Sunday, September 29, 2013

Maple-Walnut-Chia Granola with Dried Cranberries

Until this year, in my world, chia was relegated to the cheesy terra cotta figurines. But like all stereotypically hippie health foods, it was only a matter of time before I tried it out for myself. And just like with nutritional yeast, it has stuck around far after its first appearance. At first I was mostly using chia seeds in my smoothies, but when the time came to replenish my granola supply, I saw the perfect time to incorporate it into something different. I always add a few tablespoons of tiny seeds to my granola for that extra bit of crunch and this new addition to my pantry was an obvious choice. The egg whites, another new addition for me, make this granola especially golden and crunchy, though it was the double dose of maple (syrup and extract) that really won my heart (and tastebuds). Perhaps more than any other granola I've made, this one can really do double-duty at breakfast with yogurt and dessert over ice cream.

This granola was part of my Labor Day kitchen marathon, during which I also turned out Zucchini, Banana, and Flaxseed MuffinsZucchini Corn MuffinsSpicy Cold Tomatillo Soup, and Zucchini Rice Gratin. It may have been just one of a long list of culinary projects that day, but that makes it no less worthy of a chance in your kitchen or a repeat appearance in mine.

Maple-Walnut-Chia Granola with Dried Cranberries
adapted from Bon Appétit
makes about 3 cups

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar, divided
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons egg whites (about 1 large egg white)
1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon maple extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoonground allspice
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons chia, flax or sesame seeds
1/2 cup dried cranberries

1. Position rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 325°F. Generously coat heavy large rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray. Stir sugar and syrup in heavy small saucepan over low heat until sugar dissolves, occasionally brushing down sides with wet pastry brush. Pour into large bowl; cool to lukewarm. Whisk in egg whites, extracts, and spices. Add oats, nuts, and seeds; toss well.

2. Spread mixture in even layer on prepared baking sheet. Bake 35 minutes. Using metal spatula, turn granola over (bottom will be brown). Bake 10 minutes. Sprinkle cranberries over; bake until dry, about 10 minutes longer. Cool granola completely in pan.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Classic Beef Chili for Two

Chili is one of the reasons to get excited about fall. On my list of culinary goals, making that first batch of chili lies shortly after getting my hands on as many pumpkin-based treats as possible. And if the season's motivation wasn't enough, this recipe fit perfectly into the theme I chose for this year's football snacks - matching the snack (and beer, when possible) to the city/region of the Packer's opponent. In week two, the Packers played the Washington Redskins, with DC being home to the famous Ben's Chili Bowl. (Yes, I considered making chili to use in a half-smoke, put opted for a bowl of chili with some leftover Zucchini Corn Muffins instead.) Leftovers were also somewhat inauthentically repurposed Cincinnati Chili for the week 3 game, and the bit remaining in the freezer just may turn into Coney Dogs for the Lions game on October 6th (despite their origins, Coney Dogs have become a signature dish of Detroit).

I definitely won't argue that chili is a dish typically suited to big batches, but when you don't have a lot of people to feed and love to tweak and experiment like I do, a recipe for two is just perfect. It's often not straightforward to adapt a big batch recipe down to a modest meal, but when the source is America's Test Kitchen, there's no reason to worry that the scaled recipe is a pale comparison to the original. This recipe has the perfect level of spiciness, bold enough to excite the taste buds, but not so assertive that the smoky cumin, coriander, and garlic disappear. There's a nice balance between the meat, beans, and veggies - the chili is stick-to-your-ribs hearty without being a total gut-bomb, satisfying the heartiest of appetites without scaring away those who aren't total carnivores. Though ATK's specialty is precise and thorough perfection of recipes, I can already see myself trying some of my own versions - poblanos, black beans, and pork, perhaps? Green chilies, white beans, and chicken? Though perfection in its own right, like any good recipe, this one inspires further culinary creativity.

