Monday, August 31, 2009

Broccoli and Chickpea Salad

As I mentioned before, the late summer jewels some people call tomatoes (and others call to-mah-tos) were delayed in this cool summer. Farmers are smart people, however, and those in charge of our CSA planted some more of the great cooler-weather crops for us to snack on while waiting. So, we’ve been enjoying an unusual, but welcome crop of lettuce heads and mixed salad greens (time to break out the salad dressing recipes again), radishes, and broccoli.

I was thinking I could make Sweet and Tart Broccoli Salad yet again, or maybe an old-stand-by stir fry, but I happened across another recipe for a different kind of broccoli salad that intrigued me. (With the amount of time I spend perusing recipes, the odds are actually in favor of me finding a new recipe with ingredients I have on hand just when I need one.) I changed a few things, and, admittedly, added a fancy step or two. I’m sure you could streamline this recipe if you wanted to. You’re good like that.

This recipe uses both broccoli florets and stems. Often, the stems are pretty tough and bitter on the outside, but that’s just hiding its crunchy deliciousness, which you really don’t want to waste. You could use a vegetable peeler on the stems, but I find them a bit rugged for that and go after them with a chef’s knife and a pretty heavy hand.

Usually, I don’t bother blanching broccoli for salads, preferring it just as it was born, but in this case, I like it less crunchy. The texture of the partially-cooked broccoli goes well with the tender chickpeas. I also thought crumbled rather than grated or shredded Parmesan cheese would complement those textures better. (And I think I was right!). And there’s still some nice contrasting crunch from the celery and onion.

To crumble the cheese, you’ll first need a block of it. Parmigiano-Reggiano really is best, and you may notice the difference it makes in this salad. It is also expensive, as you may know. I personally think it’s worth fitting into my budget, but use what you like. (Although I can’t say I recommend the stuff in the green can.) To crumble the cheese, I stab a chef’s knife into a spot near an edge, and sort of twist it. The texture of the cheese allows it to crumble off the block. You could chop it as well, but I like the rustic, irregular pieces.

Toasting and grinding whole mustard seeds and peppercorns just added a bit more flair to this salad. You could use dry mustard powder and ground pepper, but I did really like the way this salad tasted. Maybe it was my imagination, but the seasoning just seemed more fresh, less canned, subtle but high-quality. Of course, I haven’t tested it with mustard powder, so I could just be tasting my own high hopes. Anyway, since I’m back to eating broccoli, I’m happy to have this salad in my repertoire.

Broccoli and Chickpea Salad with Mustard-Pepper Dressing
based on a recipe in Soup Makes the Meal by Ken Haedrich (via The Best American Recipes 2002-2003)

6 ounces plain yogurt
1 large head of broccoli
a large bowl of ice water
½ teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
½ teaspoon brown mustard seeds
½ teaspoon whole peppercorns
½ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
1 ½ tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon sherry or white wine vinegar
1 16-ounce can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
1 rib of celery, finely chopped
½ cup finely chopped red onion
¼ cup crumbled chunks Parmesan cheese (preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano)

1. Place the yogurt in a sieve lined with a paper towel or several layers of cheese cloth. Allow the yogurt to drain and thicken at least two hours. Refrigerate if draining longer. If you are using thick, Greek-style yogurt, you can skip this step. Scrape the drained yogurt into a large bowl.

2. Chop the broccoli into florets in bite-sized pieces. Peel and chop the stems. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a small handful of salt. Add the broccoli and cook for 3-4 minutes. The broccoli should be tender, but not mushy.

3. Remove the broccoli with a slotted spoon and plunge it directly into the ice water to stop the cooking. When the broccoli has cooled, drain and chill until needed.

4. Place the mustard seeds and peppercorns in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Toast them until fragrant, being very careful not to burn them. Set aside to cool. Finely grind the toasted spices in a spice grinder, coffee grinder, or blender.

