Archive for August, 2010

Zucchini Primavera

August 25th, 2010 No comments

My mother’s handwriting has become spidery in the old note I find in the recipe scrapbook.  It is dated “7 September,” but what year?  Perhaps in the early eighties, about 25 years ago now.  As usual, she writes simply and elegantly:

“We have had some lovely rain.  Many of my flowers perished in the heat, but I have a row of baby zinnias in the garden, and they are joyous.”

Mother’s note has landed in my recipe scrapbook because it contains the ingredients and proportions for a simple zucchini casserole that is pale green in color, and somehow both delicate and intense in flavor. Simple and elegant.

The color and intensity make you think of spring, though zucchini is an old mainstay of a summer vegetable, ever and always.  Never mind.  Any dish this green, this delicate, and this intense needs to be called “primavera.”

How simple is it?  For every main-dish serving you will need one medium-large zucchini, enough for a cup of drained, grated zucchini; three tablespoons of flour, one well-beaten egg, a pinch of salt, a little bit of cheese, and perhaps a couple of cherry tomatoes or ripe olives.

Mother seems to have made the casserole in amounts sufficient to serve four, but I’ve cut the recipe to a one-serving size as a main dish.

  • one cup grated zucchini, squeezed and drained
  • one well-beaten egg
  • three tablespoons flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • optional toppings, such as grated cheese, drained, sliced ripe olives, sliced cherry tomatoes

To prepare the zucchini, select a medium-large unpeeled zucchini and grate it.  Squeeze the grated pulp by hand until it is nearly dry, saving the juice and any leftover pulp for soup.  Drain the pulp further by leaving it in a sieve for a few minutes, if you wish.  Mix the ingredients together and bake in a small,  greased souffle dish for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.  Reduce the heat to 325 and sprinkle the top with less than an ounce of grated cheese, and a few olive or tomato slices.  Bake for another 10 to 15 minutes.  If you are using the casserole as a side dish, omit the toppings.  The casserole should be slightly puffy and vividly green, with slight browning around the edge.  Serves one as a main, two as a side.

You will probably have enough juice and pulp left to make a delicious bowl of soup.  In a small saucepan over low heat melt a tablespoon of butter and whisk in a tablespoon of flour.  Add your left-over zucchini pulp and juice and half a chicken bullion cube.  Keep stirring as you add about a half-cup of half and half.  Heat to piping, but do not allow to boil.  Add salt to taste.  Or make a healthier version of the soup, without the butter, flour and half and half.  Merely thicken your pulp and juice mixture with some mashed potatoes, add the half bullion cube, and heat while stirring briskly.  Add salt to taste.

The critical question may be: what is a medium-large zucchini?  More on that later.


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Vegetable Fritters

August 19th, 2010 No comments

When you have a vegetable garden, inevitably you will start looking for ways to use up every zucchini, cauliflower head, parsley stem, and armload of Swiss chard stacked up on your kitchen counter.

I thought I had found the perfect solution in a treasure of an old gardening book, “The Green Thumb Book of Fruit and Vegetable Gardening,” by George Abraham.  The recipe is for “Ann Wanda’s Chicken Chard,” and according to the author, this batter-fried treat is “delicious” and “tastes just like chicken.”  (Where have we heard that before?)

The recipe calls for pre-cooking the Swiss chard stems, cutting them in pieces, draining them well, dipping them in batter, and frying them in about an inch of cooking oil.  After three attempts,  I was unable to produce a satisfactory result, but the “chicken chard” did plant the germ of an idea.

I used the leftover batter with sticks of raw zucchini, small florets of raw cauliflower, small early tomatoes, and sprigs of parsley.  We enjoyed munching on these vegetable fritters hot from the fry-pan, while putting together the rest of our evening meal.

The recipe below is adapted from “Anne Wanda’s Chicken Chard.”  For background and tips on vegetable fritters, consult  a standard cookbook such as “The Joy of Cooking.”

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Beat the egg and add the other liquids.  Beat in the flour and salt.  Cover the batter and let rest in the refrigerator two hours at a minimum.  Make sure the vegetables are dry before dipping them in the batter and frying them in about one-inch of vegetable oil.  Drain on paper towels, sprinkle on more salt, and serve immediately.


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“Spanish” Rice

August 14th, 2010 No comments

My mother began cooking for a family during the Great Depression, and recipes like this must have been her mainstays.  I think of her, always cooking up something delicious that didn’t break the bank.

I suppose she called this “Spanish” because of the chili powder, but it’s really the bacon that gives the dish its characteristic flavor.  (I do often make it bacon-free, however, using a bit of oil to saute the green pepper, in place of the bacon fat.)   How much salt you add will depend on whether you salted the rice in preparing it ahead, and whether you use bacon.

  • 4 slices bacon, optional
  • 2 cups cooked rice
  • 1 can stewed tomatoes (14 oz., about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1/2 large green pepper, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon chili con carne powder
  • 1 cup water
  • salt

Fry the bacon until semi-crisp in a large skillet, remove the bacon, and leave the bacon fat in the skillet.  Dice the bacon coarsely.  Fry the green pepper in the bacon fat, until barely cooked.  Drain off most of the fat and add the remaining ingredients along with the diced bacon, and simmer and stir about 15 minutes, until the liquids are absorbed.

Serves four.

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Crazy about “Cukes”

August 12th, 2010 1 comment

My better half loves English cucumbers and could probably subsist entirely on sandwiches he calls “Cheese and Cues,” made with slices of cucumber and cheddar cheese.  This year the garden at House of Blues produced its first crop of cucumbers, and in abundance– English cucumbers for Mike, and lemon cucumbers for me.  At the moment “cukes” abound both here and at the grocery store a block away (where large standard cucumbers are on sale at 25 cents each).

Besides giving them as gifts and preparing Cheese and Cue, what can we do with our abundant supply?

A new discovery for me is a simple cucumber salad made with sour cream.  I peel and chop the cucumber fairly fine and squeeze it in a paper towel to remove excess juice, then combine it with “sour cream” (the “light” kind, made with nonfat milk) and a little salt.  Sometimes I add a little cheese or drained ripe olive, chopped very fine.  A good proportion is about 3/4 cup of sour cream to each large standard or English cucumber.  The salad,  glowing in color and subtly flavored, is an addictive delight beyond the plain “cuke,” believe me.  (Of course some might say it is no match for Cheese and Cue.)

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A Lucky Find

August 10th, 2010 No comments

Recently we discovered a seed bargain at Safeway: the store was selling off its 2010 garden seeds at four packets for a dollar.  For about $14 we purchased a fine supply for next year and beyond.  Of course we’ll still need additional seeds, but what a find these were!

Mike found many varieties of vegetable seeds, and I found literally dozens of packets of annuals that I can use for flower pots.  I found an abundance of nasturtium seeds that we’ll try in the vegetable garden (for salad) and I even found wild flowers, hollyhocks, and poppies for the cottage at Mariposa.  There are just four kinds of seeds I’ll need additionally for next year: forget-me-nots, portulaca, cypress vine, and miniature marigolds.

I’ve learned recently that seeds do not lose much of their potency in a year or two, so the fact that these seeds were packed for 2010 is not a great disadvantage. That’s been the really important discovery for me.

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