exactly been a California cornucopia. After transplanting some of the sturdier specimens into larger containers at the beginning of the month, we found that, rather than encouraging further growth, the move only served to extend the plateau that we’d been surfing on for months. The zucchini, pepper, and tomato plants in particular seemed to be suffering an acute case of arrested development, stretching tall and flowering furiously but never quite moving into the fruit phase. Tiny green tomatoes hovered like earrings from the vine, unchanged; male zucchini blossoms flourished fraternally on taut stems, with nary a female to be found for pollination; and white flowers sprouted from the serrano chili plant, the intrinsically bug repellent bastion of all my aphid-laced gardening hopes, with no pods to speak of. Each morning, while watering the plants, I’d pick through this dense network of stems and leaves expectantly, hoping for a glimpse of things to come — a brightly-colored, bountiful future where all our hard work finally pays off, and we get to eat the dividends. Alas, day after day, no dice: just stems and leaves, all the way down.
They say that good things come to those who wait, but they forgot to tell us what waiting really means. We’re not just resting on our laurels, anticipating a sudden windfall: we’ve got our heads down, our hats askew, and cuts all over our fingers. Our muscles are sore from digging and chopping through roots to find our way to better soil. Our shoes are covered in mud, and our foreheads are dotted with sweat and sunblock. We wait like our mothers waited to bring us into the world, breathing hard, sometimes hurting a lot, and wondering what’s going to happen next. There must be some reason we’re working so hard on something we can’t see. Months pass. The air seems still; when it moves, it brings nothing but dust. There must be some reason we’re plodding along to someplace we’ve never been, using all our best hand-drawn maps, and investing all our hope in what we’ll find there. Right?
“Come outside! Come see!!”
JM is no Chicken Little — when he says to come outside and see, there’s something to see.
“I don’t know how we never noticed it…” I peer over his shoulder, watching him crouch over the side of a planter and weave his hands into the foliage. Carefully avoiding the prickliest parts, he lifts a low-hanging margin of stems and leaves to reveal what we had somehow, in all our toil and searching, never seen: a large, richly striped cylinder, pliant to the touch, and completely ripe.
A zucchini! At last — the first native citizen of the secret menu backyard empire!
How to describe this joy, after years of research and drafts and criticism and conference presentations and track changes and ever-postponed deadlines…but we’re talking about the garden, right? There’s only one thing for it: pictures of the firstborn, in all its glory, on the coffee table (with a pen for scale) and then, at its best, grated and enrobed in egg at the bottom of a deep cast-iron skillet:
Zucchini Frittata with Rosemary and Parmesan
-One glorious, perfect, beautiful, and very clever zucchini, grated
-6 eggs, beaten
-salt and pepper to taste
-splash of milk or half-and-half
-1 clove garlic, diced
-1-2 tbs chopped fresh rosemary
-1/4 cup grated parmesan
-2 tbs olive oil
You’ll need a cast-iron skillet or other oven-safe pan for this. Turn on the broiler before you start. Heat the pan over very low heat, adding the olive oil and swirling to coat. If your skillet isn’t totally seasoned, or isn’t nonstick, you’ll want to make sure the sides of the pan are also coated generously with oil.
Whisk the garlic, rosemary, salt, pepper, and milk into the eggs. Keep the zucchini separate, though. When the oil is hot, add the zucchini and sauté for a few minutes, until soft but not cooked through. Spread the zucchini out evenly in the bottom of the skillet, and then pour the egg mixture over the top. Use a spoon to move the mixture around, so it soaks through all the zucchini to the bottom of the skillet. Now leave it alone for a few minutes to cook — it should take about 3 or 4 minutes for the top of the frittata to begin to harden, and that’s when you sprinkle the cheese on top and put that baby in the oven.
It will take another 3-4 minutes for the top to brown. When it does, remove the frittata from the oven and top with additional pepper. It needs to cool a bit, so use this time wisely and make yourself a salad with a lemon juice-based dressing. The combination of lemon and frittata is just, wow. I can’t even describe it.
If you grow your own zucchini and use it for this dish, be sure to eat it outside. Bask in the glory of your victory garden — where you didn’t even know that you were winning the war, bit by bit, every day.