5. Add the ground spices, mayonnaise, parsley, tarragon, Dijon mustard, and sherry vinegar to the yogurt. Stir well to combine. Add the chilled broccoli, draining off any remaining water. Add the chickpeas, celery, red onion and Parmesan. Stir well to combine.

Makes 6-8 servings.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

To-may-to, To-mah-to: Gazpacho Soup

If you’re in a debate over how to pronounce the word tomato, I have a simple solution for you: Call the whole thing off and give all of your tomatoes to me!

It’s safe to say I love tomatoes, but only good ones. I rarely even buy them in the supermarket anymore, preferring to wait out the grainy, bullet-proof, tomato-like fruit season, long as it is, for mid to late summer when I can sink my teeth into really great, vine-ripened, voluptuous darlings, especially the endless variety of heirlooms, that were grown only a few miles away. (It’s even better when I can visit someone’s garden and eat them in while still standing among the vines.)

This year, however, has been a special test of my patience. We have had a cool summer in southeastern Minnesota (and much of the rest of the upper Midwest). Tomatoes need the hot summer sun to ripen and turn red, orange, or gold, and the local ones were significantly delayed. Luckily, I had plenty of other great vegetables to keep me company until the object of my secret love affair could arrive. (Okay, so it’s not a secret anymore.)

The first thing I do when I get a great tomato, is make a sandwich. I’ve been eating these since I was a kid. Though I used to have them on toasted store-bought white bread and just a bit of Miracle Whip, I’ve since graduated to homemade breads, like this one, real mayonnaise (sometimes even homemade!), and often a few sprinkles of thinly sliced basil leaves or even a bit of pesto mixed with the mayo. This is the best do-nothing food in the world, and I can’t think of anything that I’ve been eating or fixing for myself for so long. (Adding bacon and lettuce is just great as long as you have the patience to delay your tomato satisfaction while cooking the bacon.)

The second thing I do when the tomatoes come in is make gazpacho soup, especially since bell peppers, chile peppers, cucumbers and fresh onions are in season at the same time.

Now let me make myself clear to all you purists and aficionados of Spanish cuisine. What I make may not really be gazpacho. I don’t put bread in mine, and I realize that no self-respecting tapas bar would serve such a thing, but I’m okay with that. I like it to be about the vegetables. I also do not strain out the pulpy bits. I don’t have a problem with chewing my cold soups (I also leave some of the vegetables in chunks rather than pureed), and it seems such a waste to throw out all that dietary fiber. (Really, what’s the point of eating your vegetables if you have to chase them with bran muffins or a dose of Metamucil?)

Much like when I make cold cucumber soup (there are striking similarities between these recipes), I don’t peel the cukes when they are organic or I know the skin has been left alone. I do remove the large seeds, though. I also remove most of the seeds from the tomatoes, but I don’t get too meticulous about that.

I used a Hungarian Hot Wax pepper in my soup, but you can use whatever kind of chile pepper you like, or leave it out if you don’t care for the extra spice. The Hungarians just happened to be on the table next to the tomatoes and peppers when I started making the gazpacho, so I went with convenience. Besides, that added another vegetable from the CSA box. This meant that only the garlic, olive oil, and lime were not grown nearby. Now if only they could grow olives and limes in Minnesota…

Since I purchased a ten-pound box of heirloom tomatoes in addition to those that come with our regular weekly delivery, I have a lot of tomatoes to eat. Gluttony and greed may be deadly sins, but I think they get cancelled out when the object is as healthy and holy as fresh, ripe tomatoes. I wonder what the third thing I make with tomatoes should be...

