summer squash with basil butter

My first attempt at growing summer squash didn’t work out so well. We’d just bought a mod 1950s stucco house in Miami, with a carport, terrazzo tile floors and a postcard backyard, most of which was occupied by a cracked concrete patio slab. The gaps and crevices in that patio supported an alarming number of tenacious tropical weeds that I never, ever learned to control.  In fact the whole outdoor landscape in South Florida was a challenge to my New England senses; verdantly evergreen, crawling with super-sized insects and iguanas.

Up to that point, I’d been an apartment dweller. The only plants I’d cultivated were a ficus tree and assorted pots of herbs on a windowsill. But I was inspired by a little book on vegetable gardening I’d picked up at a thrift store, Angelo Pellegrini’s The Food Lover’s Garden, published in 1970. The book seemed romantically old-school to me. Pellegrini was an Italian immigrant of my grandparents’ generation,  a college professor “with an instinct for the good life.”

I wanted to start living my own good life, growing my own food in my own yard, imagining that the everlasting summer climate would be paradisiacal for vegetables. But the profuse garden outlined in the good professor’s book, full of all manner of “herbaceous edibles,”  was in temperate Washington state, not the subtropics. Long story short, when I finally paid attention to what was growing and thriving in my neighbors’ backyards I realized I’d have much better luck growing bananas and coconuts. (I did.)

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zucchini fritti, lemon and parmesan salad

zucchini fritti salad with lemon, italian parsley,parmesan and pine nuts

This past week in the month of March has been eventful; what with the Ides of March, Saint Patrick’s Day and the Feast of San Giuseppe going on, you can’t help but notice there’s transition in the air. One foot in front of the other, steadfastly marching toward — Spring.

It’s going to be a few more weeks (at least where I live) before true, seasonal produce will start to influence the next half year of my cooking; garden seeds are starting to sprout and trees are budding somewhere with the promise of summer fruit.

Although I think of them as a full-blown summer kind of thing, at this time of year I’m not ashamed to take advantage of cute little zucchini grown in far more southern climates than the one I live in, to help bridge the gap between darkness and light; brown root vegetables and green, leafy plants.

I’ve been getting itty-bitty zucchini at my local Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods markets over the past few months and this salad has become a major craving. It’s a personal preference, but I like small zucchini best, for this recipe and in general; I find as they mature and swell to a diameter larger than about an inch and a half, the flesh will likely have more seeds and become waterlogged and soggy when cooked.

zucchini fritti salad with lemon and parmesan

It could be the inclusion of lemon that gives this combination of ingredients a spirit of freshness, making me think of impromptu, warm weather eating, something I’m looking forward to.

My appetite was sparked a while back by a recipe from Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, a blog I am both inspired by and admire from afar. I appreciate Gwyneth’s obvious passion for  food. And while I can relate to her clean, modern, yet down-to-earth style aesthetic I have to leave the $150 sweat pants in a neatly folded pile at her web store. Food I will indulge in; my fashion budget is far less opulent.

Shopping aside, Gwyneth has great taste – zucchini fritti are delicious and dare I say healthy (…yes, I did). I took her idea and ran with it. A light coating of rice flour and a little hot olive oil transforms the neutral nature of zucchini and makes me think of tempura.  You could easily eat fritti all on their own as a crunchy snack, but making a salad with the hot, crisp zucchini turns this into a simple meal.

zucchini fritti salad with lemon, parsley and parmesan

zucchini fritti salad with lemon, parsley and parmesan

Serving Size: serves 2 - 4

Ingredients

  • ¾ pound baby or small zucchini, between ½ - 1 inch in diameter
  • ½ small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons brown or white rice flour
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ lemon, cut into wedges
  • Salt
  • ¼ cup pine nuts, roughly chopped
  • ½ cup picked Italian parsley leaves
  • Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese, for shaving