Classic Beef Chili
adapted from America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two (2010)
serves 2

1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
1 small white or yellow onion, minced
1/2 red or orange bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlicpress
1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder (I love anco)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
8 ounces 85 percent lean ground beef
3/4 cup cooked red kidney or pinto beans
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce

1. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion, bell pepper, garlic, chili powder, cumin, coriander, pepper flakes, oregano, cayenne, and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and cook, stirring often, until the vegetables begin to soften and the spices are fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes.

2. Stir in the beef and cook, breaking up the meet with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink, about 2 minutes.

3. Stir in the beans, diced tomatoes with their juice, and tomato sauce, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes.

4. Uncover and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the beef is tender and the chili is dark, rich, and slightly thickened, about 15 minutes longer. (If at any time the chili begins to stick to the bottom of the pot, stir in 1/4 cup water). season with salt to taste and serve.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Fresh Herb and Zucchini Frittata

I was sure my zucchini plant was done producing. The voluminous leaves were coated with a unhealthy glaze of white and the vine was collapsing under the weight of the cold fall weather. But when I went to visit my eggplant and pepper plants and see what they had to harvest, I found that my zucchini plant had gifted me with two healthy size squash, with at least four babies on the vine. Because I'd had a nice break from this prolific plant, their appearance filled me with delight instead of the hesitance it might have just a few weeks ago. My diverse culinary with zucchini is more than amply documented in previous posts, but when I tried to think of a way to use up this late season crop I realize there was a glaring omission in my zucchini recipe roster - frittatas! 

It feels like I've put every possible vegetable into a frittata, and I've rarely been disappointed. Other than vegans, who doesn't love a frittata? You can make them as healthy or indulgent as you like, fill them with almost any ingredient, serve for any meal, and they take just minutes to make. This frittata blends tender zucchini and onion seamlessly into the rich egg and cheese base, with garden-fresh herbs permeating each delicious bite. I quite love this particular combination, in part because I grew many of the components myself, it still stands that its simplicity the reason for its success. This particular combination may not perfectly fit your garden's bounty as it did mine, but it's still a wonderful template for to filling your belly with whatever odds and ends you have lingering in the fridge.

Fresh Herb and Zucchini Frittata
adapted from Eating Well
serves 2

4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 cup diced zucchini, (1 small)
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup slivered fresh mint
1/4 cup slivered fresh basil
1/4 teaspoon salt, divided
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
4 large eggs
2 ounces shredded fresh mozzarella or crumbled goat or feta cheese

1. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add zucchini and onion; cook, stirring often, for 1 minute. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low; cook, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini is tender, but not mushy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add mint, basil, 1/8 teaspoon salt and a grinding of pepper; increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring, until the moisture has evaporated, 30 to 60 seconds.
2. Whisk eggs, the remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt and a grinding of pepper in a large bowl until blended. Add the zucchini mixture and cheese; stir to combine. Preheat the broiler.

3. Wipe out the pan and brush it with the remaining 2 teaspoons oil; place over medium-low heat. Add the frittata mixture and cook, without stirring, until the bottom is light golden, 2 to 4 minutes. As it cooks, lift the edges and tilt the pan so uncooked egg will flow to the edges.
4. Place the pan under the broiler and broil until the frittata is set and the top is golden, 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 minutes. Loosen the edges and slide onto a plate. Cut into wedges and serve.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Chunky Baba Ganoush

Perhaps I should have started with this classic for my series eggplant recipes, but this seemed like a good choice to share on Sunday, when so many of us are gathered around the TV to cheer on the Packers (or some other team, if you must) and stuffing our faces with snacks. If you're putting out a spread, it's nice to have something to balance out classic snacks like pizza and wings and accommodate any vegetarians, vegans, or healthy eaters you may have at your party (a real consideration in Madison). I ate this dip as an afternoon snack with crudites, but I'd be proud to serve it with veggies or pita chips for the game.

There's nothing too exotic about the base of this baba ganoush, which starts with the classic combination of eggplant, tahini, garlic, salt, and lemon juice and the frequent addition of fresh parsley. Where it goes a touch off the beaten path is with the addition of smoked paprika and the inclusion of the eggplant skin. Traditionally the flesh of the eggplant is scooped from the skin after roasting and the skin is discarded, but I hate the thought of throwing that nutritious, beautiful purple skin away when it only serves to give the dip more texture and flavor. (It also doesn't hurt that it's easier to just give it a rough chop and toss it all in the food processor.)