GazpachoThis whole recipe doesn’t quite fit in a standard food processor bowl, so it is best to puree it in batches. (I tend to remember this only after making a big mess.)
1 pound cucumbers, seeded (peeled if desired)
1 small bell pepper (any color will do)
¾ cup chopped red onion
2 lbs ripe tomatoes
1 chile pepper of your choice, seeded
3 Tbs fresh lime juice
3 Tbs extravirgin olive oil
1 tsp coarse Kosher salt or to taste
2 large cloves garlic

1. Finely chop half of 1 cucumber, half of the pepper, and ¼ cup of the red onion. Place in a large bowl.

2. Coarsely chop the remaining cucumbers, pepper and onion. Coarsely chop and remove the seeds from the tomatoes. Place the chopped cucumbers, peppers, onions, tomatoes and the remaining ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Process in batches until smooth.

3. Pour into the bowl with the chopped vegetables. Cover and chill as long as you can, at least 2 hours. It should be as cold as possible. Before serving, stir well and taste the soup for salt, adding more if necessary. You can also garnish each serving with diced examples of what is in the soup.
Makes about 5-6 servings.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Volunteers: Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes

No, this is not a post about my in-laws from the state of Tennessee. The volunteers I’m talking about are the cherry tomato plants that came up on their own initiative in one of my pots and amongst the grass near our back patio.

Last year, I had two cherry tomato plants sharing space with my herbs. One was a yellow pear tomato plant (delicious) and the other was a Sweet 100, so named for its tendency to produce a lot of little tomatoes. The Sweet 100s were indeed sweet and appropriately prolific. They had a tendency to split open and mold before they were completely ripe, however, and many of them ended their lives on the ground or in the dirt of their home container rather than in a tasty dish. It is the seeds of these sacrificial fruits that have so boldly sprouted in hope of volunteering their services this year.

One of these plants is a little larger and pretty strong, but it is only just blossoming now. At this rate, we will probably have snow on our patio before we have ripe cherry tomatoes. Until then, I’ll have to make do with the beautiful, sweet, succulent Sun Gold cherry tomatoes we’ve been getting in our CSA boxes. How will I ever bear it?

When I have good cherry tomatoes available, I like to make this simple dish. It is bursting with strong flavors: raw garlic, capers, olives, fresh basil, and hot pepper. It’s a lot of punch for a little effort. Measuring ingredients accurately for this dish is of almost no importance. The amounts in the recipe are more like guidelines. Use what you have. I’ve even found that it doesn’t really matter what kind of olives I use, though I usually like to use Kalamatas.

Fresh basil really is essential, but this time of year, you really should be able to get some at farmers markets. Or from a friend who always plants too much basil…like me.

Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes, Olives, and Basil
adapted from Cooking Light magazine
If your olives and capers are especially salty, you might want to cut back on the added salt.
½ pound farfalle (bow tie) pasta
1 pint cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/3 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
1/2 cup chopped pitted olives, such as kalamata olives
2 Tbs capers, coarsely chopped
2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced

1. Cook past in boiling, salted water until al dente (mostly tender, but with a little firmness left to the bite). Drain and pour into a large bowl.

2. Add the remaining ingredients to the hot pasta and toss well.
Makes 4 servings

Friday, August 21, 2009

Summer Squash Casserole

I spy something that begins with the letter M. That’s right. More zucchini. Last year our CSA had relatively few zucchini to offer due to a shortage of pollinating bugs, especially bees. Well, they must have done something right this year, because the zucchini are back with a vengeance.

Oh, but it’s not just zucchini. There are other summer squash varieties as well. We have little yellow patty-pan squash that are just so cute, I wish they had cheeks to pinch. And there are the pretty yellow crooked-neck squash. Both of these perform similarly to zucchini in dishes (if not in the garden), and I tend to use them interchangeably. The patty-pans are a little more firm and their skin is less delicate than the zucchini or yellow squash, but if you shred them as I did in this summer squash casserole, those differences don’t seem to matter.

This casserole is a bit decadent, what with the heavy cream and the buttery breadcrumb topping. It reminds me of the fabulous yellow squash casserole my sister in-law makes. That one is further gilded with a topping of Cheez-It crackers. (She gave me the recipe once, but I promptly lost it. My apron is not the only think in my life that’s a bit messy.)

