We are entering our third week of unpacking. We had thought that by now we would be able to have Carol and her family over for our alternating family Sunday dinner. Unfortunately that was not to be although our kitchen is in good enough order to do some cooking. This week I was scheduled to make the main dish and sides. Carol was scheduled to make appetizers and dessert. The modified modified plan was for me to cook in our kitchen and then take it to Carol’s house for the dinner.
Carol made some outstanding appetizers and a delicious bread pudding (I forgot to make the promised whiskey sauce, but not to worry – there was whipped cream and/or ice cream to substitute.) Carol calls the appetizers puff pastry pinwheels. She had two kinds: pesto and sun-dried tomato. She says that the family’s favorite is prosciutto. It would have to be great to beat the two that she baked. Her bread pudding was made from an extra Christmas panettone augmented with chocolate and raisins.
Puff pastry pinwheels
For the main dish I roasted a whole chicken along with Hasselbach potatoes. The challenge was the green vegetable. This time of year you can always find broccoli, broccolini, and green beans, but for me they have worn out their welcome. I know that summer squash is out of season, but in Southern California everything seems to be in season all year long. Unfortunately zucchini often cooks up watery with not much color. I decided to combine it with another watery vegetable but with more color: spinach. And mushrooms. Cheese and mushrooms sounded like good additions, and suddenly you have the makings of a quiche. The crust was definitely too much effort and too filling for a side dish, but the stand-alone filling sounded good.
Here’s the whole menu – puff pastry pinwheels, roast chicken, Hasselbach potatoes, zucchini-spinach un-quiche, and panettone bread pudding.
Baby spinach leaves
Zucchini and spinach un-quiche
Zucchini and Spinach Un-Quiche
- 3 medium zucchini
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 generous handfuls, more or less, fresh baby spinach
- 5 crimini mushrooms, sliced
- salt and pepper
- 2 tablespoons Pernod
- 2 ounces Swiss cheese, coarsely grated
- 3 eggs, well beaten
- 1 cup heavy cream
- ¼ cup panko
- ¼ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- Wash the zucchini and cut off the stems. Grate with the coarse side of a box grater. In a clean towel or with clean hands, squeeze as much liquid as you can from the grated zucchini.
- Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large sauté pan. Add the grated squash and sauté until the squash gives up its liquid. Then add the spinach and cook until the leaves are completely wilted and they have given up their liquid. Add the mushrooms and sauté for another 3-5 minutes. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper. Add Pernod
- Transfer the mixture to a strainer. Drain. Use a heavy spoon to press out as much moisture as you can. Place in a well-buttered 2 quart baking dish or soufflé bowl. Top with grated Swiss cheese.
- Combine the well-beaten eggs and cream. Add a little bit more salt and pepper. Pour over the zucchini/spinach mixture and stir until well combined. Sprinkle the top with panko and grated Parmesan cheese. Dot with butter.
- Bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 350°F for 1 hour or until bubbling and well-browned. Remove from the oven, cool for 5 minutes, and serve while still warm.
- The casserole will deflate as it cools. It will not reinflate with reheating, but it will still taste good if it is rewarmed.
- You can turn this into quiche by baking it in a blind-baked pie shell at the same temperature for the same time.
- You can turn it into a soufflé by separating the eggs, combining yolks with the cream, and gently folding in the stiffly-beaten egg whites. Use the same time and temperature.
When our grandchildren visit us they often wind up watching our DVD of the Disney-Pixar movie, Ratatouille. Sometimes the grownups watch, too. It’s a charming story, and besides who doesn’t enjoy the fantasy of a rat winning three Michelin stars in a previously failing Paris restaurant? Even though it is a cartoon, the ratatouille served in the picture is a work of art. My friend, Jim Hastings, has tried to re-create it, and if you google images of ratatouille you will find that a lot of other folks have also created things of beauty.
Not me. I have relied on Julia Child’s recipe for over forty years. Even though it is an appealing dish, it is no competition for the rat’s over-the-top composition.
This is clearly the time of year for ratatouille. The essential ingredients are all at their peak. The fresh vegetables are where the real beauty of the dish lies. Eggplants (aka aubergine in the UK and brinjal in India) are displayed in a mosaic of colors and shapes. There are the traditional dark purple giants and the slender variegated Japanese varieties. I chose some cream and purple striped globes that were just the right size for cooking without peeling. As for tomatoes, if you are not lucky enough to have your own backyard supply, the farmers market is brimming with them, along with zucchini of just the right size, bell peppers, and beautiful onions.
