We were browsing through a Mediterranean cookbook one day, looking for a dish of mixed vegetables featuring eggplant. Eggplant isn't your typical South Dakota vegetable, but one of us had just spent six weeks in Turkey. He was trying to duplicate a dish served by the cook who had fed delicious traditional Turkish meals to two dozen American students and professors.
One recipe seemed close. It started out—as, I am informed, all good Turkish recipes do—with "fry onions in butter." The other ingredients included aubergine (that's the eggplant), potatoes, tomatoes, garlic, peppers, parsley, beans, and courgette.
What in the heck was a "courgette?" The word obviously was French, not Turkish. From the matter-of-fact way it was given in the recipe, it was clearly assumed to be a familiar ingredient. Maybe in England, where the cookbook was published. But here in the middle of the United States, we don't just amble over to the produce section and grab a couple of courgettes.
Because of the other ingredients in the recipe, we knew some of the things a courgette wasn't: a potato, tomato, pepper, eggplant, or bean.
A mushroom, maybe? Nope. My co-chef, who is our resident expert in all things French, thanks to two college semesters of the language way back when, thought for a few minutes and came up with the French word for mushroom: champignon.
After he said the word, I remembered that I also had learned "champignon" way back when. I didn't take college French, but I did read (several times) the comic book version of the animated movie "Gay Purr-ee" about runaway cats in early twentieth-century Paris.
Our extensive mutual knowledge of French vegetables thus exhausted, we resorted to the Internet and looked up "courgette."
Courgette—brace yourself—is nothing more or less than zucchini. It's the term used, not only in France, of course, but also in much of Great Britain (where a squash is also called a "marrow." I don't see why English-speaking countries need to resort to French for such an ordinary vegetable. What's wrong with using the good, old-fashioned English term zucchini?
Oh, wait—"zucchini" is Italian. Specifically, it's the masculine diminutive plural of "zucca," the Italian word for squash. I guess, given the typical shape of a zucchini, it makes sense that it would be masculine.
But never mind that. For zucchini-blessed gardeners everywhere, being bilingual in squash could offer great opportunities. Forget begging your friends, "Wouldn't you like to take home some zucchini?" Instead, you can graciously offer, "Have some courgette. It did so well this year." No more zucchini in cheese sauce. You could serve "courgette fromageé." Plain old zucchini bread could become "pan de courgette."
You just sound so much more sophisticated when you can say it in French. And you could easily get rid of most of your surplus zucchini. At least it would work for the first year. After that, all your friends would know what a courgette was, and they'd have learned to say, "Non, non!"