I use the shredding blade on my food processor to grate the squash, but you could use a box grater if that’s more readily available (and you’re made of stronger, more patient stuff than I am). I also used the food processor to make the breadcrumbs for the topping, although I used the regular processing blade for that. I recommend making your own breadcrumbs out of extra bread that you may have that is past its prime. Most breads will do, if they aren’t too sweet or have too many chunky bits mixed in. I often end up using leftover homemade whole wheat sandwich bread, but when I made this squash casserole, I used some store-bought white bread that had over-stayed its welcome. (Does this stuff never go bad?)

As long as the bread isn’t too fresh, it can simply be torn or cut into coarse pieces (I don’t bother to remove the crust) and ground up in the food processor. You can pick and pull apart really dry bread with your fingers or a knife if you don’t have a food processor. (I found this to be easy to do while talking on the phone.) I freeze what I don’t use right away in a zip-top freezer bag.

I used basil in this dish because I happen to have a lot of it in my porch garden right now. Other herbs, such as mint, parsley, chives, sage, and thyme would be good as well. I could also see other vegetables making a fine contribution, such as shredded carrot or fresh sweet corn…and maybe some Cheez-Its on top.

Summer Squash Casserole with Basil and Onion

1 pound summer squash (zucchini, yellow crooked-neck, patty pan, or a mixture)
½ of a medium yellow onion
1 teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
½ cup chopped fresh basil
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cloves minced garlic
¾ cup heavy cream
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons butter

1. Grate the squash and onion using the shredding blade of a food processor or by hand with a box grater (largest holes).

2. Toss the grated squash and onion with the salt in a colander. Allow to stand and drain in the sink for 30 minutes.

3. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Spin the squash mixture dry in a salad spinner, or lay it out on a clean towel and pat dry.

4. In a large bowl, mix the drained squash mixture with the basil, Parmesan and garlic. Grease a 2 quart casserole dish and pour the squash mixture in. Pour the heavy cream evenly over the squash mixture.

5. Melt the butter and toss the breadcrumbs with the melted butter until completely moistened. Spread the breadcrumb mixture evenly over the squash mixture.

6. Bake at 400F for 25-30 minutes or until the topping is well browned and the cream has been absorbed.

Makes 4 main dish servings, 6-8 side dish servings.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Cool Cuke Soup

There is an old photo of me at about the age of three in which I am sitting on the porch with my grandfather, and we are both happily munching cucumbers, no doubt right from the garden. His is a whole cuke, his fist wrapped around it as if it were an ice cream cone. Mine is a slice or a spear, I can't remember for sure. (In my other hand is a sucker, proving that I had not quite yet achieved true-believer status.)

This is the scene that comes to mind when I think of cucumbers. I'm not sure where that photo is now, although it must be in one of my mother's albums. Perhaps next year when cucumber season rolls around again, I'll be able to post a digital copy of it here.

Until then, I have to eat all the cucumbers in our CSA box. Luckily, I love them. (As far as garden bounty goes, they're second only to tomatoes if you ask me.) Really, I could just eat all them out of hand like apples, and I think Harry could too. But I can't leave well enough alone. I have to use a recipe. I have to cut and stir and process and ladle and garnish and serve. And then I have to clean up. Someday, I suppose I'll learn to just eat them mess free, but until then, I have to fiddle with a cucumber soup with yogurt and sour cream.

I like to leave the skins on my cukes when I can. Most of those you might get from the supermarket are coated with a food-grade wax or some such thing, and others may have pesticides. This time of year, however, you should be able to get your hands on plenty of locally grown cukes. (Nothing compares to these ultra-fresh babies, really.) Our CSA cucumbers are organic, so I simply wash of the dirt (essence of Mother Earth) and eat the skins. If the cucumbers are large, however, it's likely that the seeds are large, too, so for something like this cucumber soup, I like to remove them. I either quarter the cucumber lengthwise and cut out the seeds on an angle, or, for more fun, I halve them and scoop out the seeds with a spoon.

