August 25, 2006
It's probably safe to assume that I pay more attention to zucchini than the average joe, but if you had been walking by Joël Thiébault's market stall* with me that day, you wouldn't have missed these either: there, between the hostess-gift-worthy bouquets of fresh herbs and the off-white bulbs of hélianthi (a cousin of the Jerusalem artichoke with fewer knobs), was a basket of curvy-necked, bi-colored zucchini.
These zucchini were a little scratched, yes, as if they'd spent the morning playing in the bramble thicket, but they were thin-skinned and firm, they looked as if their bottoms had been dipped in pale green paint, and this was too pretty to pass up.
"Are they bi-flavored?" I asked the vendor, "Like Malabars?" (The Malabar is a French bubble-gum that was created in 1958, and comes in a bi-goût version -- lemon and strawberry -- that was hugely popular in my gum-chewing days.) He laughed and said, "Sure, vanilla and pistachio." I bought two pounds.
Of course, once the zucchini is sliced -- in my case, paper-thinly and served raw in a salad, with olive oil and a few drops of the stupendous 12-year-old balsamic vinegar that my friend Marianne gave me for my birthday -- only you will know that it was bi-colored in the first place. But this doesn't bother me at all; I like the idea that this chromatic oddity is for the sole benefit of the cook, a bit like wearing nice underwear when no one's there to see it. (If you are intent on showing it off, however, you could opt to halve and stuff the zucchini, perhaps with two different colors of stuffing, to really get your point across.)
* Joël Thiébault -- for those of you who don't live in Paris, or do, but have been living under a paving stone -- is the super-star of vegetable growers. In his family farm just outside of Paris, he cultivates hundreds of varieties, most of them rare or saved from oblivion (légumes oubliés), and provides them to famous Parisian chefs -- Pierre Gagnaire, Pascal Barbot, and Inaki Aizpitarte, to name just a few. And for the benefit of us mere mortals, he also sells them on two different markets, and through a luxury delivery service that I will subscribe to as soon as I become a millionaire.
You can visit Joël Thiébault's stall at the Marché du Président Wilson on Wednesday and Saturday mornings, or at the Marché de la rue Gros on Tuesday and Friday mornings. Both markets are located in the 16th. He has also published a handsome book that features his favorite vegetables, with accompanying recipes by his chef-friends.
Zucchini Pasta with Almonds and Lemon Zest
Yellow Zucchini Tarte Fine on a Yogurt-Based Crust
Fregola Sarda with Zucchini and Parmesan