Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Zucchini (Too Much!) for One

Zucchini-Almond Muffin
I hope you have a generous neighbor (as do I) who gardens...  Maybe he'll leave a tres giant zucchini on your back porch one day...

that makes people say things like, "Oh, my God!"  I guess this is sort of a giving thanks for copious amounts of food.  If you don't have a gardening neighbor or friend (and folks at church often bring these tomes to get rid of them after service), the farmer's market in St. Paul sells them for fifty cents.  Talk about food value.  While not as tender or flavorful as the tiny elegant zucchini that grace the plates of fine restaurants, these babies will still feed you.  (And anyone else who's hungry.)

An interesting aside about zucchini, which we usually think of as a vegetable.
Botanically, however, the zucchini is an immature fruit, being the swollen ovary of the female zucchini flower.
(This from Wikipedia, should we trust it.  YIKES.)

So here's two recipes for using up zucchini for the solo cook, who might often pass by a big zucchini:

 1.  Zucchini Cakes --  Fried up "pancakes" full of Parmesan and grated onion, they're hearty and healthy.

Zucchini Cakes--Eat 'em while they're hot.  Or not.

          You might have the cakes a time or two before they're gone.  I like them instead of sausage with fried eggs, sliced up over rice and topped with chopped green onions or dill, smothered in a layer of Greek yogurt and a good dose of black pepper, graced with a dop of great salsa, or just by themselves.  Yes, versatile!  Also fine hot, at room temp, or cold right out of the frig.


3 cups grated zucchini (Squeeze excess moisture out in a towel or you'll have mushy cakes.)
3T minced or grated onion
1/2 cup flour (You might need a little more if mixture looks very liquidy before frying.)
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t kosher salt
Pinch crushed red pepper, optional
1 egg, beaten well
1/4 c grated Parmesan cheese (plus more for garnish if you like)
2-3 T olive oil or butter for frying
Freshly ground black pepper

Toppings:  As you choose from above listings

Mix together all ingredients except oil/butter and pepper.  Heat oil/butter over medium - medium-high heat.  Shape zucchini mixture into patties about 3" in diameter and place in hot fat.  (Or spoon mixture into fat much like pancakes and smooth into shape.) Dust with black pepper.  Let cook 3-4 minutes until quite golden.  Carefully turn over, dust again with pepper, and fry the other side until golden. Serve immediately.  Or later.  Store tightly wrapped in the frig for up to 2 days.  Do not freeze.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ratatouille (Not the Movie)

Ah, summer.

I loved the movie.
Also "The Big Night"
And "Babette's Feast"
Try them.   Food movies.  Ah.

I love the real deal better.   If you become a devoted cook, your world will revolve around the seasons.  Stews in winter.  Apple pie in the fall.  Berries in the spring.  And...
High summer: Tons of vegetables at their peak.

Garlic just  harvested

If you don't know ratatouille (the real deal), here's a definition from dictionary.reference.com:

[rat-uh-too-ee, -twee; Fr. ra-ta-too-yuh]  
a vegetable stew of Provence, typically consisting of eggplant, zucchini, onions, green peppers, tomatoes, and garlic, served hot or cold.

My basil, yellow zucchini, and Japanese egglant in the bath together.

I am unsure if I would call it a "stew."  I'm thinking a melange suits my ratatouille better.  This mixture of great vegetables, some cooked separately and some together (all mixed in the end) is, like much cooking, a totally personal dish.  While it can be a side dish, a main, served over pasta (rice, cous cous), or in an omelet, it can contain various proportions (depending on your garden/taste or market) of the vegetables mentioned above.  It can have more or less (I like more) garlic.  It can have crushed red pepper.  Fewer tomatoes.

The vegetables could be grilled, then mixed.  Or sautéed in the typical way.  I have, in a pinch, frozen it and brought it out in late fall so we can close our eyes and drum up summer days.  Tell me how you make and use yours?   For a solo cook, this is perfect.  You can share with a vegan friend, keep some for tomorrow, cut the recipe in half, or do it all and throw containers in the freezer for lunches. Here's a starter recipe:

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Grilled Figs with Fresh Cheese, Thyme, and Honey


There is nothing terribly wrong with a Fig Newton.  Especially with a glass of milk. Or a cup of tea. There are worse treats.  Unfortunately, it's about the only way some people eat figs.  A few more buy dried figs at the holidays for some special baking project.  ("Now bring me some figgy pudding" probably isn't the one I'm talking about.)   Wine and cheese lovers often grab a few figs to eat with fresh cheese or salty ones like Manchego.  And nowadays, fig jam is a very popular condiment for a wine and cheese party if you have the six bucks or so for a small jar.  (I like to mix that jam with balsamic vinegar for an instant sauce for lamb chops.)

But fresh figs?  The average grocery shopper seldom sees them unless they live in California. (They're one of woman's oldest known foods, you know.)  But from now until the late fall, fresh figs are in season (albeit pricey) and there's a lot of bang for the buck.  While a pint container may be $7 or so, it's enough for dessert for four.  Which could be cheaper than your favorite ice cream.  Add some of that fresh cheese you made the other day and you're nearly set.

Out here in the northern middle-west (Minnesota, to be exact), the figs have just started coming into the high-end stores.  If you can't use them right away, they can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days.  The ones I bought last week were not terribly tasty fresh (they're a bit young), but they were perfect grilled.  Here's the drill:

Grilled Figs with Fresh Cheese, Thyme, and Honey  2 servings  (Have one tonight and one with your yogurt for breakfast.)
  • 2 figs, rinsed, trimmed of stems, and split in half
  • 1tsp vegetable oil
  • 2T fresh cheese (your own, goat, or ricotta will do)
  • 1T local honey
  • 1/2 t fresh thyme (plus a sprig for garnish)  or 1/4 t dry
  • 2 grinds of black pepper
Heat your gas grill (or your indoor grill pan on stove) to medium heat.  Brush with oil.
  1. Place split figs, open side down, onto grill.  Grill 1-2 minutes and carefully turn.  Grill for another minute or so and remove from the grill to a plate.
  2. Spoon a little cheese onto the center of each fig half and drizzle with honey.
  3. Sprinkle with thyme and a little black pepper.
  4. A little port (fortified wine made in Portugal and elsewhere) wouldn't go amiss.
According to California fig farmers, here are some important things to remember:
  • Look for the softest figs; a soft texture indicates the fruit is ready to consume immediately.  
  • Don't be concerned about small slits or tears in the skin as long as the fig has a fresh aroma.
  • Fresh figs are delicate. Handle gently.
  • Keep figs in the refrigerator for as long as five to seven days.
  • Too many to eat right away? Just rinse and freeze. Simply arrange in a single layer on a pan and put in the freezer. Transfer frozen figs to a sealed plastic bag, where they can be kept in the freezer for up to six months.
  • Avoid figs with a fermentation odor; it indicates that the fruit is overripe.  (courtesy Yahoo! News)
Have fun cooking and taking care of yourself,