After that, I can simply chunk them up and toss them in the food processor with the remaining soup ingredients and puree to my heart's content.

The garnish is optional, but adds a bit more flavor and texture. You could also just garnish with pico de gallo or salsa if it's more convenient. It is still summer after all, and you gotta stay cool...and you have to make time for all those other cucumber recipes!

Cold Cucumber Soup
3 cups chopped seeded cucumber
2 cups plain yogurt
1 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, chopped
Garnish (optional)
1 cup chopped tomato
1/2 cup chopped green onion (scallion)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1. Combine all ingredients except those for the garnish in the bowl of a food processor (or you could probably use a blender). Process until well-pureed.

2. Pour into a large bowl, cover and chill at least 1 hour.

3. Combine garnish ingredients. Serve in small bowls topped with the garnish if desired.
Makes 4-5 servings.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Zucchini Frittata

I spy with my little eye, something that begins with "Z."

You guessed it. It's zucchini, and I'm falling behind in the eating of the lovely stuff we've received in our CSA boxes over the last few weeks. What to do, oh, what to do?

Actually, I have a lot of ideas for zucchini, beyond quick bread, and I like trying out something new to keep from resenting the bounty of these beautiful summer squash. And I love it when something new comes to my rescue, especially when it's in the form of a new pan! I recently received a beautiful new nonstick pan with an ovenproof handle that is just perfect for making a frittata. (I have another pan that can pull the duty, but it's much too big. Thanks for the new one Sherry! I love it!)

If you're not familiar with it, a frittata is kind of a cross between an thick, unfolded omelet and a crustless quiche. You can put just about anything in it: vegetables, herbs, potatoes, even leftover cooked rice or pasta. There are two ways to make sure the top of the frittata is cooked and not just a mess of runny eggs. You can flip it over in the pan, typically with the aid of a plate. I'm just not that talented. Okay, so I've done it, but I'm always terrified of disaster. Who wants to be all stressed out when making glorified scrambled eggs?

Me either, so I like the second method, which is to use an oven-proof pan (with and oven-proof handle) and stick it under the broiler for a few minutes. Now, my new pan came with some nice information, including a warning that I shouldn't put it under the broiler if I wanted to keep the non-stick coating from deteriorating. I compromised by putting the pan on a lower rack to do my broiling. I still get the heat from above, just not as intensely. I've read that you can cover a pan handle that is not oven-proof with aluminum foil and put it in the oven, but I have not tried this myself.

So frittata it would be. Zucchini frittata (not to be confused with Hakuna matata, but still a wonderful phrase none the less), and I could hardly wait. Neither could the zucchini, which, in case you didn't know, doesn't last forever. I sauteed zucchini and fresh onions (also from the CSA) and allowed them to stand as the foundation for the frittata. After that, it was simply a matter of pouring some beaten eggs flavored with cheese and herbs over the top and cooking it gently. I find that most of the herbs in my container garden go well with zucchini, so it was just a matter of selecting the one that was getting most out of hand (just like the zucchini). I chose orange mint for this dish. It has a citrus (also good with zucchini) hint to it, reminiscent of Bergamot, of Earl Grey tea fame.

When the eggs are almost done, the whole thing goes under the broiler to finish cooking and to brown on top. Actually pretty easy, especially with the right equipment. I love my new pan! I could go on about it for a while, but, if you'll excuse me, I spy some more zucchini that requires my attention.

Zucchini and Mint Frittata with Tomatoes on Top
If your zucchini are large, cut them in half (at least) before chopping them. You could use another kind of cheese such as Parmesan, or perhaps even aged cheddar or Gruyere.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound small zucchini, cut into 1-inch thick rounds
1 cup sliced onion
1 teaspoon kosher (coarse) salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5 large eggs
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup grated Romano cheese, plus more for garnish
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint (I used "orange" mint)
3/4 cup chopped tomato

Preheat broiler.

