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"Why do I grow these vegetable? Flavor, color ... and fun." (includes recipe)

"They're distinctive and delicious," say Vicki and Sam Sebastiani when describing the unusual vegetables in their garden. To reflect their culinary interests, they supplement the classic crops with little-known vegetables that have unusual shapes, colors, and flavors.

Each season, Mrs. Sebastiani browses through mail-order seed catalogs and nursery seed racks for vegetable varieties that have some striking color, shape, or flavor. (For a list of mail-order catalogs that supply the vegetables we describe, see page 256.) Some of her more interesting finds are shown here. These varieties generally take the same care as their more common cousins and grow just as well.

Eggplants. The long, thin Japanese eggplant shown at a far right has a thinner skin and milder, more delicate flavor than most varieties of globe-shaped eggplants. Named varieties include 'Ichiban' and 'Imperial'. The small white 'Golden Egg' in the same photograph is grown primarily for its ornamental qualities. White at its peak, it eventually turns bright yellow.

Beans. The long, skinny asparagus beans (shown in the basket at right) are sweet, crisp, and taste delicious raw or cooked. They are sometimes called Chinese long beans or yard-long beans, even though their maximum length is 2 feet. For best flavor, harvest when less than 12 inches long, before seeds start to swell. Provide support for these vigorous climbers.

The bizarre winged peas (Lotus tetragonolobus, also Tetragonolobus purpureus) look like food for Martians, but earth-dwellers such as the Sebastianis enjoy their delicate pea-bean flavor and crisp texture. (You can see one being dipped into sauce, others in the basket at right.) Although they're not true beans or peas, they are also called asparagus peas and winged beans. They taste best when only I to 4 inches long; larger, they develop tough cores. Let the plants sprawl or provide a trellis to support them.

Scarlet runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus) are known as attractive ornamentals (see trellis at right), but many gardeners may not realize they produce flavorful beans as well. You can eat them as snap beans while they're young and no longer than 4 to 6 inches, then later as shell beans (as an alternative to limas). They have an excellent, slightly nutty flavor. Some catalogs list named varieties such as 'Butler', 'Desiree', 'Goliath', and 'Prizewinner', all of which have slightly different bean sizes and shapes (some with more dwarf plants, others with white blooms).

Tomatoes. Tiny 'Yellow Pear' tomatoes, with a mild flavor, and a bright note to a fresh vegetable platter. They grow in abundant clusters on large, sprawling, exceptionally vigorous plants. 'Golden Delight' and 'Golden Boy' are both full-size yellow tomatoes (see basket photograph) that have a mild, nonacidic flavor. Fast-maturing 'Golden Delight' (65 days) is the best choice for short-season areas; 'Golden Boy' matures in 80 days.

Squash: Scallop squash (also called patty pan squash) is delicious raw if harvested before it reaches 3 inches across. The two varieties shown in the basket are 'Early White Bush', which turns from pale green to white as it matures, and 'Patty Green Tint', which stays pale green.

The long yellow squash is 'Golden Zuchini'; its butterty yellow skin maintains its color even when cooked. It makes a colorful addition to green zucchini dishes and has the traditional zucchini flavor.

Peppers. The narrow Italian sweet peppers have thick flesh and a juicy sweet flavor. Green when young, they gradually turn red and develop a flavor slightly sweeter than other peppers. Varieties available as seeds from mail-order catalogs include 'Naples', 'Super Shepherd', and 'Vinedale'.

Other vegetables in the basket are white bulbing onions that were pulled from the ground early, and purple cauliflower. The cauliflower turns a bright green when cooked and adds a novel purple color when served raw.

To make the most of the unusual colors and shapes of her vegetables, Mrs. Sebastiani enjoys serving them fresh with a bagna cauda sauce for dipping.

1 cup (1/2 lb.) butter or margarine

1/2 cup olive oil

5 large cloves garlic, minced or pressed

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1-1/2 teaspoons pepper

2 cans (2 oz. each) anchovies

Garden fresh vegetables (directions follow)

Thinly sliced French bread or sliced crusty rolls

In a 3- to 4-cup heatproof container, combine butter, oil, garlic, lemon juice, and pepper. Drain oil from anchovies into butter, then finely chop anchovies and add to the container. Place over medium heat until butter is melted. Keep hot over a candle or alcohol flame, or reheat periodically in the kitchen; sauce may brown lightly, but check occassionally to be sure butter doesn't burn.

Present the vegetables alongside; break off pieces to eat, or have a knife at hand if pieces need to be cut.

To eat, swirl a piece of vegetable through the hot sauce; hold a slice of bread under each portion to catch any drips as you eat. You can dip the bread in the sauce, too. Makes enough sauce for 16 to 20 servings.

Garden fresh vegetables. You'll need 1 to 2 cups vegetable pieces for each person, but you'll have to estimate quantities if you want to present vegetables whole and natural looking. Choose a colorful assortment as shown in the basket. Rinse well, drain, and arrange attractively.
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Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:May 1, 1984
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