Everyone knows how versatile tomatoes, zucchini, and bell peppers are. Most home cooks have pages and pages of recipes for them. Eggplant is also versatile, but many cooks don’t seem to know that. My grandmother grew her own eggplants, but she only did one thing with them. She cut them is slices, unpeeled. Dipped them in egg and flour and fried them . They were delicious, but they could get to be boring. In Louisiana, eggplants et stuffed with spicy seafood. A memorable dinner from years ago featured eggplant casings stuffed with shrimp and served as a beautiful turban mold. . Our host struggled over that for hours. Eggplant instead of pasta in lasagna is common, and eggplant Parmigiano is a classic. Chef Brucia in Shreveport did a delicious variation with eggplant rounds topped with chicken breast supremes, tomato sauce and Parmigiano and then baked.
With all of that, my favorite way to cook eggplant remains Julia Child’s ratatouille. I won’t repeat her recipe. You can find it in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I, page 503. I will add a few cooking tips that I have learned. Just be advised that although it is not difficult to make, ratatouille is time-consuming. Don’t try to make it at the last minute. After you’ve made it, you have to decide how to serve it. It is good enough to stand on its own, but Julia suggests pot au feu if you want to go to all that trouble. I served it with a slice of ham, and was a combination to my liking.
Ratatouille still life
Add a leek
Ready to serve
Served with a slice of ham
- There’s no need to peel and cut the eggplant into strips, as cooking will soften the peel, and slices will hold their shape better.
- Cut a little cross in the ends of the tomatoes before you blanch them. They will peel more easily.
- Avoid oversized zucchini as they will wind up being waterlogged.
- The new “snacking peppers” – red, yellow, orange – make a good substitute for green bell peppers.
- Leeks make a good substitute for onions.
- Use good olive oil for the essence of Provence.
- As Julia Child suggests, letting the dish sit overnight seems to improve the flavor.
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.
I thought I was finished with zucchini recipes, and then my neighbor brought over three more squash to add to the two in the refrigerator.
That is the origin of zucchini lasagna, which is a riff on eggplant lasagna. I also used fresh tomatoes instead of the usual marinara. With all that squash and fresh tomato, it is easy to anticipate that there is going to be a lot of water. You can deal with that if you plan ahead.
Salted zucchini slices
Ready for the oven
Baked lasagna resting before serving
A serving of zucchini lasagna
Zucchini and Fresh Tomato Lasagna
- 5 medium-large zucchini
- 3 large, ripe tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 pound ricotta
- 2 eggs
- 2 cups tomato sauce
- 3 cups grated mozzarella cheese
- 2 ounces Parmesan
- Italian seasoning
- salt and pepper
- With a very sharp chef’s knife, slice the zucchini lengthwise into ¼ inch thick slices. Arrange on a clean kitchen towel covered with several layers of paper towels. Salt the zucchini liberally on both sides and let rest for 45 minutes to release water from the squash. Place the sweated slices in a colander and rinse quickly with running water. Pat dry and set aside for final assembly.
- Core and thinly slice the tomatoes. Arrange on a clean kitchen towel to absorb excess water. Set aside for final assembly.
- In a large skillet, heat the onions in the olive oil over medium heat until they are translucent. Add the ground beef, and over high heat, brown the meat while stirring frequently to break up any clumps. Add Italian seasoning, salt and pepper to your taste. Drain and transfer to a plate. Set aside for final assembly.
- In a medium bowl, stir the eggs into the ricotta until thoroughly combined. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Set aside for final assembly
- Assemble the lasagna in a large oven-proof lasagna pan. Spray the pan with cooking spray and then spread 1 cup of the tomato sauce that has been seasoned with salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning to your liking. Arrange a layer of the zucchini slices. Then arrange a layer of tomato slices. Top with half of the ground beef mixture, spreading it evenly. Spread half of the ricotta mixture over the tomatoes and sprinkle with one cup of grated mozzarella. Repeat the process with zucchini, tomato, ground beef, ricotta, and mozzarella. Top with a third layer of zucchini and cover with the remaining cup of tomato sauce, the remaining one cup of mozzarella, and grated Parmesan.
- Bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 350°F for 1 hour and 10 minutes. If water from the zucchini and tomatoes has accumulated in the bottom of the pan, pour it off carefully or remove it with a basting bulb.