1. Heat the olive oil in a 10-inch nonstick skillet with an oven-proof handle over medium heat. Add the zucchini, onions and salt and saute about 15 minutes, or until the onions are soft and the zucchini is beginning to brown. Stir frequently.

2. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with the milk using a whisk (or a fork). Stir in the cheese and mint. Reduce the heat under the zucchini mixture to low. Pour the egg mixture over the zucchini mixture. Stir the mixture gently, lifting the zucchini and cooked eggs to allow the uncooked portion contact with the heated pan (much the way you might cook scrambled eggs).

3. When the eggs are nearly cooked, place the tomatoes on top and place the pan under the preheated broiler, on the middle rack in the oven. Broil about 5 minutes or until the top is set and beginning to brown.

4. Remove from the oven and shave or grate additional Romano cheese over the top. Allow to stand about 10 minutes. Cut into wedges (use a plastic spatula or something like that so you do not scratch the nonstick surface of the pan!) and serve.

Makes 4-6 main dish servings.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Corn and Bean Salad

Nothing quite says summer like bags, boxes, bins, truck beds and trailers full of sweet corn. We get ours through our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, which, if nothing else, saves me the agony of deciding how much to buy, since what is in the box is what we get. I always get a thrill out of seeing those dark green leaves tightly gift-wrapped around their (always) sweet packages of cream and yellow with their corn-silk ribbons waiting at the bottom of the box. “Oh, for me? You shouldn’t have.”

But I play just coy with my corn. I have no intention of being bashful when it comes to ripping open those packages, boiling (or even grilling) them just until the kernels are plump (about 5 minutes), then slathering them with butter and sprinkling on just a bit of salt. The rest of the scene is a bit primal with the traditional munching and tearing of the kernels directly from the cob. There’s always someone at the table who has a bit of kernel just there on his cheek, but you don’t want to be the one to tell him, partly because you enjoy a good joke, partly because you admire, maybe even envy, his exuberance.

And then, there’s the question of whether you should ever cut corn from a cob and eat it in any other than its attached state. (Of course, if your front teeth aren’t up to the challenge, there’s really no question at all.) I suppose I’d always vote for the cob when I can get really fresh corn in season. After all, if you want detached corn, it’s pretty cheap and easy to get it canned or frozen. But if there’s plenty of fresh corn, and there’s also some great Sun Gold cherry tomatoes from the CSA, and I can get bell peppers in colors of half the rainbow, maybe it’s okay to cut some corn off the cob, toast it a bit in a pan and make a salad.

I first made this corn and black bean salad with peppers and cherry tomatoes a little while back when I was entertaining relatives with a grilled fajita dinner. At the time I used red grape tomatoes and yellow and orange bell peppers, and it was a really pretty salad. Of course I neglected to photograph it. That gave me an excuse to make it again, but I used green pepper, and somehow only ended up with the lackluster photo below. Oh well, it was still good.

I even made this with frozen corn, and it was just fine. In fact, the frozen corn was a bit easier to brown in a pan, but fresh corn is so nice and sweet, the salad really had a different flavor. I recommend tasting the final product before serving and adding additional salt and vinegar if your corn is really sweet. Whether you’re starting with cobs or kernels, this salad is easy, visually appealing, and tastes like summer in a bowl.

Corn and Black Bean Salad with Peppers and Cherry Tomatoes
In a dish like this, the exact measurement of the ingredients isn’t so important. Use what you have and enjoy summer!
1 ½ cups corn kernels (cut from 3 to 4 cobs, or thawed if frozen)
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
½ teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon honey
1 garlic clove, minced
½ teaspoon coarse salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 (15 ounce) can black beans, drained and well rinsed
½ cup finely-chopped bell pepper
1 cup quartered cherry tomatoes
½ cup chopped green onions (scallions)
1 small chile pepper, seeds and ribs removed, finely diced
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

1. Cook corn in a skillet over medium heat until most of its liquid has evaporated and some kernels begin to brown, about 8-10 minutes. Stir frequently. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
2. In a large bowl, combine the vinegar, chili power, coriander, cumin and honey. On a cutting board, sprinkle the salt on the minced garlic. Chop together, then press the salt into the garlic repeatedly with the side of a large knife to form a paste. (Alternatively, crush the garlic and salt together in a mortar and pestle.) Add the pasted garlic to the vinegar mixture.

