Monday, July 09, 2007

Summer Overload Help: Zucchini with Olive Oil and Garlic

Summer means zucchini. Tons of zucchini for gardeners. And for their friends and neighbors. And for their already stuffed refrigerators. Here's a recipe that is a delight. At least it is a delight if you can get ahold of young, thin zucchinis. The big overweight zucchinis are best for -- and this is a stretch, since they are usually watery and bland -- slicing, marinating and grilling, or maybe stewing up as a vegetable. Or maybe heaving at stray, howling cats. OK, so I grew up in the country.

"Zucchini" is the Italian summer squash derived from the originally American Indian Concurbita squash. Literally, though botanically inaccurately, it means little zucca, "zucca" being a pumpkin, the winter orange-fleshed vegetable that is more like a kabocha squash with a taste like butternut. But I'm wandering.

Only young, narrow zucchini work well for this recipe, up to about 1-1/4 inches (about 3 cm in Italy) wide. The thinner, the better. This is a recipe I have taught for a number of years at Evening-at-Emory. It is based on an Iraqi recipe, from before the time when Iraq became so dismally our daily news. Though Iraqi, it suggests Mediterranean as well as Middle-Eastern cuisine, lightly sautéed zucchini with olive oil, garlic, and tomatoes as its natural partners. The recipe serves six.

Zucchini with Olive Oil and Garlic Tim

1-1/2 pounds zucchini (the youngest, thinnest you can find)
4 cloves garlic
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 medium-small tomatoes
4 tablespoons olive oil

Rinse the zucchinis but do not peel. Remove tips and stems, and with a sharp knife split each zucchini lengthwise into two halves. Then cut them lengthwise into narrow wedges, about 1/4-inch wide on the skin side. Cut them across into pieces 3-4 inches long. Prepare the garlic by pressing it through a garlic press or by mashing it to a paste in the salt using the back of a spoon. Quarter the tomatoes, gently push out the seeds with your finger, and dice the flesh into pieces 1/4 inch or less. Have all ingredients ready before starting to cook.

Heat oil in large frying pan or wok. Add zucchini and stir-fry for about 1-1/2 minutes. Add the garlic and salt and continue to stir-fry until zucchini is crisp tender, about 2-3 additional minutes. Check tenderness and saltiness by biting a piece of zucchini (it should be slightly salty, since the tomatoes will absorb some). Cook a little longer or add salt if necessary. Add diced tomato, and stir in for 15 seconds. Remove from the heat.

The dish can be served now or allowed to cool to lukewarm.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Summer Herbs: Luscious Salad Dressing

Atlanta trees are tall, as tall as I've seen anywhere. And with that comes shade, so much that it's hard to find enough sunny ground to raise vegetables. (Don't worry, we'll get to a recipe.) But on the back terrace, the sunniest spot on our land, I can at least grow a few pots of herbs, and I have two hot pepper bushes as well.

Last week when Christina had a group over for a lunch-time meeting we needed a salad dressing to go with a mixture of romaine, mandarin oranges, sunflower seeds, shredded cheese, and grape tomatoes. With no raspberries or raspberry vinegar in the house and little time, I had to come up with a quick dressing that would still be a little fruity to compliment the salad. What I produced in a minute (but have taken much longer to recreate and test) was such that I got high praise and more pointedly a request to get the recipe out on my blog.

This is where the fresh herbs come in. I have, precisely, mint, basil, and rosemary in the spots of sun behind the house. Rosemary is out for salad -- too harsh and turpentiny for a California style summer salad. The mint and basil combined to produce both the fruitiness (from the mint) I wanted for the oranges and sunflower seeds and the savoriness needed to set off the tomatoes and the cheese. Spun up in a little food processor along with some onion, vinegar, sugar, oil, and seasoning, the dressing was attractive and, as mentioned, well received. By the way, I went with canola oil, and not much of it, rather than olive oil to keep the dressing light and fresh, plus white vinegar for clarity of flavor. And there was no garlic, much as I love it, because it is heavy and doesn't help fruit much.

Here, then, is a recipe for a summer salad dressing to enhance a mixed salad, especially one containing fruit. It can also be spooned over fresh mozzarella cheese or sliced garden-fresh tomatoes. Or over sliced, peeled oranges or grapefruit. Or over wedges of avocado. The recipe makes enough dressing to serve 6 to 8, but it refrigerates well for several days.

Mint-Basil Vinaigrette Tim

10 medium sized leaves fresh basil, stems removed
20 medium leaves fresh mint, stripped off the stems
1 small (1 by 2-inch) wedge yellow onion
4 tablespoons white vinegar
3 tablespoons water
5 teaspoons sugar
3/4 to 7/8 teaspoon salt (3/4 tsp. for a fruited salad, 7/8 tsp. for lettuce or vegetables)
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons canola or sunflower oil

Rinse off the fresh herbs and place them and everything except the oil in a food processor or blender. Run it until the herbs are finely chopped. Taste, and add a little salt, if desired. Add the oil and run the processor or blender well again.

Serve the vinaigrette in a small bowl with a spoon to ladle it onto the salad greens or other foods.