Creamy, earthy, herby, and smoky, this easy dip is is worth making whether to feed a crowd for an afternoon or just one with a week of healthy snacks.

Chunky Baba Ganoush
makes about 1 1/2 to 2 cups

1 pound eggplant (1 medium to large or multiple small eggplants)
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press (to taste)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Smoked paprika (optional), to taste

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

2. Cut the stem and bottom ends off the eggplant and halve lengthwise. Score the flesh as deep as possible without cutting through the skin. Cut diagonal lines about an inch apart, then turn the eggplant around and repeat so you have a diamond pattern.

3. Brush the eggplant flesh with olive oil and place face-down on a baking sheet. Roast for 35-40 minutes, or until the back of the eggplant looks collapsed and puckered (this will be shorter if using multiple smaller eggplants). Allow eggplant to cool briefly, then cut into large chunks and transfer to a food processor. (Alternatively, you can scoop the flesh out with a spoon, but I prefer to keep the nutrition and texture the skin provides).
4. Add remaining ingredients to the eggplant and pulse to desired texture. Taste and season with additional salt, if desired, and garnish with additional parsley.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Lighter Eggplant Parmesan

I had a marathon of sharing zucchini recipes, so I figured I should do the same for eggplant. My cache of eggplant recipes doesn't come close to rivaling the ones I had for zucchini, but I've got a few gems to share that helped my turn my healthy eggplant crop into many delicious meals.

I have to start by saying that I did not pick this eggplant Parmesan recipe because it was lower in calories, but because it was easy. There's no doubt that deep-fried eggplant is absolutely delicious, but I do not have the patience for all that when I'm trying to dinner on the table after a long day of work. Instead of the exhaustive process of breading and frying, these eggplant slices roast while you throw together a short-cut sauce using already prepared marinara sauce. A little layering, a generous topping of mozzarella and Parmesan, and a few more minutes in the oven produce a big of pan of bubbling, cheesy goodness. The one traditional element this dish is missing is the breading, and if I made it again I would revive that with a sprinkling of buttery panko bread crumbs on top.

It's sad to see summer go, but bring on the fall foods! It can be so easy to overindulge and hibernate as the temperatures drop, but this hearty meal keeps it healthy without feeling like low-cal eating.

Lighter Eggplant Parmesan
adapted from Martha Stewart
serves 4

1 large or multiple smaller eggplants (2 pounds total), sliced 1/2 inch thick crosswise
1 tablespoon olive oil
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 cup fat-free (skim) milk
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 cup homemade or best-quality store-bought marinara sauce
1/2 cup grated part-skim mozzarella
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees, with racks in upper and lower thirds. Arrange eggplant on two rimmed baking sheets. Brush eggplant on both sides with oil, and season with salt and pepper. Bake until golden brown and very tender, 20 to 25 minutes, turning slices and rotating sheets halfway through.

2. Meanwhile, make sauce: Off heat, in a medium saucepan, whisk together 1/4 cup milk, flour, and garlic. Gradually whisk in remaining 3/4 cup milk and 1/2 cup marinara sauce. Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer, and cook until pink sauce has thickened, 2 to 3 minutes.

3. Spread 1/4 cup marinara sauce in the bottom of a shallow 2-quart baking dish. Alternate layers of baked eggplant with pink sauce. Dollop with remaining 1/4 cup marinara sauce. Sprinkle with mozzarella and Parmesan. Bake on upper rack until browned and bubbling, 10 to 15 minutes.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Spicy Eggplant and Green Bean Curry

