Sunday, July 27, 2008

From the Farm: More Zucchini...for the Freezer

Not only have I been getting great zucchini from the farm stand, but now my neighbor is giving them to me. People with gardens are always growing more than they can eat, and usually end up begging you to take their surplus. No one needs to ask me twice---because I'll take all of it and use it to stock my freezer with all sorts of goodies. This way, long after zucchini are out of season, I'll still have plenty of reminders of the summer bounty.

Let round two of the zucchini bonanza begin! My first order of business was to use my food processor to shred the zucchini. This is, by far, the easiest way to shred or grate large quantities of food (veggies, cheese, etc). Just use the disc attachment that came with your processor...yes, those flat, round metal things with holes that you stashed in the back of the cabinet. They do in fact have a purpose!

Armed with a giant bowlful of gorgeous green and white goodness, I was ready to start cooking. As I gazed into my pantry, I wondered what I could create without having to go to the grocery store. I found a box of multi-grain baking mix (think Bisquick gone healthier), and figured that was an easy place to begin. The first experiment was the most simple... zucchini pancakes. I simply folded in 3/4 cup of the shredded zucchini into one batch of pancake batter, hauled out my over-sized electric griddle, and set to work. They were really yummy and moist, thanks to the zucchini. I liked them served with just a touch of butter, but my kids wanted to stick to what they knew and opted to eat them with maple syrup. I made enough for dinner (why not--they incorporate veggies!), and froze a dozen for another time.

While I had the baking mix out, I remembered the great drop biscuits my mom always made when I was a kid. By adding the shredded zucchini along with some cheddar cheese to a basic drop-biscuit recipe, I was on to something good. The result was a wonderfully savory biscuit, with a hit of sweetness. They were such a hit with my family, they were gobbled up pretty quickly. Needless to say, tonight I'm going to make a double batch for the freezer.
After the pancakes and the drop biscuits, I still had quite a bit of zucchini left over. I decided to revert to my standard zucchini bread recipe to finish it off, but decided to add 1/4 cup of Dutch process cocoa powder to the dry ingredients. The kids especially liked the chocolate version, since it seemed more like cake than bread.

Zucchini are available at the farm stand for a good part of the summer---so get it while it's good and bake a bunch for your freezer!

Zucchini-Cheddar Drop Biscuits
Makes 1 dozen biscuits
By using a store-bought baking mix, you save time on these delicious homemade biscuits. The zucchini give great texture, color and added moisture, and the sugar sprinkled on top right before baking make them a treat everyone will love! (photo top)
2 cups multi-grain baking mix (okay to substitute regular)
2/3 cups milk
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
3/4 cup shredded zucchini
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons sugar (I prefer Sugar in the Raw)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Mix together the baking mix, milk and oil. Stir until just combined.
Gently fold in the zucchini, then the cheese.
Using a spoon or small ice-cream scoop, drop onto the prepared baking sheet, about 2 tablespoons of dough per biscuit. Be sure to leave approximately 2 inches between each biscuit.
Sprinkle tops of unbaked biscuits with sugar.
Bake for 12-14 minutes, until set and lightly golden.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
Store completely cooled biscuits in an airtight container (or ziplock freezer bag) and freeze for up to 3 months.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

From the Farm: Zucchini

After a few weeks of going to the Greenfield Hill Farmers Market to pick up my CSA share, I finally understand the drill. The Gazy Brothers Farm table is usually the most popular at the market, so asking lots of questions (as I'm prone to do) isn't always possible. For someone new to the whole CSA concept, it can be a little confusing. This week, a fellow CSA shareholder explained how to choose the goodies for my share: each vegetable share you purchased receives about six "items". For example, 3-4 tomatoes counts as one "item", 2 zucchini would be a second "item" and so on. Up to this point, I've just let one of the women behind the table fill up my bag. Armed with this new information, I'm excited to go back next week and have a little more control over what goes in my bag (not that I've been disappointed so far!).

In this week's bag I got fresh basil, cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes, broccoli, and a few giant zucchini. The first several items were just what I needed for a cooking class this week, where I'll be teaching "Do-Ahead Summer Dishes", so those were spoken for. But the zucchini free and clear, so I created two really delicious recipes to feature them.

The first recipe is a wonderfully light summer pasta dish. I've been making a variation on this dish for more than fifteen years, dating back to my grad school days. I often boiled a pot of salted water for pasta, then tossed in zucchini and/or broccoli during the last few minutes of cooking time, drained it off, then hit it with some olive oil, freshly cracked pepper, and lots of Parmesan. Pasta simply dressed with black pepper and grated cheese is a classic Italian combination called Caccio e Pepe, but for my recipe, I wanted to liven it up a little. I decided to use a vegetable peeler to create long, pretty ribbons of zucchini, and paired it with lemon-pepper papparadelle pasta I found at Trader Joe's. The result was not only beautiful, but absolutely fresh and delicious!

The next day I grated up the remaining zucchini to make zucchini bread. Whenever I have lots of something good (like zucchini, blueberries, over-ripe bananas, etc), I love to make mini loaves of quick bread to store in my freezer. They are the perfect size to pull out if a friend pops over for coffee, or you just want a little something special for breakfast or a snack. This recipe is based on one I found ages ago, but unfortunately didn't copy down the source. However, over the years I've made enough changes and modifications that it really is something entirely different. The biggest change is that I don't use any fat in this recipe. I also use white whole wheat flour, which at the very least, makes me feel a little less guilty about indulging in an extra slice!
It's a good thing to find yourself with lots of zucchini!

