Zucchini INXS: Summertime Fun “Lasagna”

When the final surge of summer’s bounty bestows upon you big fat enormous zucchinis so mindbogglingly huge it’s almost mentally insurmountable, what do you do?

Think of things to do with zucchini.

This is one of the things I thought of.  My Aunt, whose garden is now overrun with the soon-to-be pumpkin harvest of the century, basically forced us to take on a haul of some of the gigantic zucchini hiding under the tangle of melon and squash vines.  So with squash out the wazoo, it seemed clear that zucchini needed to take a much more prominent role in the kitchen.  How about temporarily taking over where pasta once was?

Boom: summertime “lasagna.”  This beautifully simple concoction is simply summertime treat layered over summertime treat layered over even more summertime treats.  The garden offered me zucchini, tomato and basil, so that’s what I cooked.

While there are definitely some kinks in my zucchini noodle technique, which is currently quite primitive (any gluten-free/raw foodists out there with advice?!), this messy bake was actually delightfully delicious anyway.  So I’m going to share the recipe with you with the addendum that this is not a recipe box recipe.  This is a jumping off point for some summertime kitchen fun by no means meant to be followed.  I mean, have you seen it?  Sloppy, Emily:

Summertime Fun “Lasagna”

vegan, gluten-free, healthy healthy!

serves 2 if you’re starving, but really more like 3 or 4

  • 1/4 yellow or white onion, half mooned — Fountain Farmers’ Market
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced into rounds — Green Aisle Grocery
  • large zucchini, very very thinly sliced (lucky you if you have a nice enough mandolin to handle the challenge of an enormous zucchini) — Aunt’s garden!
  • a few nice tomatoes, sliced — Aunt’s garden!
  • 1/2 cup chopped olives (you could use capers too!) — Whole Foods
  • around a cup oil-free basil “pesto”the recipe from Oh She Glows here is awesome…so tasty!
  • nutritional yeast — Whole Foods
  • extra basil leaves — my garden!
  1. Preheat: how about 375 degrees?
  2. Take care of topping: saute onions with nonstick spray until soft, add garlic until fragrant and then let sit
  3. Prep pan: coat 9×5 baking pan (note you can double recipe and use a normal size baking pan!) with nonstick spray, just in case
  4. Layer: tomato, zucchini, pesto, olives, optionally a little of the onion, tomato, zucchini, pesto, olives, optionally a little more of the onion, tomato, zucchini, remaining pesto
  5. Top: with remaining onions and basil leaves
  6. Bake: cover with foil and bake 20-25 minutes, uncover and then cook 10 minutes more
  7. Serve: with crusty bread and a fresh ground pepper

IMPORTANT NOTE: See how runny the above soup-agna turned out?  Next time I’m going to, and I suggest you might as well, salt the zucchini first.  Sprinkle kosher salt over your zucchini slices, let sit draining for 10 minutes, then dry off with towels.  Lessen the moisture!  You could seed some of the tomatoes, but tomato “jelly” is filled with delicious umami and wonderful nutrition, so I’d advice against it.  But whatever you do, have fun. THAT is a rule.

Slimy Superfoods: West African Okra & Fish Stew

I love okra a lot.  I almost constantly crave the seductively silky slime that oozes between the bright bubble-like seeds of the tender pod.  There’s really nothing else like the texture of good, young, fresh, homegrown okra.  So when I saw it for $3.50 a pound at Greensgrow’s Saturday market (try $8 at some other farm standsI was all over it.  Nice combo of pretty green and purple varietals with dainty pods, which is good when you’re talking okra.  The longer the pod, the more likely it has grown woody.  These, though, looked perfect.

If my description of okra’s many fine qualities has you grimacing with disgust, keep in mind that it also happens to be a nutritional powerhouse, especially when it comes to healthy digestion.  The mucilaginous fiber contained in the pods is like compost for your poop.  It bulks, greases, detoxes, feeds your healthy probiotic gut bacteria…intestine heaven.  Look out for a blast of vitamin C, folate (a B vitamin that your red blood cells love), calcium and potassium too.  And with almost no accompanying calories, fat or cholesterol, this superfood is a golden ticket to health, weight loss, happiness, and, at $3.50 a pound, a fatter wallet too.