Just a few feet over from my over-producing zucchini plant are a couple of noble eggplants putting out a decent crop of their own. Eggplant is a vegetable I enjoy, though not something I've cooked with very much, and certainly not something I'd ever grown myself. Luckily for me, growing and cooking eggplant has turned out to be quite simple and delicious. As is my wont, I started with the basics, roasted eggplant which also transformed into baba ganoush, to get acquainted with my homegrown eggplant. After those basic preparations, I wanted to go with something intensely flavorful, this curry fitting the bill splendidly. I was helped along this path because I already had a jar of green curry paste in the fridge, but I don't for a second regret pairing those aromatic herbs and chilies with earthy eggplant. Additional garlic and ginger intensify those flavors, cilantro and mint add amplify the herbaceousness, and coconut milk provides the perfect creamy conduit for blending it all together. This makes for a complete Thai-inspired meal with a protein and some coconut rice, or you can go my completely untraditional route and use pieces of pita to scoop it up, topping with pieces of stir-fried tofu.

Spicy Eggplant and Green Bean Curry
adapted from Bon Appétit
serves 4

5 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil, divided
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped peeled fresh ginger
1 14- to 16-ounce eggplant, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
8 ounces green beans, trimmed, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon grated lime peel
1 to 3 teaspoons Thai green curry paste, to taste
1 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk
3 green onions, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

1. Heat 4 tablespoons oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and ginger; stir 30 seconds. Add eggplant and green beans. Cook until almost tender, stirring often, about 7 to 10 minutes. Transfer vegetables to bowl.

2. Add 1 tablespoon oil, lime peel, and curry paste to same skillet; stir 15 seconds. Add coconut milk; bring to boil, whisking until smooth. Return vegetables to skillet; toss until sauce thickens enough to coat vegetables, about 3 minutes. Season with salt. Mix in onions, cilantro, and mint.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Zucchini Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies

I promise we're at the end of the zucchini recipe barrage (or very close to it). There's still plenty of zucchini to go around and with the cooler fall temps sneaking in, it's a great time to bake. If you want to eat cookies on a regular basis (as I do), it's best to make them of the healthier variety. These little cookies are just the right balance of healthy breakfast (or snack) fare and delicious dessert goodness and the kind of snack that gets me through my morning at work. Zucchini is obviously a summer squash, but the combination of spices used here make this cookie feel perfectly at home in fall. The healthy amount of oats, fruit, and nuts make me think of these as a breakfast cookies, all the flavor of a hearty oatmeal baked into delicious, portable bites. The schizophrenic weather plaguing Wisconsin in these early days of September might making planning to bake a bit of a gamble (nobody wants to fire up the oven when it's 90+ degrees), but these store happily in the freezer for breakfast-on-the-run or bite to satisfy your sweet tooth anytime. Can't get around to these cookies until after zucchini season has passed? Swap in some grated carrots for convenient bites of carrot cake heaven.

Zucchini Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies
adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod
makes about 2 dozen cookies

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup applesauce
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup shredded zucchini
2 cups old fashioned oats
1/2 cup raisins or dried cranberries
1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts or pecans

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat baking mat or parchment paper and set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Set aside.

3. In a large mixing bowl, combine applesauce and brown sugar, mix until smooth. Add egg and vanilla extract. Next, add the shredded zucchini. Mix until combined.

4. Slowly add flour mixture until just combined. Stir in oats, raisins, and walnuts.

5. Drop cookie dough by heaping tablespoonfuls, 2 inches apart, onto prepared baking sheet. Bake for 10-14 minutes or cookies are slightly golden around the edges and set. Remove cookies from pans; cool completely on wire racks.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Zucchini Corn Muffins

Another zucchini recipe, you say? I've spent quite a bit time handling the zucchini my garden so graciously bestowed upon me and I've got a few more recipes to share before the season has completely left us. Without ever having seen a particular recipe, the notion of zucchini cornbread got stuck in my head. A quick Google search led me quickly to some reputable source material that I only had to tweak slightly to fit my needs. I'm more of a fan of corn muffins than cornbread because it means you get more crispy edges and I can make big batches and freeze the extras in individual portions. This recipe is not too far from your standard cornbread/corn muffins recipe, but swapping in whole wheat pastry flour provides a nice textural and flavor contrast to the cornmeal, light and nutty where the cornmeal is sweet and dense. A healthy amount of butter and eggs keeps these corn muffins luxurious and moist, nicely accented by the rich tang of buttermilk. Sugar is present in the perfect proportion to add a hint of sweetness to this savory muffin that pleases the eyes with lovely green flecks of zucchini dancing throughout. Part of my Labor Day marathon in the kitchen (during which I used up several pounds of zucchini), I originally ate these with Spicy Cold Tomatillo Soup, but I'm eagerly anticipating the cooler days when I'll be dunking them into a bowl full of chili.

