The tromboncino squash in Nancy Howell's garden plot doesn't resemble the trombone for which it's named but, rather, a french horn.
"This is what happens when you stay away for one day," she says, laughing, holding up a huge squash that's curled in on itself like a snail.
Tromboncino is a highly vigorous variety -- some would say an aggressive squash -- that can take over a plot quickly. For that reason Howell, a member of the Ocean View Farms community garden in Mar Vista, plants it toward the end of summer on the heels of less-demanding summer squash.
"In the fall it takes over, and I don't care," Howell says. "It will keep going until December."
She put in two plants below a trellis, hoping that with this support the squash would grow straight rather than curved. However, the plants had a different agenda and instead went up and over the trellis and onto the ground around it, spreading into a sea of green on both sides, hiding the fruit. The squash that grew on the ground grew in the distinctive circular form.
But curved or straight, tromboncino (Zucchetta rampicante, also known as serpentine squash) is delicious. When green and young, it cooks up sweeter than a zucchini; later in the season, when it's golden and mature, it tastes more like a butternut squash. Some compare the flavor to walnuts combined with pumpkin with a touch of artichoke. It's a dense squash, making it ideal for grilling.
Howell likes to sauté some of hers in butter and olive oil, then make pickles out of the others. Tromboncino also can be baked, boiled and steamed. Sliced thinly, it's added to sauces and fritattas.
Tromboncino is an heirloom vegetable common throughout Italy, valued for its abundant, tasty harvests. It was developed in Liguria, in northern Italy.
Plant seeds on a mound, three feet apart. For a better-tasting squash, start harvesting them once they get about a foot long. (They can get 3 feet in length.)
One plant can put out two dozen fruit. Tromboncino appears resistant to powdery mildew as well as the vine borer, a bug that goes after other squash.
It's easy to grow. Just remember that this plant can send out vines 20 feet long. You have been warned.