What better way to enjoy a superfood than with roots.  And those aren’t hard to come by for this little “finger” food.  Okra is a dietary staple from West Africa through the Sahara and across Asia to Japan.  It’s been part of local cultures for centuries…defining textural tastes (neba neba!)…thickening traditional dishes (gumbo’s got roots too)…supposedly even keeping Cleopatra’s skin free and clear of any unsightly acne.  Cool.

When it came time to turn my okra into dinner, I was so exhausted from lugging 40 lb bags of mushroom poop up three flights of stairs to my third story garden that all I could possibly take on was something relatively fast and super simple.  West Africa fit that bill.  Across this largely tropical coast, history and ecology have produced rich and entirely unique cuisines that also happen to rely on very few available resources and ingredients.  Simple food.  And sometimes fast.

Born was this uncomplicated and somehow deeply flavorful stew roughly based on the many varieties of ancestral gumbo cooked throughout West Africa, especially Senegal and Nigeria.  It was claimed that this may have been the best thing I have cooked in the past six months.  And not by me.  A great home for a great fruit.

NOTE: I would seriously encourage you to orchestrate some homemade stock into this dish.  As with all simple cooking, it’s the quality of the ingredients that truly matters.

West African Okra & Fish Stew

so easy, very healthy

serves 2 as a meal, 4 as not really a meal

  • shrimp stock (or any other stock) — homemade
  • pint or so okra, sliced into rounds — Greensgrow
  • kale (or any hearty green), roughly chopped — Fountain Farmers’ Market
  • white or yellow onion. roughly diced — Fountain Farmers’ Market
  • white stock fish (I used tilapia cause it’s what they had, but red snapper or mackerel might be better), rinsed and cubed — Whole Foods
  • peanut butter — Trader Joes
  • bay leaf — Whole Foods
  • cayenne (or red pepper flakes) — homeground
  • lime — El Zarape Grocery Store
  • large yam — Whole Foods
  1. Get started: in large soup/stock pot bring 4 cups stock, onion, bay leaf and okra to boil and let simmer for 10 minutes or until okra is softened but not mushy
  2. Meanwhile: boil yam until soft and then mash, with skin on
  3. Add other stuff: add 2ish tbs of peanut butter, a light dash of cayenne or red pepper and chopped greens
  4. Add fish: once greens are wilted and soft after about 5 minutes add fish cubes and continue to cook until just opaque, about 3 minutes
  5. Serve: squeeze lime over soup, serve with mash yam

Time & Place: Summer in Acadia with Maple Salmon, Sweet Corn, Pickled Blueberries, Crispy Corn Cake

After an epic trip from Philadelphia to Prince Edward Island earlier this month (which I shall chronicle in brief, perhaps, later on), I found myself inundated with an unabashedly excessive quantity of wild Maine blueberries.  How can one resist those quiet green baskets so reminiscent of a season?  Especially in the throes of ones last moments in a place so blessed with gifts of wild fleshy ovaries?  Every vacation season needs a coattail…

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Facing excess and reminiscing on summertime in Maine and the maritime stretching north, I decided to give these wild blueberries an end fitting of their birth.  They would have a dish in homage to their season and their home.  And as I happened to have a rapidly-freezer-burning Atlantic salmon filet and some freshly arrived sweet corn from here in our own uniquely endowed region on hand, an Acadian theme came together quite naturally.

Acadia was a seventeenth century French colony that stretched from Prince Edward Island down through the maritime provinces of Canada and into Maine.  Nowadays, we’re talking culture.  Acadia isn’t so much a region as a way of life that was borne of a place and a time.  Unfortunate victims of European political conflict grappling with the combination of French blood and illiteracy while they struggled to learn as much as possible from the local native populations, Acadians were a pridefully self-sufficient people living simply from their land and no one else’s.  Begrudgingly happy, I’d like to believe.

