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The Triumph of Rabbit Food

July 18, 1991|MARION CUNNINGHAM

Fifty years ago, if my mother had put a plate with nothing but vegetables on it in front of my father, he would have thought she was demented or we had suffered some financial disaster he didn't know about. Actually, my husband would have thought the same thing a few years back. Those were the meat-and-potato years: bacon for breakfast; cold meat for lunch; roast for dinner.

When I was growing up in a small foothill town in Southern California, it seemed there were only about six or seven fresh vegetables in our grocery store--cabbage, lettuce, corn and maybe three or four others. I know we had string beans because I can remember stringing them. And I know we had carrots, but always raw, because my mother had read in some government pamphlet that they were better for us that way.

But my Irish father considered corn on the cob cattle fodder, so our table never saw an ear of corn. He said almost every other vegetable was rabbit food. Vegetables certainly played second fiddle in my mother's cooking.

Times have changed. The produce department in supermarkets is huge; we have a vast variety of vegetables. Cooks from around the world have introduced us to tomatillos , ginger root, chili peppers, bok choy and cilantro, and our cooking is far more interesting because of this.

One of my favorite vegetable suppers is Eggs, Tomatoes and Potatoes With Gremolata. This Italian combination of lemon zest, parsley and garlic is customarily added to the sauce in osso buco or to a risotto for added flavor, but I've made it into a fine dressing for the eggs and vegetables. The result is a nice summer dish that can be ended with something as simple as a strong iced espresso.

Another favorite is Eggplant Filled With Roasted Vegetables, my idea of a terrific recipe. The ingredients come together like a good jigsaw puzzle. Every part fits and everything gets used--even the roasted eggplant pulp, which becomes the relish to complete the dish.

EGGS, TOMATOES AND POTATOES WITH GREMOLATA

2 1/2 pounds small (about 1 1/2 inches in diameter) new red potatoes

8 hard-cooked eggs, shelled and quartered

4 medium tomatoes, cut into sixths

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Gremolata Dressing

Place potatoes in large pot of salted water. Bring to boil and cook 12 minutes or until easily pierced with knife. Drain and cool to warm.

Combine warm potatoes, eggs and tomatoes in large bowl and mix with kosher salt. Add slightly more than half Gremolata Dressing and toss to coat mixture thoroughly. Place remaining Gremolata Dressing in small bowl to pass at table. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Note: If potatoes are large, cut into quarters or eighths.

Gremolata Dressing

1/2 cup olive oil

2 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped lemon zest

2 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

4 teaspoons finely chopped garlic

Mix olive oil, zest, parsley and garlic together.

EGGPLANT FILLED WITH ROASTED VEGETABLES

1 large long eggplant or 2 smaller ones

1 pound zucchini, chopped into 1/2-inch chunks

1 pound yellow crookneck or pattypan squash, chopped into 1/2-inch chunks

2 onions, chopped

Salt, pepper

2 teaspoons crumbled dried marjoram

6 tablespoons olive oil

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped or pressed

1 cup minced parsley

2 tomatoes, finely chopped

Salt

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Slice eggplant lengthwise and place, cut side down, on baking sheet. On separate baking sheet, spread zucchini, squash and onions. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper, marjoram and 3 tablespoons olive oil. Using hands, toss and mix squash and onion mixture, spreading evenly over baking sheet.

Bake at 350 degrees 30 minutes. When eggplant is tender when pierced with fork, remove from oven. Bake squash and onion mixture 15 to 20 minutes longer until slightly brown on top.

Spoon flesh from eggplant, leaving 1/4-inch flesh attached to skin. Process flesh in food processor or chop finely. Add garlic, parsley, tomatoes, salt to taste, cayenne and remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil. Mix well, add cayenne and adjust seasonings.

Remove squash and onion mixture when done. Cut eggplant shells to make 4 sections. Fill each shell with squash and onion mixture. Spoon about 1/2 cup relish beside each portion of filled eggplant. Serve hot or cold. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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