Friday, September 4, 2009

Summer Supper

   Zucchini is so abundant in the US that there are jokes about people leaving bags of them on their neighbor's porches. There are recipes for using zucchini in everything from cake to meatloaf. Apparently it's the kind of easy-to-grow vegetable that will take over a garden patch and leave the gardener wishing that he had never heard of zucchini.
   Apparently that's not a problem they have here in Japan. Either they've discovered a way to keep supply low, or the zucchini jokes have failed to penetrate the Tokyo metropolitan area. Maybe it's the Italian name, exotic enough to veil its secret profligacy. Whatever the reason, this vegetable that costs about a dollar a pound in the southern US costs a dollar per not-especially-large zucchini here in Tokyo.
   Having grown up eating yellow squash (which they call yellow zucchini in Japanese) and green zucchini all summer, I missed it so much that I eventually started forking over the yen. How could I go a whole summer without summer squash? Since it's worth its weight in gold, though, I never cook it just by itself, but use just part of a zucchini at a time and mix it up with other, less expensive vegetables.
   The trick to cooking a big mixup of watery summer vegetables without having them turn to tasteless, colorless mush is speed, heat, and adding them one at a time according to how long it takes them to cook. Here, the shiitake mushrooms went in first into a pot with just enough water mixed with soy sauce to film over the bottom. The zucchini was next, then the yellow peppers, and the cherry tomatoes just a couple of seconds before turning off the heat. To prevent burning, and to check for impending mushiness, you have to stand right there and stir often, but since the whole dish cooks in about five minutes, that's no great sacrifice.

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