- Let rest for 15 minutes before cutting into serving-sized squares. Serve while still warm.
This is my last blogging effort with zucchini, having chopped, grated, boiled, sautéed. and baked our neighbor’s zucchini in virtually every way I can think of. The beauty of this recipe is that it uses up a fair amount of zucchini and produces a moist cake that doesn’t taste like zucchini.
You will see clearly from the images, that I am a rank amateur when it comes to cake baking, but the opposing view is that anyone can bake this cake. Part of my problem may be that I revised a sheet cake recipe from a useful little baking book if you live at a high altitude, High Altitude Baking edited by Patricia Kendall and published by Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, 2003. If you live at sea level, you will probably need to increase the baking powder.
This post will also have some tips on what cookbooks describe as “that easy, no-fail American classic”, seven-minute frosting. The first time I ever attempted this recipe was when I was about 12 years old. I had decided to surprise my mother with a birthday cake since everyone else in the family got their own birthday cake made by her. After everyone had gone to bed, I moved utensils and ingredients for a cake into the garage. Everything turned out ok except for the seven-minute frosting which the next morning fell off the cake in great blobs. Since then I have tried making the frosting many times without success. Finally, I have learned that my failures can be traced to inadequate instructions. That deficit has been corrected by Ethan Becker in his complete revision of his grandmother’s classic. Check out his instructions in The All New Joy of Cooking, (Scribner, New York), page 1001
Here are Ethan Becker’s tips: 1) Use a stainless steel bowl or double boiler instead of glass as glass heats too slowly, and the top of the cooking frosting (actually a meringue) cools too quickly to cook completely. 2) Immerse the bowl or double boiler pot so that the water level is at the level of the frosting mixture. 3) Make sure the eggs are at room temperature before beginning the process. 4) Do not stop beating the mixture while it is in the hot water bath or the egg whites will overcook. 5) Use an instant read thermometer and be sure the mixture reaches 140° F. 6) Don’t add the vanilla or other flavorings until you have finished beating the frosting.
Chocolate zucchini cake with mocha seven-minute frosting
A piece of cake
Chocolate Zucchini Cake
- 2½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder (*NB: at sea level you may need to increase to 2 teaspoons)
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa
- ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
- 1¾ cup sugar
- 2 large eggs
- ½ cup buttermilk
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups grated zucchini (no need to peel)
- 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
- Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, toss together the flour, baking powder, soda, salt, and cocoa. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar, using an electric mixer. Beat until fluffy.
- One at a time, beat in the eggs. Then add the buttermilk, oil, and vanilla, beating after each addition until completely mixed.
- By thirds, beat in the dry ingredients. Then beat in the shredded zucchini, making sure it is completely incorporated into the batter.
- Stir in the chopped walnuts.
- Divide the batter equally between the prepared cake pans. Bake in the middle of an oven pre-heated to 350° F for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Remove the pans to a cooling rack for 5 minutes. Then run a thin metal spatula around the rims of the cake pans and turn out the cakes onto a rack to cool completely before frosting.
- When the cake is completely cooled, frost with the following seven-minute frosting.
Mocha Seven-Minute Frosting
- ¾ cups sugar
- ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 2 egg whites
- ¼ cup cold water
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa
- 1 tablespoon instant espresso coffee
- In a large stainless steel bowl or in the top of a stainless steel double boiler, whisk together the sugar, cream of tartar, salt, egg whites, and cold water.
- Place the bowl in a large pan or the bottom of the double boiler with simmering water adjusted so that the level of the water is at or above the level of the frosting mixture.
- With a hand-held electric mixer, beat for 5 to 7 minutes or until the temperature of the mixture reaches 140° F or the frosting stands in peaks.
- Remove from the water bath and continue to beat for 2 minutes more until the frosting stands in smooth peaks.
- Beat in the vanilla, cocoa, and coffee powder.
- Cool slightly and then frost the cake. There should be plenty for two 9-inch layers.
- If this “no-fail” does fail, you can “rescue” it by beating in ¼ -½ cup of confectioner’s sugar.
Probably everyone who reads this has a favorite zucchini bread recipe. And probably everyone who reads this has worn out that recipe in the last few weeks. “Abundance” is not the right word for our current supply of zucchini. They are in the fridge. They are packed away in the freezer. They are on the kitchen counter. And they just keep coming even though we don’t have a single plant in our garden.
