Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Creole Zucchini

As my recent blog postings indicate, I'm on a zucchini rush. Here's yet another dish, zucchini braised in New Orleans style.

This colorful dish was developed for my newspaper column in Athens, an area with increasingly available local, organic produce of excellent quality. Zucchini can overwhelm us in sheer quantity. Thus additional ways of preparing it are always welcome.

I conceptualized this based on what I knew of Louisiana cooking. I ran the idea by Katie, a New Orleans Katrina exile now working in the restaurant business in Decatur. She affirmed that this is basically how her mother, as well as her "Ex," would fix zucchini.

Two ingredient notes. This dish is best when made with young, slender zucchini, before seeds form. Second, I use "Cajun Seasoning," one of the very few pre-mixed spices I work with. (The particular brand is "Louisiana," manufactured without MSG by Louisiana Fish Fry Products, Ltd. of Baton Rouge. Katie prefers "Tony Chachere's.") All the salt in the dish -- other than what seeps out of the ham or bacon -- comes from the Cajun Seasoning.

When this was guineapigged on the clergy and staff of St. Bartholemew's at their weekly staff meeting, we served it with lightly salted brown rice.

I would serve this with a chilled dry white, such as a Sauvignon Blanc, or a dry rosé made from Malbec (Argentina) or Grenache (France or Spain).

The recipe feeds six generously -- Louisiana food is never served skimpily.

Creole Zucchini

1/4 pound smoked ham (leftover, or from the deli), or 4 slices smoked bacon
2 tablespoons canola or olive oil (omit if using bacon)
1 large onion, in large dice
1 pound ground pork
1 stick celery, diced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1 medium-large red bell pepper, cut in 1/2-inch dice
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomato (unseasoned), or 2 cups diced fresh tomatoes
1/4 cup red wine
2 pounds young zucchini, in 1/2-inch dice
3 to 4 teaspoons Cajun Seasoning (not "lite")
Minced parsley for garnish

Dice ham or bacon. In heavy pot over medium high heat, fry ham with oil, or bacon without oil, plus onion until onion is very tender, scraping bottom of pan often.

Add ground pork, celery, garlic and bay leaves. Fry, stirring frequently and breaking up pork 10 minutes or more, until celery is tender.

Add bell pepper, tomato and wine. Cook over medium heat, uncovered, stirring frequently, five minutes. Liquid should reduce somewhat.

Add zucchini, and cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, until zucchini is just starting to become tender. Add 3 teaspoons Cajun Seasoning, and cook until zucchini is tender, but not soft.

Taste, and add more Cajun Seasoning if salt is not sufficient. Make the mixture faintly salty, since the vegetables will soak some up. Remove from heat, and let rest 5 minutes. Stir again, check salt and add salt if needed.

Serve with lightly salted brown or white rice. Dust with minced parsley, if desired.

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