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Dressing Up the Zucchini

June 20, 1996|BEV BENNETT | Bennett is the author of four cookbooks, including the award-winning "Dinner for Two" (Barron's)

Zucchini is the Cinderella of the vegetable world.

Unadorned, it is tasteless. Serve it raw in a salad, and it isn't noteworthy. But have faith. Like a lot of things that are not flashy, zucchini will reward those who recognize its potential and treat it well.

Italians saute it with garlic and olive oil. The flesh becomes tender, and the flavor goes from bland to sweet and buttery. It is still mild, but the flavor is a very nice change. When Italian cooks aren't after a subtle transformation, they match zucchini with such robust ingredients as sausage, red wine and provolone.

Unlike some make-overs, this one is easy and inexpensive. Both the filling and the zucchini are precooked. Then the shells are heaped with stuffing, topped with cheese and heated through. It's a robust end for a subtle vegetable.

STUFFED ZUCCHINI

2 (6-ounce) links mild or hot Italian sausage

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

2 tablespoons red wine

2 tablespoons tomato puree

1 tablespoon bread crumbs, optional

2 medium to large zucchini

Salt

2 ounces grated or minced provolone cheese

Remove sausages from casings. Crumble and brown in skillet with onion. Pour off fat. Add wine and cook, stirring up any browned bits on bottom of skillet. Add tomato puree. If mixture is watery, stir in bread crumbs. Set aside.

Meanwhile, cut zucchini in half lengthwise. Cook in boiling salted water to cover until tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Drain well. Scoop out centers and discard. Arrange zucchini close together in 9-inch glass pie dish. Spoon in filling, heaping up if necessary. Sprinkle with cheese.

Bake at 350 degrees until cheese melts, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

Makes 2 servings.

RICE AND PEA SALAD

1 cup cooked rice

1/2 cup fresh or frozen baby peas, cooked and well drained

1 1/2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup minced shallots (about 2 large)

2 tablespoons pine nuts

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel

1 heaping teaspoon minced Italian parsley

Salt

Freshly ground white pepper

Combine rice and peas in bowl.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in small skillet. Add shallots and pine nuts and saute over medium heat until shallots are tender and pine nuts golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Spoon shallots, nuts and any remaining oil over rice. Add remaining 1/2 to 1 1/2 tablespoons oil, lemon juice and peel and parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss gently but well. Serve at room temperature.

Makes 2 servings.

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