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Saturday, July 25, 2009

lemony sauteed zucchini


Before I quit my office job three years ago, Dan and I discussed, brainstormed, argued, and daydreamed about what we wanted to do next. In the end, of course, we decided to build our whole-grain sourdough bread bakery, but we didn’t know that at first. It was all up in the air. One possibility was a restaurant. Should we open a little café? Our idea for a restaurant was almost as quirky as our bakery is now, with limited days and hours, limited seating, and an daily-changing, seasonal menu that only offered a couple of choices every day. Neither of us had worked in restaurants before, so we didn’t have direct experience, but we were both pretty certain that the hours would be grueling, that serving the kind of food we wanted to share with the world would involve vast amounts of vegetable prep, and that opening a restaurant would require the integration of a myriad of different components above and beyond mere food (beverages, for instance, and the glassware to contain it… reservations, parking, and perhaps even employees—ack!)

But these issues didn’t make our decision. After all, we were naïve, idealistic, and had no idea what staring our own business would really be like. The real reason for not opening a café was that I wanted to preserve the joy of cooking for myself and my family and friends. I was afraid that if I spent so much time cooking for guests, stretching my creativity to feed and nurture others, I might lose my love of everyday home cooking. 

I know now that it was absolutely the right choice to open a bakery instead, since we still love baking together, and the bread we bake to sell and share feeds us the whole week through. In addition, I don’t find that baking bread dampens my desire to bake the occasional cake, pie, or cookie.

However, even though I haven’t been cooking for hordes of people, I’ve spent a LOT of time over the last three years providing recipes and healthy cooking ideas for other people through writing my farmers market newsletters, my cookbook, my Glacier Grist newsletters for the CSA, and in my wintertime bakery newsletters. The irony of it is that I’ve been so busy with all these recipe projects that I can hardly remember the last time I read a cookbook for a new idea, or for fun. And especially this last year it seems that I’ve just been hanging in there, cooking very simply, focusing on eating food I’d previously cooked and frozen, and using tried and true recipes. I’ve not been getting very creative or adventuresome because I’ve just been too worn out and overwhelmed.

But things are beginning to change, now that I have help with the newsletters (thank you, Nancy and Sherrill!). While I’m still not diving into cookbooks with my previous reckless abandon, at least I’m a little more interested in cooking! Things are really starting to look up! This recipe is a tasty one that I developed last year, due to an overabundance of zucchini from Arthur’s farm. It makes quick work of a lot of zukes, and it makes perfectly good leftovers, too. I whipped it up last night with two big zucchinis from my CSA box, and even though I didn’t have any parsley or fresh thyme, it was great anyway. We ate it with big chunks of our toasted walnut bread. YUM! Easy, but healthy and delicious.

lemony sautéed zucchini

This recipe is a really quick way to use up a lot of zucchini! It’s a combination of 1) the flavors from the zucchini skillet cakes in Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Suppers book, and 2) a method of quick-cooking zucchini that I found in a long-ago issue of Cooks’ Illustrated. Zucchini is so full of water that it’s hard to deal with all the liquid that comes out of it—the zucchini usually gets soggy and it’s hard to make sure all the pieces are cooked evenly. So using this method, you grate the zucchini and then roll it in a dishtowel and wring out the extra water! It’s a fast and easy recipe—easier than the skillet cakes.

You can choose your topping on this recipe—use either the toasted pine nuts, toasted almonds, or the slightly more involved garlicky bread crumbs. Whatever suits your time frame and fancy!

4 medium-large zucchinis (about 3 pounds), grated
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, sliced thin
½ bunch parsley, finely chopped
3 teaspoons chopped thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)
3 tablespoons scallion greens
grated zest of a lemon
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
¼ cup capers, rinsed and drained

choice of toppings

¼ cup pine nuts
¼ cup almonds
bread crumbs:
2 slices whole wheat bread (you can use stale bread, but not dried hard)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic, minced (optional)

1. Placing a quarter or a third of the grated zucchini in a dish towel, roll the towel up around the zucchini, and, using two hands, twist the towel as tightly as you can (over the sink) and watch the water pour out! Shake the zucchini out into a large bowl, and repeat with the rest of the zucchini.
2. If you’ve chosen bread crumbs for the topping, tear the bread slices into smallish pieces and put them in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse and grind them until they are finely ground into bread crumbs. Use 1 cup of them or more for this recipe.  Brown the bread crumbs in olive oil (with optional garlic) in a small skillet over medium heat. Remove from the heat when browned, toss in a little salt to taste, and set aside.
3. If you’ve chosen pine nuts for the topping, toast them gently in a dry skillet until golden.
4. If you’ve chosen almonds for the topping, toast them in a 350-degree oven on a baking sheet for 15 minutes.
5. Heat the olive oil over high heat in a large skillet and sauté the garlic slices until fragrant—a minute or so. Add the grated, dried zucchini and sauté until tender, about 8 or 10 minutes. You can cover the pan in between stirring to hurry this process.
6. Add the parsley, thyme, chives or scallions, lemon zest, ½ teaspoon salt, and capers. Cook for a minute or so longer until the flavors are melded and the parsley is slightly wilted. Taste for salt and pepper and season accordingly.
7. Serve in a large dish or on individual plates, adding the topping of your choice. Serve immediately.


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