GROWING ZUCCHINI is like owning a good dog. It is loyal. Regardless of the weather and the mood of other vegetables in the garden, zucchini is always there for you.
Zucchini may not be the most exciting vegetable in the garden. Its annual arrival may not prove that I am a master gardener. But when those familiar cylindrical green gourds show up early in the season, like the first guests at a party, I am happy to see them.
When a few showed up the other day, they were a source of solace. So far this summer, the other vegetables have been difficult. My peppers have been temperamental. Some days they have been growing, some days they have just sat there.
My tomatoes have been teasing me. The Early Girls showed signs of a surprising harvest, producing three ripe tomatoes before the Fourth of July. But they had virtually no flavor, and now the plants seem to have gone into a funk, producing only occasional green lumps. The eggplant has been asleep.
But the zucchini has been producing. Even though the plant has spotted leaves, a sign, I think, that it has been attacked by the vicious cucumber beetle, and even though the plant looks sickly, it still has been a steady worker.
One day I show up, and there are just a couple of flowers on the plant. A few days later I come back and the plant is offering enough zucchini to serve as a side dish at supper.
I am aware that for some folks, one zucchini is more than enough. While it is dependable, it tends to be bland. Like a bashful country cousin who attends a big-city shindig, it often needs an assertive companion to help bring out its hidden talent.
Salt helps zucchini, especially sea salt. When small zucchini, the bTC ones about as big as my fingers, are sliced, covered with sea salt, olive oil and lemon juice, they taste so good I forget I am eating raw vegetables.
For me, dipping slices of the vegetable in batter and deep-frying can make zucchini as tasty as a hot french fry.
Another good match for zucchini is garlic. Pushing garlic and zucchini together right away in a dish would be too much for the zucchini. The garlic would overwhelm it. But if you first cut the zucchini into sticks, like french fries, and put them in a pan over medium heat with olive oil, the zucchini has time to develop some character.
After bathing in the warm olive oil, the zucchini is ready to receive visitors. In this case, the visitors are the minced garlic, some chopped basil, oregano, parsley and salt and pepper. Stir the mixture and cook over medium heat for a few more minutes.
Before you know it, zucchini has become a sophisticated dish.
Zucchini With Garlic and Herbs
4 medium zucchini
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste
Trim zucchini ends and cut into sticks about the size of french fries.
In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the zucchini and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 10 minutes.
Stir in the garlic, herbs, salt and pepper. Cook for 2 minutes or more. Serve hot or at room temperature.
From "A Fresh Taste of Italy," by Michele Scicolone (Broadway Books, 1997)