So I had some fun thinking about what might have made it to the table on a balmy mid-summer night in coastal Acadia.  I already had the blueberries.  And salmon.  And summer sweet corn (a secondary crop for most Acadian farmers).  Why not add a little maple?  And for some French flair, why not pickle those blueberries (side note: I don’t actually think pickling blueberries is French, it’s just always something I’ve wanted to do)?

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Out of nowhere, a delicious and almost wholly locally purchased meal emerged.  From the “French” tang of the pickled blueberry to the “three sisters” grit of a good corn meal cake to the richly traditional sweetness of the maple and the historical significance of the salmon, this hearty meal was reminiscent of a time and place I’d like to know better.

A note: I’ve decided that I want to feature WHERE all this tasty looking food comes from – because that’s just as if not more important than where it ends up.  I’ll be as honest as I can, integrity as a local food enthusiast to the wind.  So check out the ingredient list, and I’ll think you’ll find that it’s easier than it seems to live at least mostly off of your own land…or at least land that’s being respected elsewhere.

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Maple Salmon, Sweet Corn, Pickled Blueberries, Crispy Corn Cake

Can be gluten free.

Serves 2

  • salmon filet (skin-on) — Whole Foods
  • real dark maple syrup — purchased in Vermont
  • balsamic vinegar — my mother’s pantry…
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced — Savoie Organic Farm at Headhouse Farmers’ Market
  • an orange — Acme
  • mayonnaise (or vegan sub) — Whole Foods
  • 2 ears of corn — Fountain Farmers’ Market
  • 1 egg, separated — Fair Food Farmstand
  • milk (of any variety) — Whole Foods
  • yellow corn meal (can be gluten free) — Whole Foods
  • a few chives, finely chopped — my roof!
  • pickled blueberries *see below — purchased in Maine
  • baby arugula — Whole Foods (but soon will come from my roof!)
  • fresh goat cheese — Di Bruno Bros.
  1. Preheat oven: 400 degrees
  2. Whisk glaze: 1/4 cup maple syrup, 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, 1/2 the minced garlic, and zest from 1/2 an orange or so
  3. Prep salmon: place skin-side down in baking-safe dish, coat with layer of glaze, squeeze juice from 1/2 orange over
  4. Reduce glaze: begin heating the remaining glaze over low heat until thickened slightly and caramelized (you can pull from here to baste salmon while baking)
  5. Strip corn: standing the ears on end in bowls, scrape the goodness off the sides with a sharp knife, retaining the juices/pulp (set aside 1/2 cup pretty kernels)
  6. Bake salmon: place in oven and cook 10-15 minutes, basting two or three times
  7. Assemble batter: place 1/2 cup corn kernels in large mixing bowl (for texture), chop remaining kernels either by hand or in food processor until well macerated then add to bowl as well. add remaining garlic, 3 tbs corn meal, a few pinches good salt, 1 tbs milk and egg yolk. mix. beat egg white until fluffy (a stiff foam will form and your hand will hurt), then fold into mixture
  8. Cook cakes: in greased skillet (using non-stick spray or a small amount of vegetable/canola oil) form “pancakes” about 3-4 inches in diameter and cook until crisp on the outside but still soft on the inside and drain on towel
  9. Pull salmon: when salmon is cooked through, but not dry, and rested for a moment or two, use a fork to flake the filet. add mayonnaise and more glaze as needed to keep quite juicy and moist.
  10. Plate: lay corn cakes on or next to arugula, top with pulled salmon, sprinkle reserved corn kernels, pickled blueberries* and goat cheese (crumbled), top with snipped chives and drizzled reduced glaze.

*Pickled Blueberries

  • white vinegar — Acme
  • brown sugar — Whole Foods
  • honey — Green Aisle
  • kosher salt — Acme
  • blueberries — purchased in Maine
  • red onion — Culton Organics at Headhouse Farmers’ Market
  1. Whisk 2 tbs vinegar, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp brown sugar, few swizzles of honey…pour over 1 cup blueberries and how ever much thinly sliced red onion you’d like…let refrigerate overnight.