Zucchini Corn Muffins
adapted from Epicurious
makes 12 muffins

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter plus more for pan
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 large zucchini (about 10 ounces)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or 1 cup all-purpose + 1/2 cup whole wheat)
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup medium-grind cornmeal

1. Position a rack in the middle of oven and preheat to 350°. Line a 12 cup muffin pan with paper liners or butter generously.

2. Melt 1/2 cup butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Continue cooking until butter solids at bottom of pan turn golden brown, about 3 minutes. Scrape butter into a medium bowl. Set aside and let cool. Whisk in eggs and buttermilk.

3. Coarsely grate zucchini. Add to bowl with butter mixture and stir until well blended.

4. Sift both flours, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda into a large bowl. Whisk in cornmeal. Add zucchini mixture; fold just to blend (mixture will be very thick). Transfer batter to prepared pan.

5. Bake muffins until golden and a tester inserted into center comes out clean, 18-22 minutes. Let cool in pan 10 minutes. Remove from pan; let cool completely on a wire rack.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Zucchini Melt

If you've followed this blog regularly, you're well aware that once I create a new recipe, I often can't stop riffing on it. Once I'd emptied the bottle of pesto chowing down on Pesto Zucchini Melts and Pesto Chickpea Melts, I tried to think of how else I could pile zucchini high on my sandwich. I figured if my pesto-based formula had adapted so well from chickpeas to zucchini, why not my Mashed Chickpea Salad recipe? I amped up the fresh herbs and added cheese to make it reminiscent of a tuna melt, this recipe translating easily from beans to veggies. Zucchini provides a tender-crisp, if mostly flavorless base, a great showcase for the combination of sharp red onion and Dijon, creamy mayo, sweet-sour relish, and vibrant fresh herbs. I like the contrast of the nutty Swiss cheese against this palate, but it could also be fantastic with any number of other cheeses like cheddar or provolone. It's a great vegetarian substitute for a tuna melt, but a fantastic sandwich in its own right and the perfect use to a glut of late summer zucchini.

Zucchini Melt
serves 1

1/2 cup shredded zucchini
2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
1.5 tablespoons mayo
1 tablespoon relish
1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill, chives, parsley, or other herb (optional)
Whole grain tortilla, bread, or pita
1 ounce thinly sliced Swiss cheese
Canola or olive oil cooking spray

1. Place shredded zucchini in a colander, sprinkle with salt, and toss to combine. Allow to drain for at least 15 minutes, then squeeze in a paper towel to remove excess moisture.

2. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl and stir well to combine. Spread mixture evenly one one slice of bread, top with cheese, and place second slice of bread on top.

3. Preheat a pan over medium heat and spray with cooking spray. Add sandwich and cook, flipping once, until filling is warm and cheese is melted, about 4 to 5 minutes per side. Remove from pan, slice in half, and serve promptly.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Zucchini, Banana, and Flaxseed Muffins

It's not often that I have enough time to bake breakfast and sit down and eat it in the morning, but that's just what I did with my day off on Labor Day. Most of my morning was spent on labors of love in the kitchen, with my oven occupied for hours, and these were the perfect fuel to keep me going. Zucchini muffins were the obvious choice for my breakfast baking, given my ample crop, and these came with the highest recommendation from a coworker - her nine-year-old son ate five of them in one day. As usual, I added my own spin to the recipe, swapping out all-purpose flour for whole wheat pastry flour, using the more intensely flavored dark brown sugar in lieu of the light, and reducing the amount. The banana-dark brown sugar combination adds a subtle bananas foster note to the recipe, backed up the rich (and omega-3 dense!) flax meal. Gorgeous green flecks of zucchini permeate each bite, suspended deliciously in a tender whole wheat pastry flour matrix. I froze a good portion of these muffins for weeks of breakfasts at the ready, which I know I'll be eager to scarf done when my zucchini crop has completely dwindled away.