Instructions

  1. Slice the zucchini into coins about 1/2-inch wide; put them in a bowl with the onion and toss with enough rice flour to coat evenly.
  2. Heat a 12-inch (preferably non-stick) skillet over medium high heat until hot. Pour in the olive oil and heat until it just begins to shimmer.
  3. Put the zucchini-onion mixture and lemon slices into the pan, cut side down. Season with a generous pinch of salt and cook undisturbed for 2 or 3 minutes, until the zucchini turns dark golden brown on one side.
  4. Flip the zucchini over, either by shaking the pan or with a wooden spatula, to cook the other side. Add the pine nuts to the pan and sprinkle with a little more salt.
  5. Remove from the heat; stir in the parsley. Squeeze the juice from the fried lemons over the salad and serve right away topped with shaved cheese.
http://familystylefood.com/2013/03/zucchini-fritti-lemon-and-parmesan-salad/

roasted vegetables and spelt spaghetti

roasted vegetables, spelt spaghetti, ricotta salada

I was inspired to make myself a bowl of pasta after I had lunch at a local restaurant and it left me feeling — disappointed.

The menu at this charming place offered the sort of casual, Italian-style fare everyone seems to like – wood-fired pizzas, homemade pasta, and salads made with locally grown produce.

I ordered the pasta special of the day, described as handmade whole wheat fettuccine with wood oven-roasted vegetables. Great!

I was hungry, and happily anticipated my lunch, thinking about homemade noodles with the rustic bite of whole grain and especially, the promise of a colorful assortment of vegetables kissed with some smoky char from the oven.

What arrived at my table was not at all like the picture I’d formed in my head. Turns out there was definitely a disconnect between what had been described and what was right there on the plate in front of me.

The “oven-roasted” vegetables were a small distribution of diced carrots that were a little on the crunchy side, and zucchini that was cooked to the point of army-green softness. They were embedded in a thick tomato sauce that covered the pasta so completely that I couldn’t tell if it was fresh whole wheat fettuccine or not. It tasted pretty good; homey and satisfying, Just not what I thought it would be.

I’m not in the business of reviewing restaurants, nor do I ever want to be – it makes me uncomfortable to be critical of another cook’s food. Cooking is all about feeding people, but it’s also a personal expression. One girl’s vegetable is another boy’s garnish.

For me, vegetables are the focal point of whatever I set out to eat or cook; the elements of the plate that give a cook the chance to use a beautiful variety of colors and textures; like an edible palette.

When I decided to recreate my version of that lunch, I set out for the produce section of my grocery store – there’s no farmer’s market at this point in a Midwestern winter.

spelt spaghetti with roasted vegetables

But I found a rainbow of vegetables there; sweet bell peppers in three different colors, red grape tomatoes and bright green zucchini.

I roasted the vegetables to pair with spelt spaghetti, a whole grain pasta that has a more delicate, nutty taste than some of the other whole grain kinds I’ve tried. Ricotta Salata cheese adds a creamy, slightly salty hit to the top of this spaghetti. Now, that’s what I’m talking about!

roasted vegetables with spelt spaghetti and ricotta salata

Yield: 2 - 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 each – red, yellow and orange bell pepper
  • 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 small zucchini, diced
  • 1/2 cup Peppadew peppers, sliced in half
  • ¼ cup Peppadew liquid
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 10 ounces spelt spaghetti
  • ¼ cup chopped Italian parsley
  • 1/3 cup crumbled Ricotta Salata cheese

Instructions

  1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Cut the peppers into roughly 1 ½ - inch pieces. Toss the peppers on a large rimmed baking sheet along with the tomatoes, olive oil and ½ teaspoon salt.
  3. Roast until the edges of the peppers are deep golden brown, about 20 minutes. Stir them around, then add the zucchini to the peppers and roast 5 more minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve ¼ cup of the cooking water.
  5. When the vegetables are done, add the Peppadews, liquid and reserved pasta water and scrape everything around in the pan; season with salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Transfer the spaghetti to a serving bowl and top with the vegetables, parsley and cheese.
http://familystylefood.com/2013/03/roasted-vegetables-and-spelt-spaghetti/