Tag Archives: Zucchini

Summer squash gratin with tomato-red pepper sauce

Are you looking to use up a giant pile of zucchini or summer squash? Say, four pounds of it? This recipe is just the ticket. It’s a simple yet flavor-packed vegetarian gratin, made up of squash slices layered with tomato-pepper sauce and Parmesan cheese, then topped with oil-slicked breadcrumbs. This is what I think of as summer comfort food: crisp and golden on top, bright and fresh-flavored underneath. Plus there’s cheese.

The real secret sauce of this gratin is…well, the sauce. It is one of those simple-yet-spectacular marvels of summer cooking: tomatoes and red bell peppers, simmered with a splash of water until they’re very soft, then blended with a knob of butter and a handful of fresh basil leaves. (You could use olive oil instead of butter, or a mix of the two.) Somehow, those few ingredients produce a rich orange-red sauce that’s creamy-without-cream and packed with bright flavor.

Of course, the sauce is outrageously delicious in this gratin. Tomato, pepper, squash, and basil is a can’t-fail flavor combination. But once you taste this stuff, you’ll want to make extra next time. It’s fabulous over pasta or as a marinara-like dip, and I can only imagine how great it’d be draped over chicken Parmesan. It also freezes beautifully, so you could double the batch while prepping this gratin and save the leftovers for another day.

tomato pepper sauce

I tweaked this from a Food52 recipe, which calls for roasting the squash before assembling the gratin. I don’t own enough baking sheets to fit four pounds of sliced squash in a single layer, and I didn’t love the idea of shuffling baking sheets in and out of a very hot oven during the height of summer. So I skip the roasting step altogether, and I don’t really miss it. The flavor of the squash is fresher, and the slices stay firmer and more intact. (A lot of folks–myself included–are averse to the mushiness of fully-cooked zucchini, so I slice my squash on the thicker side for a crisp-tender final texture.)

The roasting step does serve one important purpose, however. It drives off excess liquid from the squash, which would otherwise make the gratin soggy. My solution is to salt-purge the squash instead. After slicing the squash, I toss it with a generous dose of kosher salt, then let it drain in a colander until it softens and gives up a shocking amount of liquid. Then I pat the squash dry, and it’s ready to be layered with sauce and blanketed with breadcrumbs.

squash gratin w tomato pepper sauce

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Zucchini-basil soup

It’s funny the things we self-taught home cooks take as gospel. Leek tops, for instance. How many times have I read a recipe that says, “1 leek, white and light green parts only?” That great dark green headdress gets lopped off first thing, and then what? Occasionally someone suggests saving the greens for the stockpot, but otherwise they go unmentioned and unused. This has led to more than one of my friends believing that leek greens are inedible.

So let it be known: The green parts are edible! Leek tops are just as flavorful and useful as the bulbs. They’re a bit more fibrous, but that’s easy to get around by cooking them long enough. And they’ve got the same delicate, almost sugary onion flavor as the bulbs.

If you’ve got allium issues, look to leek greens–like scallion tops and chives, they are low in FODMAPs. But unlike scallions and chives, they’re sturdy enough to saute or sweat, which makes them an easy substitute for onions or leek bulbs in a lot of dishes. Anywhere you’d start with a saute of aromatics–perhaps a mirepoix, or just a simple onion base–leek tops can provide. The flavor is milder than onions, and the greens mellow to a muted green color when cooked. For soups and stews, particularly, I find them indispensable.

Take this soup. I had zucchini that needed using, and this Serious Eats recipe on my mind. The recipe calls for one large leek, and I knew the green tops would work just as well as the white bottoms. So I sliced up the greens from one splendidly headdressed leek, and cooked them low and slow in a covered pan with some olive oil until they softened and turned jammy. Add some zucchini, fresh basil, water, and seasonings, simmer for a while, blend, and voila–a simple, summery soup that comes together surprisingly fast.

zucchini basil soup 1

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Olive oil zucchini bread

I used to not “get” zucchini bread. Out of all the baked goods in this world, why would you choose zucchini bread? It’s a vegetable dessert. It’s a sugary-sweet cake with something green snuck in. It’s what you resort to when you’ve got bushels of zucchini to use up and you’re sick of zucchini. I wasn’t into it.

Of course, then I found myself with zucchini to use up, and I was sick of zucchini. So I decided to cry uncle and do some baking. And it occurred to me that, after all, zucchini bread is just a hop, skip and a jump from carrot cake, which I adore. Carrot cake isn’t really about the carrots; they’re there for texture and moisture, maybe a bit of color, but not so much for their intrinsic carrot-ness. But the best carrot cakes, in my opinion, are unmistakable for what they are; they’re not spice cakes, or raisin-and-nut loaves. You wouldn’t think of removing the carrots, or replacing them with something else. They’re essential to the cake itself. So why not think of zucchini bread the same way?

I tinkered with a pretty standard recipe I found online, and came up with something that–to my surprise–I liked quite a lot. It’s a zucchini bread that almost walks the line between sweet and savory. It’s definitely a cake, but with half the sugar, a bit of whole wheat flour, and a perk of olive oil. The zucchini flavor is clear–not pronounced, just a hint of grassiness in the background. A few of us ate half the loaf for dessert after a light Sunday lunch, and it was perfect; the rest got bundled along for breakfast on the go the next morning, and it was great for that too.

