Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Sleeping Giant: Zucchini Trilogy Part 2

Okay, I am going a little out of order here. I planned to take you on a zucchini filled journey, sequentially from the babiest to the biggest. But last week, in the heat wave, I missed my window for mid-sized harvesting and was left with the big guys, the baseball bats, the sleeping giants.

There isn't anything wrong with a giant zucchini. They are still nutritious and if anything the flavor gets even milder. The challenge with the bigger fruit is coming up with a way to deal with the change in texture. As the zucchini grows the flesh becomes pithy (not concise so much as abundant-in-pith). It acts as a sponge if you throw it in a sautee pan making the resulting meal too soggy and it is too dry and chewy to enjoy raw. The solution? Shred and bake. I love traditional zucchini bread, in the same sweet breakfast style as a banana bread. But in the name of exploration and experimentation I chose a zucchini corn bread this time around. It flirts with both the sweet and the savory and has enough heft from the cornmeal to stand up to soup dunking or as a side for a lobster bake.

I cut into the zucchini and discard the seeds before shredding the flesh. 
You can grate the zucchini with a cheese grater, or, to make faster work of it, use the grating blade of a food processor.

To make my bread I used a combination of fresh grated and frozen grated zucchini. If you use frozen grated you will need to squeeze a lot of water out of the vegetable before adding it to any baked good.
 First, I use my hand to press the zucchini against the side of the sieve, removing the easily expelled water.

For round two of water removal I place the mushy mound of zucchini in the center of a clean, strong dish towel, fold the corners up, and twist and squeeze until all the water has drained through the cloth.
If you use all fresh grated zucchini you won't need to squeeze any water out. We ate our bread with Vermont Creamery cultured butter. I all but insist you do the same.
Brown Butter Zucchini Corn Bread
adapted from Epicurious
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter plus some for the bread pan
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup buttermilk (I used regular milk & it was still delicious)
1 t vanilla extract
10 oz of shredded zucchini 
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour (I used whole wheat pastry flour)
1/2 cup sugar
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1 t fine sea salt
3/4 cup medium grind cornmeal
1 t cinnamon, nutmeg, or ginger (or 1 t of each)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottoms and sides of a 9x5x3 loaf pan.

In a small sauce pan over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Remove from heat when the solids at the bottom of the pan have turned golden brown but not burned (3-4 minutes). Scrape the butter and solids into a bowl and set aside to cool. Once cool, whisk in eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla.

Add the shredded zucchini to the butter mixture and stir until well mixed.

Sift the flours, baking soda, baking powder, sugar, salt and spices into a large bowl and whisk in cornmeal. Add the zucchini mixture and fold until just mixed. It should be very thick. Transfer the mixture into the prepared loaf pan and even out the top with a rubber spatula.

Bake until the bread is a golden color and a toothpick or tester inserted in the center comes out completely clean. Mine took about 50 minutes, and if your oven is like mine, you may want to turn your bread pan mid-way through to evenly cook.

Let the bread cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Remove the bread and let it cool completely on a wire rack. (or cut it open and slather it with butter like we did!)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Zucchini: A trilogy

Admit it. You're sick of them already. For the first week you're ecstatic: the daily harvesting of the small and delicious squash, the blossoms stuffed and fried, the very picture of summer abundance, living proof that even you can grow a vegetable, and a flourishing one at that. And then you forget to look at your beloved plant for a couple of days and lo and behold, you have 4 zucchinis the size of baseball bats. We have three plants in our backyard, and we've stayed pretty on top of harvesting. Still, I find myself opening the fridge and sighing deeply with resignation. Another meal, another zucchini. It's hard to stay excited and inspired by the same ingredient no matter how versatile it is. But I will try in these next three posts to get myself and you re-excited about good old, dependable, prolific, adaptable zucchini. There will be one recipe for each stage of the fruit: one for the baby size, one for the mid-sized and one for the sleeping giant zucchini, so that none of your harvest goes to waste.

My favorite way to eat zucchini is raw, harvested young, when they are tiny, no longer than a couple of inches and about the width of two of your fingers. Sliced very thinly they are crunchy, slightly nutty, and the perfect vehicle for lemon, good olive oil, and a mild cheese. The other day I prepared them in a carpaccio-like salad, alternating the paper thin slices with equally thin rounds of lemon cucumbers and armenian cucumbers.  Add a little cheese and whatever fresh herbs you have on hand--basil, dill, mint, parsley, tarragon, or all of them--and you have yourself a delicious (and maybe home grown and harvested) lunch or side dish. Eat up, there is more on the way!!!

Raw Zucchini & Cucumber Salad
2 small zucchini 
1 or 2 cucumbers 
juice and zest of one lemon
zest of one orange
a handfull of basil, chopped
a few mint leaves, chopped
a few sprigs of Italian parsley, chopped
a handful of multi-colored nasturtiums, chopped
1/4 cup really good olive oil
1 shallot peeled and minced
a splash of rice wine or champagne vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
optional: a mild chevre or, for a vegan option, chopped toasted almonds to garnish

Very carefully, using a mandolin, slice the zucchini into paper thin rounds. If it is very hot and dry out, cover the slices with a damp paper towel while you tend to the rest of the ingredients.

