As familiarity breeds contempt, zucchini love turns to loathing

July 28, 1996|By ROB KASPER

ZUCCHINI IS a vegetable of many metaphors.

It is hard to refer to them in the singular. You rarely see a solo, declarative zucchini. The more common condition is Zucchini! Katie, bar the door!

They arrive with the sudden fury of a summer thunderstorm. For a long time there is nothing. Then one afternoon you notice a gathering of dark forms, and before you know it they descend on you. Big green guys, most long and thin; some wide guys as well.

Their initial appearance is the cause of some excitement. In the early stages of harvest, you pull several off the vine and treat them like trophies. They are proof that you have bested the elements.

But then they keep coming, like relatives at a beach house, and you wonder what you are going to do with all of them.

Usually they get into some kind of trouble, a tussle with cucumber beetles, a bout with blossom end rot. You pause, thinking this difficulty may be the answer to your prayers. But eventually you take action to help them. You attack the bugs. When the pile of zucchini starts to diminish, you surprise yourself by missing them. They are like old kitchen chairs. You may not have used them much, but you were sentimentally attached.

Zucchini are tough. As soon as you start worrying about their welfare, they rebound from their troubles, and you have more than you know what to do with. You cut the little ones in slices, dip them in a bath of olive oil and garlic and grill them. You eat them. Your kids just look at them.

Next you hollow out the big zucchini, fill them with rice, ground meat and cheeses, and bake them. Again, you eat them, and the kids push them around their plates.

Then, as you would with dinner-party guests you are tired of talking to, you try to liven up your evenings with them by tossing in new companions.

You clean out the garden. You bring in eggplant and peppers and tomatoes and basil. You let them all lounge in a marinade for hours. Then you grill them. And they are quite good, subtle. You forget they are zucchini! At least for the first few times.

Grilled vegetables

Serves 4 to 6

1 purple eggplant, about 1 pound, cut into 2-inch slices

1 white eggplant, about 1/2 pound, cut into 2-inch slices

2 zucchini cut in half lengthwise

2 yellow squash cut into 2-inch slices

1 tablespoon kosher salt

3 large ripe tomatoes, cut into 2-inch slices

1 yellow bell pepper, seeded, cut lengthwise into 2-inch slices

L 1 red bell pepper, seeded, cut lengthwise into 2-inch slices

1 medium red onion, cut across into 1/2 -inch slices

1 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil

2 cups Tuscan marinade (see below)

Put eggplants, zucchini and yellow squash in colander. Toss with salt and let drain for 30 minutes. Rinse, pat dry and place in large shallow glass or ceramic dish. Add the tomatoes, yellow and red peppers, onion and basil. Cover with marinade. Refrigerate for 8 hours, turning vegetables once. Bring to room ,, temperature and grill over hot coals until tender, about 5-10 minutes per side. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Tuscan marinade

Yields 2 cups

2 cups red wine

2/3 cup olive oil

4 cloves minced garlic

2 tablespoons grated orange zest

2 tablespoons minced sage leaves

4 teaspoons minced rosemary leaves

4 teaspoons black peppercorns, crushed

2 teaspoons kosher salt

Combine all ingredients in glass or ceramic bowl. Refrigerate in airtight container.

(From "A Well-Seasoned Appetite" by Molly O'Neill [Viking $26])

Pub Date: 7/28/96

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