One note: even though I’m calling this an “olive oil” bread, I actually use 1 part extra virgin olive oil to 2 parts canola oil. I’m not crazy about using all extra virgin olive oil in baked goods like this, since I think the flavor overwhelms. But I do like a bit more oomph than you’d get with just regular olive oil, and this ratio does it for me. Feel free to adjust the proportion of olive to canola oil as you like–you’ll need 3/4 cup oil in total.

zucchini bread 1

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Moroccan stuffed tomatoes

It’s high tomato season, and I’m conflicted. This is the time of year when the raw tomato is king, when every shape and size of tomato is juicy and soft, when the heat rolls through in waves and the stove sits neglected. But I just can’t do it. I can’t enjoy tomatoes raw. To me, the texture is unpleasant, the taste sickly. Unless they’re exquisitely soft and heirloom, or cherry-sized and picked straight off the vine, I can barely choke them down.

So if I’m eating tomatoes–even height-of-summer tomatoes–they’ve got to be cooked. And for me, there’s no better way than the oven. Baked or roasted, tomatoes suddenly go from can’t-do to can’t-get-enough. The dry heat-bath of the oven takes them from watery to wrinkled, from tart to saucy-sweet. Even less-than-stellar tomatoes become summery treats when handled this way. So on the Fourth of July, when my neighborhood itself felt like the inside of an oven, I decided to suck it up, turn on the beast, and stuff some tomatoes.

The filling here is Moroccan-inspired: almost-caramelized onions, grated zucchini, fresh parsley, a pinprick of chili and thyme, fragrant nubs of toasted pistachio. It makes for a gorgeous contrast, these crayon-red tomatoes and their green-on-green filling. Where many stuffed tomatoes are bready and dense, these are light and fall-apart tender. In the oven, the filling relaxes and settles into the tomatoes; the tomatoes themselves slump but stay deceptively whole, until you touch them and realize the walls have turned to jelly. Oh, and fresh parsley on top is definitely not optional–the contrast between roasted and fresh herb flavor kind of makes the dish.

I brought these tomatoes to a potluck, nestled snugly in a Pyrex dish. They sat tucked away in a corner, all homely and humble next to peanut noodles and berry shortcake and good French bread and several different kinds of pie. I was sure they’d be completely outshined. And yet, fifteen minutes into the party, they were the first thing to disappear. Not bad for a vegetable-on-vegetable.

zucchini stuffed tomatoes landscape

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Summer succotash

I’m not used to summer rain. I’ve experienced it, here and there–spattery showers in the green Northeast, fast-moving tropical cloudbursts in Central America. But it’s not part of the rhythm of my life. I’m used to summer in the Bay Area as dry, yellow, a little hard, with stiffly moving breezes. Not the quiet humid trickle we’ve been having lately.

This is June rain, and it feels weird–simultaneously soft and heavy. The clouds outside say soup and a blanket, but the stickiness on my skin says lemonade and a humming fan. It’s been making it hard to cook, when I come in from outdoors wiping sweat from my forehead, but within minutes I’m shivering at the gloom in the sky. There’s so much gorgeous produce at the markets, that needs so little done to it, and yet the weather is tricking me into wanting hot meals.

So here’s a compromise: a warm summer succotash, with zucchini and cherry tomatoes and corn-off-the-cob, with edamame and sweet onion, with big shards of parsley and ribbons of quick-fried ham. Everything gets quickly and simply cooked, until the tomatoes barely slump and the corn is just this side of raw. It’s a potpourri of summer textures, all sweet-crunchy and beany-soft and squash-squishy and tomato-juicy. Of course, this being a summer vegetable dish, it really shines with the freshest and best ingredients you’ve got–farmer’s market fodder, for sure. If you wanted to substitute fresh shelling beans (or favas, or limas) for the edamame, I’m sure you could; they might need a little longer cooking, but I’m sure they’d be lovely.

This is the kind of meal I make for the rain–warm and meaty, but with all the freshness of the warm season. (Now give me back my dry hard sunshine.)

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Passover 2011–the side dish

My father grew up in a kosher household in Brooklyn. When he was 16, he went to a Yankees game during Passover. Without thinking about it, he got a hot dog. You know, like you do. Then, halfway through the wiener, he realized his error. A hot dog! On a bun! During Passover!

He stopped and considered. The sun was shining. The Yanks were winning. God hadn’t sent down a thunderbolt and incinerated him right there in his bleacher seat. So he said what the hell, finished the hot dog, and never kept kosher again.

In this, as in so many other things, I am my father’s daughter. Judaism, for me, is rather like the Pirates’ Code. I’ve never kept kosher in my life, and certainly never for Passover. So it’s no surprise that I only thought I was being clever when I came up with a recipe using a non-wheat flour for my family’s early seder this weekend. But, as it turns out, I used chickpeas. And chickpeas are not kosher for Passover, at least if you’re Ashkenazi. Whoops.

But I still served my dish, and it was delicious. So…there.

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