This was an experiment that turned out to be tasty but fairly unattractive on the plate. It all came about from another attempt to clear out the refrigerator and use up leftovers.
The zucchini came from the farmers market, again from one of my favorite vendors. We both look forward to having a little conversation in Spanish before my purchases. The conversation is short because of my very limited vocabulary, but we both enjoy it.
Why, you ask, would I ever buy zucchini at the farmers market when the neighbors will soon start bringing over an endless stream of gargantuan specimens from their garden. Therein lies the answer to your question. The vendor’s zucchini were lined up in rows, uniform in size, perfect size for cooking, and all the same shining green with perfect skin.
I bought enough zucchini to go into a ratatouille with some beautiful eggplants that I got from my other favorite vendor. And, there was enough to stuff a couple for another meal.
Then to the refrigerator and leftovers: pesto from a couple of nights ago, cooked rice, a few leftover crimini mushrooms, a white onion, a sliver of cheddar cheese. I was set. I split the zucchini in half, hollowed them out with a spoon, stuffed them with a mixture of mushrooms, rice, pesto, egg, and some seasonings., topped them with a béchamel enriched with the cheddar cheese, and baked them for a half hour. I should have worked harder to get the water out of the zucchini I added to the stuffing, but otherwise it turned out ok.
Sauced and ready for the oven
Ready to eat
Mushroom Pesto Stuffed Zucchini
- 2 medium zucchini, split in half lengthwise
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ small white onion, chopped finely
- 2 medium crimini mushrooms, chopped finely
- 1 teaspoon Pernod
- salt and pepper
- ½ cup pesto
- ½ cup cooked rice
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 cup milk
- 1 ounce cheddar cheese, grated
- salt and pepper
- With a spoon or small paring knife, remove the flesh from the zucchini, leaving about a ¼ inch rim and being careful not to pierce the skin.
- Chop the zucchini flesh finely. Squeeze out as much excess water as you can using your hands or a fine sieve and spoon. Set aside.
- Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped onions and sauté lightly until the onions are translucent but not browned. Stir in the mushrooms and chopped zucchini flesh. Stir frequently until the mushrooms are lightly browned and the mixture has given up its liquid and nearly completely evaporated. Add the Pernod and stir for just a few seconds until it has evaporated.
- Transfer the mixture to a small bowl. Stir in the pesto, rice, and egg until well combined.
- Fill the hollowed zucchini with the mixture and arrange in a well-greased ovenproof dish.
- Meanwhile prepare the sauce by melting the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and stir for a minute or so to remove raw flavor. Stir in the milk and continue to heat until the mixture comes to a slow boil and has thickened. Stir frequently to prevent burning on the bottom. Sit in the grated cheese. Remove from the heat and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
- Pour the sauce over the zucchini and bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 350°F for 30 minutes or until the zucchini are tender and the sauce is melted and lightly browned. Serve while still warm.
It is basil season. We have harvested the plants in our back yard, and many stalls at the farmers market have big, beautiful bunches of basil picked just that morning. That means it is time for pesto.
Pesto is really one of those things that you can make without a recipe and adjust it to your personal preferences
Pesto is also something that you can keep for a while. For years we made fresh pesto and ate it all, believing that if you didn’t do that it would immediately turn an unappetizing brown. We didn’t even think about freezing it. The truth is, you can do both.
If you want to keep it for a day or two, put it in a container with an air-tight lid, cover it completely with olive oil, seal the lid, and pop it in the refrigerator. If you are going to freeze it, divide it into amounts that fit into the cups of a muffin pan, freeze pan overnight, pop out the pesto “muffins”, and double bag them in zippered freezer bags so you can use the amount you need without having to thaw the whole batch.
- large bunch of freshly-cut basil, enough that the leaves will fit into the beaker of a food processor
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil, more if needed to make a sauce-like mixture
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 2 ounces Parmesan, grated
- ½ cup pine nuts
- salt and pepper
- Wash the fresh basil, cut or pull off the leaves, and dry them in a clean kitchen towel.
- Transfer the leaves to the beaker of a food processor fitted with the metal chopping blade.
- Add the olive oil and process until the basil has been chopped very finely.
- Add the garlic and Parmesan. Continue to process for 30 seconds or until thoroughly combined.
- Add the pine nuts and pulse until the nuts are well-chopped but not puréed. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Adjust consistency with additional olive oil, if needed.
- Serve over cooked pasta with additional grated Parmesan and dry-roasted pine nuts. If desired, store for a day or two in an air-tight container topped with olive oil and refrigerated or freeze and double bag individual portions for later use.
Fresh basil from the garden
Pesto stored under olive oil in an air-tight container, refrigerated
Fettuccine topped with Parmesan and toasted pine nuts
PS: Here’s a little lagniappe from our garden:
Desert four o’clock
I’m still learning to use my new Lytro light field camera. It has several features that make it absolutely unique. Most importantly you can focus any part of the image while it is still in the viewfinder, and unbelievably you can focus again once you upload the image to your computer (As long as you have the provided software installed). You can make images of something very close to the lens and something in the background. Then you decide which you want to emphasize or bring everything into focus. The camera is especially useful for ultra-close-ups.
I decided to play around with the camera for images of a dish to go with the shrimp, mushroom and artichoke mac and cheese from my most recent post. Actually, I had some fresh asparagus in the fridge and some puff pastry I needed to use up. I added a little pesto from the freezer, and I wound up with something easy and a little different. The way I did things, I was only able to make three servings, but very easily – and undoubtedly better – you can make six servings by just cutting more of the stem off of the asparagus spears. The crowns are the better parts anyway.
When basil is in season and plentiful. you can make fresh pesto, but we often make extra and store it in the freezer for later use. It is also readily available in jars or frozen so that you don’t need to take the somewhat laborious extra step of making fresh pesto.
A Lytro view of asparagus heads
Three or four asparagus stems make a bundle
Asparagus, pesto, and pine nuts ready to be sealed up
Puff pastry bundles sealed and ready for the oven
Baked asparagus pesto puff pastry bundles
An accompaniment to shrimp, artichoke and mushroom mac and cheese
Asparagus and Pesto Bundles in Puff Pastry
- 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed according to directions
- 9-12 fresh asparagus spears, trimmed of the woody ends
- 1 cup fresh, frozen, or bottled pesto
- ¼ cup pine nuts, lightly browned in a dry skillet
- 1 whole egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water
- On a lightly floured surface, carefully unfold the thawed puff pastry and roll with a lightly floured rolling pin until it is about 1/16 inch thick
- Divide the rolled dough into three strips along the fold lines.
- Place 3 or 4 asparagus spears in the center of each strip ( If you wish, you can divide the dough into 6 strips and use only enough of the asparagus crowns to fit the strip.)
- Spread a generous tablespoon of pesto over each of the asparagus bundles.
- Sprinkle the toasted pine nuts on top of the pesto.
- Paint the edges of the dough strips with some of the egg and water mixture. Fold the dough over the asparagus and pesto. With your fingers, seal the edges of the envelope. Then finish sealing, using the tines of a dinner fork and gentle pressure.
- Arrange the bundles on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Paint the tops of the bundles with egg and water mixture, trying not to let the mixture run down onto the parchment where it is likely to burn and may stick the baked bundles to the parchment
- Bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 400°F for 15 minutes or until the bundles are golden brown.
- Serve while still warm. A little Hollandaise couldn’t hurt if you like.