Summer squashes make a light side dish for a summer supper on a hot day. But they shine in sweet breads and cakes. Like carrots, they make a moist tender cake or bread. You don’t need to peel them, just grate them in the big holes of a box grater, and pack them lightly in a two-cup measure without squeezing out any moisture. Here is a good all-purpose zucchini bread recipe that I found in The Fannie Farmer Baking Book by Marion Cunningham (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1984, p. 553) I have substituted buttermilk for milk.
Grated raw zucchini
Coarsely chopped walnuts
Ready for the oven
Just out of the oven
Cooling on the baking rack
Ready to eat
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1½ teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- ½ cup buttermilk
- ½ cup vegetable shortening, melted
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 cups grated raw zucchini
- 2 cups walnuts, very coarsely chopped
- In a large bowl, toss together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the eggs lightly and then add the buttermilk, shortening, and sugar. Beat until well combined.
- Then, by thirds, beat in the flour mixture until completely combined.
- Beat in the zucchini and walnuts.
- Divide equally between two 8½ x 4½ inch bread pans that have been greased and floured. Bake in the middle of an oven that has been pre-heated to 350° F. Bake for 50 minutes or until a broom straw or skewer inserted straight down in the middle of the loaf comes out clean
- Remove from the oven and cool on a baking rack for 5 minutes before turning the loaves out to cool completely.
Zucchini season, and the bounty keeps rolling in. We do not have any squash plants in our garden patch, but there is an abundance at the farmers market and from our neighbors. It is a common situation. Many folks this time of year are experiencing zucchini burn-out. Squash blossoms are delicious, but they require immediate attention to maintain their freshness. Sautéed squash begins to get a bit boring, and so the search of the web and a shelf of cookbooks begins. Deborah Madison, the Santa Fe-based vegetarian cookbook author has numerous suggestions in her collections. I especially recommend her Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (Broadway Books, New York) and The Savory Way (Broadway Books, New York) for all sorts of suggestions.
One of my favorite ways to cook zucchini is to grate it with a box grater, sauté it along with some scallions and sliced mushrooms in olive oil, drain any excess oil, stir in some sour cream and fresh lemon juice, and serve. So simple that no recipe is needed
Today, though, I am going to write about stuffed zucchini. The first time I ever had a stuffed squash was years ago at the home of a colleague from Greece who stuffed the tender fruits with feta, Cheddar cheese and bread crumbs. This version is a little more complicated but still not difficult.
Zucchini with flesh and seeds removed
Zucchini stuffed with sausage mixture
Sausage stuffing topped with tomato slices
Stuffed zucchini topped with grated Swiss cheese and dotted with butter
Out of the oven
Ready to eat
- 3 firm, medium zucchini (make certain they are not too big)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ yellow onion, chopped
- 4 medium crimini mushrooms, washed and chopped
- ½ pound bulk breakfast sausage (mild or hot, your preference)
- 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
- ½ cup almond flour (use all-purpose flour if you prefer)
- 1 egg, beaten slightly
- 3 medium tomatoes, sliced thinly (or enough to cover the zucchini)
- ½ pound Swiss cheese, grated
- cooking spray
- Slice the zucchini lengthwise. With a grapefruit spoon or sharp paring knife, hollow out the squash with about ¼ inch of a rim remaining. Try not to pierce the skin of the squash.
- In a medium sauté pan, heat the olive oil over a medium flame. Add the chopped onions and cook until they are translucent but not browned. Stir in the chopped mushrooms, and cook until they give up their liquid and the liquid has evaporated.
- Add the sausage, breaking it up with a cooking spoon so that it is completely crumbled.
- Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
- Transfer the mixture to a bowl, and while it is still warm, stir in the cream cheese so it is completely incorporated. Stir in the almond flour and egg. Set aside until you are ready to stuff the zucchini.
- Choose a baking pan that is large enough to hold all of the squash, or use two dishes, and spray generously with baking spray.
- Arrange the zucchini in the pan, and spray them lightly with baking spray.
- Fill the hollowed-out zucchini with the sausage mixture.
- Top with tomato slices seasoned with more salt and pepper, and cover with the grated Swiss cheese.
- Dot with butter, and bake in the middle of an oven pre-heated to 350° F for 30 minutes or until the cheese is completely melted and the zucchini is tender.
- Serve immediately.