Lemon-Pepper Papparadelle with Zucchini Ribbons
Serves 2
1 large zucchini, cut lengthwise into ribbons (using a vegetable peeler)
8 oz lemon-pepper papparadelle pasta
extra virgin olive oil
freshly cracked pepper
Pecorino Romano cheese, grated

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package directions.
About two minutes before the pasta is done (and "al dente" in texture), add the zucchini ribbons to the pot.
Drain the pasta/zucchini thoroughly, and place in a large bowl.
Dress pasta with a good splash of olive oil, plenty of freshly cracked black pepper, and about three (or more!) tablespoons of grated cheese.
Mix to combine and serve hot.

Zucchini Quick Bread
Makes 5 mini loaves
2 cups sugar
2/3 cups packed brown sugar
1 cup applesauce
3 eggs
3 cups flour (I used white whole wheat)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons cinnamon
3 cups shredded zucchini
Non-stick cooking spray

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray 5 mini loaf pans with non-stick cooking spray.
Combine the sugar, brown sugar, applesauce, and eggs in a medium bowl. Mix to combine.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Mix to combine.
Slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mixing until just incorporated.
Add the shredded zucchini and fold in.
Evenly divide the batter between loaf pans.
Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.
Cool pans on a rack for 5 minutes, then un-mold and continue to cool completely on rack.
Store on counter top that day, or wrap tightly in foil and place in freezer bag and freeze for up to 3 months.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

From the Farm: Tomatoes

Just like last week's summer strawberries, there is nothing like a fresh summer tomato right off the vine.

In my CSA share this week, there were two types of tomatoes. Nice big juicy ones perfect for slicing, and smaller cherry tomatoes just right for a summer salad. The minute I laid my eyes on those large tomatoes, I conjured up an image of the great BLT panini I was going to make for lunch the next day--also using the giant, crunchy bundle of romaine lettuce in my share (no, I still haven't grown tired of my panini maker). But I wanted to think more carefully before frittering away those beautiful smaller tomatoes.

My immediate thought was to use it for a cucumber and tomato Greek salad, or perhaps incorporate the basil also in my share and make a Caprese Salad. But when I peered into my refrigerator and saw a lonely, leftover piece of grilled wild salmon, and the adorable baby cucumbers I discovered at Trader Joe's, an Asian-inspired salad was in order. Okay, maybe tomatoes aren't exactly Asian, but when you taste this salad, you won't care! The bright colors are beautiful, and the flavors all come together in a refreshing, healthy, perfectly-packable summer salad. I made it and took it to the beach for dinner, and had passers-by commenting on how good it looked. Try making it yourself---- using fresh-from-the-farm ingredients where ever possible!

Wild Salmon Salad with Tomatoes
Serves 2

1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
6-8 baby cucumbers, halved lengthwise and sliced (or 1/2 English cucumber)
8 oz cooked salmon fillet (opt for wild caught!)
1 scallion, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Flake salmon into bite-sized pieces and place in a bowl. Add tomatoes, cucumbers, and scallion and set aside.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together rice vinegar, canola oil, sesame oil and salt and pepper (to taste). Pour over salad and toss gently to combine.

Serve at room temperature.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

From the Farm: Early Summer Bounty

Last weekend I picked up my first official CSA farm share of the summer growing season from the folks at Gazy Brothers Farm. Although they are located in Oxford, Connecticut, they attend the Saturday Farmers Market here in Fairfield, so it is easy and convenient for me to pick up my share. (For those of you not familiar with CSAs, read my blog post describing how it works)

I was given a large plastic bag (reusable each week), and the Gazys proceeded to fill it to capacity with all sorts of veggies. "Carrots or beets?" "Head lettuce or Romaine?" "Zucchini or Yellow Squash?" I ended up with a gorgeous variety of goods from the garden, including broccoli, scallions, tomatoes, fresh herbs, greens, and radishes. I also got a fruit share, which in June is strawberries, which barely made it home without me digging into the bag!

The first night cooking with my fresh veggies, I made a simple stir fry using the broccoli and carrots, plus a few leftover veggies I'd cut up for a crudites platter the day before. I tossed the vegetables with some rice noodles and a basic stir fry sauce from an old Williams-Sonoma cookbook I've used for years.

The next night I was grilling, so decided to also grill the zucchini and summer squash (they ended up giving me both varieties instead of making me choose!). By brushing the halved squash with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, they caramelize nicely on the cooking grates and also have great flavor. The green and yellow colors look fantastic together, and make a simple, no-fuss side dish which can be cooked right along side whatever else you're grilling.

The strawberries never made it into any sort of recipe, because my family devoured them just as nature intended----freshly picked and right off the stem. There is nothing like a just-picked summer strawberry. The thought of those massively sized, tasteless, white-under-the stem things that make their way to the grocery store in mid-winter don't even deserve to be called strawberries. These berries are the real deal.

I can't wait to see what awaits me from the farm next week !

Farmers Market Stir Fry

Serves 4

1- 14 oz package rice stick pasta

3 tablespoons canola oil (or vegetable oil)

1 bunch carrots (about 5 medium), sliced

1 medium bunch broccoli, crowns only

2 bell peppers (red, yellow or orange), sliced

8 oz sugar snap peas
1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced

1 scallion, thinly sliced

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon chili oil

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and add rice sticks (I like my wide "everyday pan" like this one, but you can also use a wok). Cook approximately 8 minutes, or until soft. Drain pasta and set aside.

Return the pan to the stove and add 3 tablespoons of canola oil and heat until hot but not smoking. Add carrots, broccoli, peppers and snap peas and stir frequently while cooking. Allow to cook for approximately five minutes, or until veggies are crisp-tender.

In a measuring cup, add minced garlic, ginger, scallion, soy sauce and chili oil. Stir to combine.

Add the cooked noodles to the pan with the veggies, and then add the stir fry sauce. Cook for about one minute, while tossing everything together.

Serve hot.