There are a million jokes about having too much zucchini, about people sneaking over to put zucchini on neighbors’ porches, even about shoving zucchini into unlocked cars. I’ve heard them all but personally I am happy to accept gifts of zucchini any time. Indeed, my little garden is too small and not sunny enough to afford more than a couple of sweet spots, and those are given over to tomatoes. My zucchini crop this year was pathetic and I’m happy to be the recipient of other gardens’ bounty. I learned to appreciate zucchini as a student in Italy, where I first tasted it properly cooked and perfectly seasoned. That first recipe-infant zucchini, quartered lengthwise, quickly sauteed in olive oil and butter with a little garlic, a sprinkle of salt and a spritz of fresh lemon-doesn’t sound like much, right? But when simple but perfect ingredients are flawlessly combined, the result is pure magic.
I’ve always preferred food that tastes like exactly what it is, each ingredient singing its own song clearly, balanced into a harmonious whole. The result might be soothing or zippy, simple or complex but every ingredient should have a definite role to play, not just get tossed in at random. This doesn’t preclude playing around, of course; if a dish tastes a little flat, it might need a high note of citrus or vinegar to give it a lift. If it’s too indefinite, a bass note of mushrooms can add depth, while a subtle spike of sweet or heat can perk up a bland combination. Cooking by taste is like playing kitchen music by ear, listening to what the ingredients have to tell you and dancing along with them as a good partner should.
A friend gave me her recipe for zucchini fritters the other day and it turned out to be pretty close to my own recipe for what I call zucchini pancakes. By either name, these crunchy little tidbits are delectable, whether partnered with scrambled eggs and toast, a tossed green salad, or sliced smoked salmon. Best of all, they take very little time to prepare and cook up quickly too. Reheat leftovers in the toaster oven or saute them for a minute on each side to wake up the full bodied flavors. I grate the zucchini and onion in the food processor with the coarser cutting blade but a box grater works fine as well. (Ever since I grated the back of my thumb off I’ve leaned towards the food processor. Just saying.)
1 medium zucchini, coarsely grated (about 4 cups)
1/2 cup coarsely grated red onion
1/2 cup coarsely grated sharp cheddar or crumbled feta
1 large egg
1/4 teaspoon basil salt (or any)
Several grinds of pepper (any kind)
3-4 tablespoons flour (any kind)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2-3 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon butter
Combine grated zucchini, onion and cheese with the egg and stir to coat. Combine salt, pepper, 2 tablespoons flour and baking powder and stir in lightly, adding just enough more flour as needed to absorb the juices. In a wide, shallow pan over medium high heat, combine 1 tablespoon oil and half the butter. When it’s sizzling hot, add 1/4 cup of the fritter mixture, flattening it slightly so it’s evenly distributed. Repeat 2-3 times until the pan is full with plenty of room between the fritters. Cook for about 2 minutes, flip and cook for another 2 minutes. Repeat with remaining batter, adding more oil and butter as needed. Fritters should be deep golden brown and crispy (adjust heat and timing to get the right effect). Makes a lot but they disappear fast, and like I said, leftovers are fabulous.
Zucchini Rice Gratin Or Not
Last week, a generous friend gave me a hunky, big boy zucchini that was just picked and still tender if kinda gigantic. This one got grated as well and ended up in an updated riff on an old Julia Child recipe for zucchini rice gratin. The updated version was ok but the best part was the topping, and since I made it in a dish that’s deeper than it is wide, there wasn’t enough topping to do it justice. When I made it again, I added fresh corn and sweet peppers, spicy Italian sausage, eggs, milk, and cheese turning the ok dish into a fabulous sort of corn pudding plus. Baked in a wide, shallow dish, this version offers enough crust for everyone. It reheats well and actually tastes amazing cold with a green salad, a perfect summery lunch on a hot day.
Zucchini Corn Pudding
4-6 cups coarsely grated zucchini
4 cups milk
1/2 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1 cup grated Pecorino, Romano, or Parmesan cheese
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 white or yellow onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups chopped sweet peppers
Kernels cut from 2 ears corn
1 cup chopped cooked spicy Italian sausage
2 cups cooked brown rice
1/4 teaspoon hot or smoked paprika
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine zucchini and eggs and stir to coat. Add milk, the mozzarella, half the hard cheese, the garlic, onion, salt, peppers, corn, sausage, rice and paprika. Spoon mixture into a 13 x 9 inch pan and top with remaining cheese. Bake at 350 F until puffed and deep golden brown, 45-50 minutes. Serves 6.
About Those Plums
I was going to write about plums again (coffee cake!!) but when the fourth batch of jam turned into an astonishing debacle, of which this picture is merely the tip of the hot mess-berg, I decided that I don’t really want to talk about it. Onward, right?