Slice the cucumbers into paper thin rounds and set aside, covering with a damp towel if needed.

In a small bowl whisk together the shallots, lemon zest, lemon juice, a pinch of salt and a splash of vinegar. Let sit for ten minutes.

Alternating between zucchini and cucumber, lay the slices out on each individual plate or on a large serving plate. Each round should slightly overlap the one beneath it. 

Whisk the olive oil into the dressing and taste. Adjust as needed. Drizzle the salad(s) with the dressing, coating lightly but well. Sprinkle the chopped herbs and nasturtiums all over the salad. If you are using goat cheese add generous hunks here and there on top of the slices. Sprinkle the whole salad(s) with orange zest.

Finish with good sea salt and cracked black pepper.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Almond-Apricot Granola (featuring the wonderous noyaux!)

I've become an obsessive granola maker. I've never been one for a daily eggy breakfast.  (That said, my Friday morning yoga class taught by Heather Murray followed by veggie eggs benedict at Cafe This Way is a much missed part of my life now that I am in California.) But I digress. As a child my mom had to fight me to put something in my belly before school. I wasn't ever hungry in the morning but she insisted. "Brain food" she called it. Finally, in my early 20s, I realized how important a meal breakfast is. It's like fueling your car. It jump starts your metabolism. It does wake your brain up. And what you choose for your first meal can really shape your food choices for the remainder of the day. Personally, I am drawn to grains in the morning, but find store bought cereals to be lacking in flavor, nutritional value, and staying power. And while I love oatmeal, I don't always have the time or inclination to start my day at the stove. I want something easy, delicious, and energy packed in the morning.

Granola is such a great food in part for its adaptability. It can be made raw with a dehydrator, slow baked or not so slow baked, with fruit or without, with many different grains or with plain old every day oats. You can vary the fats and sweeteners you use and combine any number of nuts, seeds, and natural nutritional boosters. I guarantee, no matter what combination you choose, your home made granola is bound to be more nutritionally valuable and far more delicious than nearly any cereal you can buy in a store.

As you know from my last post, I have been on a big stone fruit kick. While reading about the origins and benefits of apricots I discovered that the kernel inside the pit of the apricot--the noyaux--has culinary benefits as well.
The noyaux is an almond-shaped kernel encased in the apricot pit. I saved my apricot pits after making these and stored them in a ziploc in the freezer so I can use them over the coming weeks and months. To get at the noyaux I used the flat side of a large cleaver, but a mortar and pestle would work, as would a hammer or a good size rock. It is from this small kernel--not the nut for which the two are named-- that amaretto and almond extract are made. You can steep the noyaux in cream for a sweet almond scent, or place it on top of halved apricots before baking or poaching them. I added mine to an almond granola to accentuate the nuttiness.  Overall, I can't say that it added TONS of extra almond-ness, but every once in a while I would get a bite with a piece of noyaux and a piece of oven-toasted almond, and, let me tell you, it was almond to the nth degree. 

The noyaux contains a nitriloside, (mimicked in a synthetic form it is referred to as B17) which is claimed to have anti-cancerous and fat-flushing properties.  The little kernel also contains traces of cyanide, so you don't want to eat handfuls of them raw. Cooking the kernel will get rid of any cyanide traces. If you are nervous about it, enjoy the noyaux as we should most good things; in moderation. 

Almond-Apricot Granola
4 cups rolled oats
1 cup dried apricots, chopped
1.5 cups raw almonds, roughly chopped
4 noyaux, chopped
4 T raw virgin coconut oil
1/4 cup raw light agave or honey
1/4 cup chia seeds
pinch of salt
spices of choice (eg, nutmeg, cinnamon, black pepper)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl combine the oats,almonds, noyaux, salt, and any other desired spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, black pepper, etc). 

In a small saucepan heat the coconut oil and sweetener over low heat until the coconut oil melts. Pour the liquid over the dry ingredients and stir well to combine. I usually taste a small bite at this point to check that the salt and spice levels are where I want them.

Pour the mix in an even layer onto a un greased cookie sheet. If you want to shorten the cooking time a bit you can split the batch between two trays.

Cook for fifteen minutes then stir. Cook another 30-45 minutes, stirring every ten minutes so the granola browns evenly. I like my granola to get pretty toasty and crunchy. This is definitely a personal preference. The granola is "done" whenever it is your desired level of toastiness. 

Let the granola cool, then return it to the large mixing bowl. Stir in the apricots, chia seeds and any other raw nutritional boosters (hemp seed, flax seed, etc)

I like to eat my granola with fresh fruit and either goat yogurt or homemade almond milk. It is also delicious sprinkled on top of a simple salad of spinach or spicy greens tossed with vinaigrette.

Other ideas for oils, sweeteners, grains & add-ins
*olive oil & maple syrup with cayenne pepper for a warming, winter morning granola
*replace some or all of the oats with quinoa or amaranth flakes for a gluten free, high protein cereal
*add a splash of rosewater to the mix before baking
*use hemp seeds, flax seeds, poppy seeds, sesame seeds or all of the above for added nutritional boost
*heat your milk or nut milk or coconut milk before pouring it over your granola
*grapefruit zest & thyme for a anti-oxidant and C packed granola