Summer in my Serbian home town is ushered in by linden trees. The dark green, heart-shaped leaves become hidden by a myriad of tiny yellow blossoms which permeate the air with their intoxicating scent. With the first shy hint of their smell that sneaks through an open window at night, you smile in your sleep and you know that months of leisure await you. The school year is coming to a close, its final days full of pressure, fear, hope, and exhilaration.
The strawberries are lining up for the beauty pageant at the market, warm from the sun, their heady perfume intertwined with that of the linden blossoms. The first time, you eat most of them on your way home closing your eyes, feeling the withdrawals of fall, winter, and spring. A couple of days later you might pair them with some freshly whipped cream. Only then do you consider making a simple but delectable yellow cake with pastry cream, soft and imbued with vanilla, the perfect bed for ripe strawberries. You rush to salvage the last specimens and turn them into jams and preserves.
The first cherries are showing up like jewels high in the branches, their shining orbs perfect in the hues of pale yellow, bright red, and cream kissed with rose and crimson. When most of them are packed into checkered canvas bags on their way to become preserves, compotes, or just earrings for some imaginative eight-year old, sour cherries make their appearance for the briefest moment. They mark the summer unobtrusively, but confidently. Their juices color your lips like blood and you can only taste a couple before the tart overwhelms you. But you see them playing the lead in jams and cakes, cooked in sweet syrup and preserved for the winter, pitted and frozen to be awakened only when the whole world around you turns to gray and white.
Meanwhile you fight the urge to buy the first perfect-looking tomatoes. You touch them, you smell them and you know you have to wait. Once the ugly ones show up in the wooden crates, you relax. They are plentiful, cheap, and delicious. They explode in your mouth like a burst of summer, their skin soft, the meat bright red and juicy. You add a couple of firm cucumbers, a half-dozen pale-yellow peppers, some parsley still attached to its root, a pound of onions, the green still showing at the top. Your checkered canvas bag is getting heavier. You spy perfect pink and gold new potatoes. The royal purple of a glistening eggplant seduces you. A wizened old woman talks you into buying a pot of basil, “to ward of the mosquitoes”. You know you are greedy and you do not care.
All the summer beauties appear cautiously, testing the water, teasing, and playing the role of an elusive maiden. Only one shows up in abundance, all over, all at once, modest and versatile. The zucchini, the undervalued and prolific stepdaughter of summer. The first ones might cause a moderate excitement, but the feeling gets diluted over time. They are always present, fresh, firm, their skin pale green. They are cheap from the first day and you do not feel challenged. They are there to stay throughout the summer, therefore scorned and undervalued.
I cannot find that kind of courgette here, yet. When I had a garden I planted them, but the squash bore-weevil had a blast with them and destroyed every one of them. I found some nice looking zucchini at out local Persian store. They were not as big, but they were fresh and firm. When I announced the dinner plans, the Beasties were clapping and jumping up and down. We are not going to Serbia this summer. The over-abundance of courgettes does not influence us in any way. But it is the middle of the summer. And this is the quintessential summer dish of my youth.
- 4-5 zucchini (at least 1.5 to 2 inches in circumference)
- 1 Tbsp sunflower oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 250gr (1/2 lbs) ground beef
- ½ cup rice
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
- 1 potato, peeled and sliced thinly
- 1 cup crushed tomatoes
- Parsley, yogurt
- Peel the zucchini and cut in half.
- Seed each half using a teaspoon.In a sauce-pan heat oil on medium heat.
- Add onion and sautee until translucent.
- Add the ground beef and stir until brown.
- Add rice and the seasonings.Stuff the zucchini loosely.
- Plug each one with a slice of potato. Lay into a 5-quart pot or a Dutch oven.
- Pour the crushed tomatoes on top and cover with water.
- Let simmer for 45-60 minutes.
- Sprinkle with freshly cut parsley.
- Serve with a dollop of yogurt and fresh bread.