Zucchini, Banana, and Flaxseed Muffins
adapted from Martha Stewart
makes 12 muffins

Nonstick cooking spray
1 3/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose flour)
1/2 cup ground flaxseed
3/4 to 1 cup lightly packed dark brown sugar (to taste)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups coarsely grated zucchini (from 1 large zucchini)
1/3 cup mashed ripe banana (from 1 large banana)
3/4 cup whole milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat 12 standard muffin cups with cooking spray. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, flaxseed, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Add zucchini and banana and stir to combine. In a small bowl, whisk together milk, egg, and vanilla. Add milk mixture to flour mixture and stir until combined (do not overmix).

2. Divide batter among muffin cups. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Let muffins cool completely in pan on a wire rack, about 30 minutes.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Zucchini Rice Gratin

I've been slowly publishing the many zucchini recipes I tried this season because it seemed like it would never end. Much to my relief, my zucchini plant seems to finally be slowing down. After spending several hours Labor Day weekend I'm finally caught up and have a lot of recipes to share before the zucchini growing season is over entirely. In addition to my zucchini, I have a couple of heirloom tomatoes plants that are putting out a fine, though modest crop, and this recipe was the perfect meal to represent my garden's bounty.

The list of ingredients here is short, the flavor relying on the quality of the produce and the Parmesan cheese -that green can of Kraft and supermarket tomatoes just won't cut it here. It doesn't get more fresh and local than the backyard and while I could lay down some serious money for imported Parmigiano-Reggiano, I opt for Hook's Parmesan. It's surprising how just that modest amount of cheese, a couple of eggs, and some olive oil make this feel exceptionally rich, the rice adding just enough to make this as a light meal for four with a side salad and slice of crusty bread. It may have unofficially turned to fall with the passing of Labor Day, but I'm anxious to hold on to these tastes of summer just a little bit longer.

Zucchini Rice Gratin
adapted from Gourmet, March 2008
makes 4 to 6 (side dish) servings

1 cup prepared brown rice
1 1/2 pounds zucchini (about 3 medium), sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
4 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 pound tomatoes, sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
1 medium onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 dried thyme
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided

1. Preheat oven to 450°F with racks in upper and lower thirds.

2. Toss zucchini with 1 tablespoon oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a shallow baking pan. Toss tomatoes with 1/2 tablespoon oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt in another baking pan.

3. Roast zucchini in upper third of oven and tomatoes in lower third, turning vegetables once halfway through roasting, until tender and light golden, about 10 minutes for tomatoes; 20 minutes for zucchini. Leave oven on.

4. Meanwhile, cook onion and garlic with 1/2 teaspoon salt in 2 tablespoons oil in a large heavy skillet, covered, over low heat, stirring occasionally, until very tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

5. Stir together onion mixture, wild rice, eggs, thyme, 1/4 cup cheese, 1 tablespoon oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Spread half of rice mixture in a shallow 2-quart baking dish, then top with half of zucchini. Spread remaining rice mixture over zucchini, then top with remaining zucchini. Top with tomatoes and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup cheese.

6. Bake in upper third of oven until set and golden brown, about 20 minutes.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Spicy Cold Tomatillo Soup

If there's one thing in my garden that's overproducing other than zucchini, it's tomatillos. Despite the name, tomatillos are a member of the nightshade family, related closely to ground cherries, not tomatoes. Even in the foodie culture of Madison, I'm surprised at the number of people who don't know this delicious fruit by name, though almost everyone is familiar with the wonderful flavor of salsa verde.

While addressing the zucchini crop can feel like a bit of a burden at times, I'll never complain about having too many tomatillos. From just a couple of plants I've gotten several pounds of fruit (and they're still producing), which I've turned into fresh salsa, multiple roasted salsas, and even jam. With my freezer and refrigerator well-stocked with these delicious tomatillo sauces, I needed to expand my culinary endeavors to use my garden bounty.

