You Say Courgette, I Say Zucchini

7 08 2009

I know I’m not the only one with a glut of zucchini these days.  Every week I get at least one bag of it from the CSA panier, and I’m trying not to cook it the same way twice.  They are beautiful specimens, just the right size with lovely mottled dark green skin.  So far I’ve made muffins (I can do better), dunked raw spears into homemade ranch dressing (which reminds me that I have yet to make that fried chicken liver salad I’ve had my eye on), grilled slices of it to accompany aged Gouda cheeseburgers on homemade brioche buns, and made a LOT of pasta sauce.  And all of that has been very good – well, except for the muffins, which were edible but nothing to write home about – but I wanted to make a meal out of these tasty vegetables, rather than relegating them to side dish territory.

Pancetta makes everything better!

“Casserole” is a word that for some reason has not-so-good connotations.  “Zucchini Bake” sounds a little dumpy.  Lasagna it isn’t, even though one time I put some no-bake lasagna noodles in between the layers of zucchini planks, with delicious results.  I guess “Strata” may best describe this concoction of mine, considering it is a layered, baked dish.  But a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, right?  Names aside, it comes together like this: slice some zucchini lengthwise and lay them down in a baking dish.  Season with salt, pepper, minced garlic, and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.  Top with paper-thin slices of pancetta and some caramelized onions.  Repeat.  Finish with a layer of zucchini planks and top with a couple of sliced tomatoes (which you are probably long on as well).

Zucchini Strata, before

Throw the dish in the oven and forget about it for an hour or so.  (Well, you might want to give it a half-turn after about 30 minutes, if your oven is anything like mine.)  When the tomato slices are starting to look a little roasty and the zucchini has drawn itself a nice, hot bath, put some slices of fresh mozzarella on top and return the dish to the oven until the cheese has melted.

Zucchini Strata, after

It occurred to me while I was baking my first zucchini strata (oh, you can bet there were more) that all that zucchini liquid could be put to good use.  I could have put breadcrumbs or even slices of bread between the layers to soak it up.  But as I ate, mopping up the flavorful juice with hunks of Really Good Bread, I thought it would almost be a shame not to have that saucy component.  There was the aforementioned variation with the lasagna noodles, which left plenty of liquid for my bread-dipping enjoyment.  It also had prosciutto, basil and goat cheese, which I’m telling you because I don’t want you to feel limited to my choices of zucchini accompaniments.  You don’t need a recipe, just slice up some zucchini, layer it with some other stuff you like, and bake.  Serve with bread.  It’s that simple.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.


More Tomatoes!

5 09 2008

On the way home from work the other day, as I walked past the corner fruit-and-vegetable seller, I noticed he was arranging tomatoes for his sidewalk display.  Upon closer inspection, I saw that they were some very cool, dark green kumato tomatoes, and I picked one up.  The man asked me if I was familiar with these tomatoes.  I responded in the affirmative and he informed me that these were very good.  So I picked up another one.  And another one.  Soon my hands were full, but the man had the foresight to go and get me a bag, which I filled to my heart’s content.  Two and a half euros later, I was the proud owner of an almost- kilo of kumato tomatoes.

It was sunny outside my kitchen window that day.

I’ll admit this wasn’t a completely random purchase.  I did have a recipe in mind when I saw them – Clotilde’sTomato Tarte Tatin recipe from her book, Chocolat & Zucchini.  (I have the French version, but I assume it’s in the English versions, too.)  I have a hard time leaving recipes alone, however, so I riffed on the idea of a roasted tomato tart baked with a crust on top, Tatin-style.

Awaiting their destiny

I love the way roasting brings out the deep sweetness and enhances the complexity of fruits and vegetables.  And I’ve done some good things with roasted tomatoes in the past.  These particular tomatoes, probably due to their being all squished together in my tart dish, took a lot longer to start getting roast-y than I anticipated.  I eventually had to very carefully pour out some of the excess liquid from the dish so that we could have dinner before 11 pm.  (Not that that’s entirely abnormal in France, but my alarm goes off at 5 am.)

While the tomatoes were roasting, I smeared a round of puff pastry with the contents of a whole head of roasted garlic which I had made a day or two before.  The pastry was store bought because I was feeling too lazy to make my own pâte brisée, but I think I’ll make the effort next time.  Even the supposedly all-butter pastry has a weird chemical taste that has no place on my dinner plate.

The roasted garlic was good...

Anyway, once the tomatoes began to dry a bit, I dolloped fresh goat cheese over them, like so:

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The French Make Pizza, Too!

2 06 2008

It goes by the name “pissaladière,” and is a traditional Provençal snack.  Like any regional recipe, there is disagreement as to what goes into a “real” pissaladière, though I think that all would agree is is made with a sturdy pizza-like crust and caramelized onions.  (No floppy extra thin crust here.)  Other traditional toppings include anchovies, niçoise olives, thyme, tomato, and garlic.

The cool thing about having extra calzone dough in the freezer is that it gives you the ability to make off-the-cuff pizzas, as long as you remember to thaw the dough a few hours in advance.  (You could also put it in the fridge in the morning, if that’s better for your schedule.)  When the time comes, roll out the dough, add your toppings of choice and bake.

Being in France, and finding myself with a handful of onions that needed to be used, I decided to go the pissaladière route.  I started by caramelizing the onions in lard with a pinch of salt and some fresh thyme.  If the pan started to get dry, I just poured in a little white wine to moisten the onions and let them continue cooking to a nice, deep brown color.

Roasted tomatoes and garlic

Meanwhile, I thought that some roasted tomatoes would make a good addition, so I sliced the one rather lackluster tomato I had and placed it in a baking dish.  I sprinkled the slices with salt and pepper and drizzled them with olive oil.  Then I thought that some garlic would punch up their flavor even more, so I threw in a couple of cloves and topped it all off with a sprig of thyme.  Into the oven went the pan while the onions slowly caramelized on the stove.  The added bonus of this step was that the oven was already preheated when I was ready to bake the pissaladière.

Assembly of the dish took no time at all.  First I smeared the roasted garlic onto my rolled-out dough (pissaladière is usually rectangular in shape, which is actually easier than a round pizza, in my opinion).  Then I spread the onions evenly over the whole thing.  Next came the tomatoes and a smattering of goat cheese because, well, I had it on hand, it is delicious with all the aforementioned ingredients, and I wanted something a little heartier than a straight onion and tomato tart.  I baked it on a sheet pan lined with parchment and sprinkled with cornmeal to prevent sticking (which probably wouldn’t have been an issue, but it never hurts to play it safe).


Even easier than the calzone, and it made an excellent light (well, except for the lard) meal which we finished off with a simple green salad.  I’m sure I’ll end up doing something similar with the last ball of dough, and then making a point of keeping such dough on hand for quick dinners.

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