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Seasoned carrots, grilled zucchini star as antipasto

August 10, 2009|By LYNNE ROSSETTO KASPER / Scripps Howard News Service

Dear Lynne: An Italian restaurant in New York had these vegetables waiting on a side table, not refrigerated. They were served before the meal and with bread to soak up their juices. Our kids treat vegetables like poison, but these they liked.

Tastes were like halfway between pickled and marinated, especially the carrots (which I never think of as an Italian vegetable) and the zucchini. Was this a New York specialty, or was it authentic Italian? Do you have recipes? -- Thanks, Lucy from Winona, Minn.

Dear Lucy: You had what is often for me one of the two best parts of an Italian meal: antipasto. (Pasta is my other addiction.) "Antipasto" literally translates as "before the meal," with "pasto" meaning "meal." Every part of Italy has its own specialties, so I might not nail the recipe to duplicate exactly what you had, yet these two recipes should be close. A nice thing here is you've got to make them ahead. A couple of days in the refrigerator improves the carrots.

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Remember to serve the vegetables at room temperature (not cold), with lots of bread, just as you had them in New York. In fact, in high summer, these, some cheese, a salad and maybe watermelon for dessert could be dinner. Bet you can even get this menu past the kids.

SOUTHERN ITALIAN CARROTS TART-SWEET STYLE



o Serves 6 as an appetizer; 4 as a side dish. The recipe doubles and halves easily. Carrots are better when made a day ahead. Store them in the refrigerator for up to a week. The carrots are good with coarse bread as an antipasto or beside just about anything grilled. They're great for toting along on picnics.

Cook to cook: "Roll cut" the carrot by cutting it on an angle, roll it a quarter turn and cut it on an angle again. It's an old macrobiotic cooking trick that exposes much of the carrot, from its core to its exterior, for flavoring.

1 pound fresh carrots, peeled and roll cut into 1- inch pieces
Water
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup white wine or cider vinegar
1 to 2 tablespoons sugar
3 large garlic cloves, crushed
1 bay leaf, broken
2 whole cloves
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 medium onion, sliced into long, thin slivers
2 tablespoons good-tasting extra-virgin olive oil, or to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Place carrots in 4-quart non-aluminum or cast-iron saucepan. Add enough water to cover and add salt. Boil carrots for 5 minutes; don't cover the pan.

Pour off all but about 1/2 cup water. Add the vinegar, sugar, garlic, bay leaf, cloves and pepper. Simmer, uncovered, until the carrots are nearly tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, turn into a glass or stainless bowl, add the onions, and cool the carrots in their liquid. If possible, refrigerate overnight.

Serve the carrots at room temperature. With a slotted spoon, transfer the solids to a serving platter; reserve the liquid for any leftovers or for marinating other vegetables. Drizzle with olive oil and add salt and pepper, to taste.

GRILLED ZUCCHINI MARINATED WITH MINT AND CHILI



o Serves 4 to 6 as an antipasto and 4 as a side dish. Make this up to 6 hours ahead, but keep at room temperature. Don't refrigerate.

Brown zucchini with olive oil, either on the grill or in a skillet, and something pretty marvelous happens. Carmelization does miraculous things to bland old squash, a summer pest that overwhelms gardeners.

Now do the Sicilian trick of boiling down sweet-tart sauce with a kick of garlic and chili. Add some mint to cool it down, and the ambrosia fix is in. Just let the strips of squash marinate awhile. Tossing leftovers with pasta is not a bad idea, either.

Good-tasting extra-virgin olive oil
4 medium zucchini, sliced down their length into long 1/4-inch-thick strips
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon dried whole-leaf oregano
1/2 cup wine or cider vinegar
1 to 2 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
3 tightly packed tablespoons spearmint leaves, torn

Film the bottom of a 12-inch straight-sided saute pan with olive oil. Over medium-high heat, add half of the zucchini strips, making sure they don't touch. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Saute zucchini on one side until brown, about 2 minutes; carefully turn with a spatula to brown on the other side. Immediately transfer the strips to a serving platter. Repeat the process with the remaining zucchini, adding oil as needed.

Reduce heat to medium low and stir in the garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook just until the garlic softens; don't let it color. Add the oregano and the vinegar and sugar and boil down by half (stand back as the oil will spatter).

Remove the pan from heat, dip in a spoon to taste and blow on it until the mixture is cool. Carefully taste for sweet-tart balance. If it is very acidic, boil the mixture another 30 seconds and add a generous pinch of sugar. If it is too sweet, add a bit more vinegar.

Pour the hot dressing over the zucchini and let it stand at least 30 minutes. Just before serving, scatter fresh mint over the top.

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