When I need to use up an abundance of ingredients, my first thought is always soup. This soup is a nice balance of decadence and lightness, the rich avocado and yogurt offset by fresh cucumber, onion, and cilantro, with roasted tomatillos beautifully bridging these extremes. I find that one unseeded serrano brings a nice level of heat, but for those less enthusiastic about spicy food I'd recommend removing the ribs and seeds and/or only using part of the pepper. This recipe makes enough for two main courses or four side dishes and can easily be scaled up, provided you have a large enough food processor or blender. A perfect cold soup for the waning warm days, this fresh and filling bowl of flavor satisfies with the flavors of summer, but teases the taste buds for the hearty cold weather soups and stews soon to come.

Spicy Cold Tomatillo Soup
adapted from Martha Stewart
makes about 1 quart

1 pound tomatillos, hulled and washed
3 garlic cloves
1 jalapeno or serrano chile, seeded and ribs removed for less heat
1 cup cucumber, peeled, seeded, and roughly chopped
1/4 cup roughly chopped onion
1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon fresh lime (or lemon) juice
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 small avocado, peeled, pitted, and cut into small pieces
1/2 to 1 cup water

1. Heat broiler. Place tomatillos, garlic, and serrano chile in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, and roast until tomatillos are soft and browned in spots, about 5 minutes. Turn all items; continue cooking until other side is soft and browned, about 5 minutes more. Remove from heat; let cool slightly.

2. Transfer baking sheet to a wire rack; let cool completely. Peel garlic; place cloves in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Add tomatillos, serrano, and any accumulated juices along with cucumber, onion, cilantro, stock, lime juice, salt, yogurt, and avocado; blend until mixture is smooth. Add water, a few tablespoons at a time, blending after each addition, until soup reaches desired consistency. Taste and season with additional salt, if needed.

3. Transfer to a large bowl or plastic storage container; cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Whole Wheat Zucchini Muffins

My zucchini consumption is no longer keeping up with my zucchini crop. I currently have eight zucchini in the fridge and at least a half dozen on the vine that are sure to join them shortly. But no shortage of ingredients means no shortage of recipes to share! I'll be honest, I've been putting off making zucchini bread/muffins because that's the first recipe that people typically go for, but it was time to take on this classic. I find that there's far too little distinction between cupcakes and muffins these days, so when I bake my own, I make the lightly sweetened, whole grain variety. The problem with a lot of whole grain baking is that the end product is too dense, but using whole wheat pastry flour remedies that problem entirely. Baked goods turn out light and tender while maintaining the nutty flavor of the whole wheat flour, so there're little reason to use anything else for baking most of the time. Applesauce, banana, and honey create a subtle, nuanced sweetness, keeping the muffins especially moist along with milk and heart-healthy olive oil. I used this recipe to make six jumbo muffins instead of the original ten to twelve (I have what you might describe delicately as a hearty appetite), but with no unvirtuous ingredients and great flavor, I see no reason not to eat with aplomb. I've included the original baking instructions, but if you choose to make the larger variety as well, begin checking for doneness starting at five to ten minutes after the baking time specified (ovens will vary). With luxury of a long holiday weekend, it's the perfect opportunity to take the time to bake up a hearty breakfast to linger over, enjoying each delicious, nutritious bite and savoring your well-earned break.

Whole Wheat Zucchini Muffins
adapted from Greatist
makes 10 to 12 regular-size muffins or 6 jumbo muffins

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or regular whole-wheat flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup apple sauce
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup milk (of your choice)
1 banana, mashed
1/4 cup honey or maple syrup
1 cup grated zucchini (about 1 large zucchini)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a large mixing bowl combine all the dry ingredients. In a separate medium-sized bowl, whisk together the apple sauce, olive oil, milk, banana, and honey.

3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Fold in the zucchini.

4. Fill lightly greased or lined muffin cups, and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the tops have browned. The insides will be exceptionally moist!

5. Let the muffins cool to firm up, or eat them while they are ultra-tender and warm!