3. Add the olive oil to the vinegar mixture and whisk well to combine completely. Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and toss well to coat with the dressing. Serve at room temperature or chilled. Taste before serving and add vinegar or salt if desired (especially if the corn is especially sweet).

Makes about 6 side-dish servings.

Monday, August 10, 2009

And So It Begins: Zucchini Bread

Actually, it began a few weeks ago, but I'm only feeling its full force now. It is the coming of the zucchini, that most prolific of summer fruits. I always know it will come, yet, I always manage to fall behind, or perhaps under, its bounty. I get my zucchini from a CSA*, but if you grow your own, or have a friend who oh-so-generously forces upon you a large part of what has taken over her garden, you're probably finding yourself in a similar situation.

Don't get me wrong. I love that there's so much zucchini in the world. Since people have been trying to use it up for generations, many and various uses have been developed. It's good raw, stir-fried, stuffed. It's good with just about any herbs and with cheese. But my favorite zucchini applications tend to involve shredding it and mixing into some form of sweet baked good.

I've had muffins, cookies, and, of course quick bread made with zucchini. Zucchini quick bread recipes are perhaps as prolific as zucchini itself, so you probably have an old family recipe that you enjoy (especially if you live or were raised in the Midwest). I adapted this one from a baking book I've had forever. The addition of buttermilk makes it almost cake-like, and I love it with pecans. I also like lots of cinnamon as well as cloves and nutmeg. I usually grind whole cloves with a coffee grinder that I use just for spices, and I really recommend using whole nutmeg. It's really not that big of a deal. It can be easily grated with a Microplane grater, which are really easy to find these days. Freshly-grated nutmeg is just so much more fragrant and flavorful. It has a spiciness that I had never noticed when I would buy the ground stuff, and the "nuts" last practically forever without losing their flavor.

This recipe makes two eight-inch loaves of zucchini bread, although you could use 9-inch bread pans if that's what you have. It freezes well, and I usually cut about a loaf and a half into either slices or chunks, wrap the pieces in plastic wrap and then in zip-top freezer bags. I'm sure you could make muffins with this batter as well, although I haven't tested that for baking times. If you are finding yourself in the midst of a pile of this thin-skinned green squash with the funny name, however, there is one problem with this recipe: it probably doesn't use up enough zucchini. I guess I'll have to come to your rescue with some more zucchini recipes in the days ahead!

Zucchini Buttermilk Bread with Pecans

3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon freshly-grated nutmeg
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
2/3 cup buttermilk
2 cups shredded zucchini
1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 F

1. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Stir well with a whisk to combine. Set aside.

2. Beat the eggs in a large bowl (I use a heavy-duty stand mixer with the paddle attachment at medium speed) until they are thick and pale in color. Gradually add the sugar and beat until well-blended.

3. Stir in the oil, buttermilk, and zucchini. Gradually add the flour mixture and stir until almost completely combined. Add the pecans and stir until all ingredients are well-combined.

4. Grease or spray with cooking spray 2 8 x 4-inch bread pans. Spoon half the batter into each pan.

Bake at 350F for 45-50 minutes. When the bread is done, a wooden skewer or pick inserted in the center will come out with just a few crumbs sticking to it, not a glob of wet batter.

5. Cool the bread in the pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from the pans and cool completely on a wire rack. (Okay, so I cut into it while it's still warm. It's a weakness.)

*CSA: Community Supported Agriculture. Ours is here.