Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Zucchini Escabeche

Zucchini is BACK!

And I get a ball zucchini. This have tasty, sweet flesh on the outside, BUT, are filled with the foamy, seedy, bitter pith. So the little rounds of zucchini baked or sauteed and married with parmesan are out. What to do?

A new cooking method comes to the fore. Escabeche. This is a relative of the too-popular ceviche that took over the cooking shows last year. But instead of using acid to "cook" the food, escabeche preserves cooked food with the acid.

So, (after a few tries)....

Zucchini Escabeche

zucchini (1 big-ish, or 2 smallish)
1 purple onion - frenched (that is, sliced into thin wedges - about the width of a pinky)
1 sweet onion - also frenched
what ever tender herbs are at hand (I have parsley, basil, oregano, and used a little tarragon)
salt & pepper to taste
rice vinegar
white wine or white balsamic vinegar
lime juice (optional)
white wine (optional)
Open your zucchini and scoop out the spongy, seedy center.
Trim off the stem, blossom end, and any rough spots on the skin.
Thinly slice the zucchini, sprinkle and toss with 1/2 tsp of salt.
Leave to drain for about 30 minutes.

Rinse off the salt thoroughly, and layer in a colander. Mercilessly press out excess moisture with a few layers of paper towel topped by a tea/kitchen towel.

Set aside.

Heat a about 1/8th - 1/4th inch of olive oil in a wide saute pan (amount depends on the size of pan) over med high heat.

Fry the zucchini in the oil in batches. And REALLY fry it. Get it brown around the edges. It removes moisture and gives the zucchini a lovely sweet flavor, and a tender, fluffy texture with crispy edges.

*You can just salt and eat the zucchini this way, there will ALWAYS be more zucchini*

As they fry, drain them on paper towels on a rack.
When you are done with the zucchini, saute only the purple onions until they are softened, and some have brown edges.
Place all the cooked vegetables, and the raw sweet onions, and a small - medium handful of chopped herbs to a non-reactive container (glass or plastic, or in a pinch, stainless steel). Begin by adding about 1/2 C of vinegar - about half rice vinegar and half white wine/white balsamic.
Add a good splash of lime juice and/or white wine if you are using them.
Stir in a few grinds of pepper.

Time to finish by your own palate. The only way you will eat this is if it is Tasty.
So start to add salt, pepper and acids to taste.
This means TASTE!
If it is TOO acid, fear not. Pour out about 1/2 the liquid and replace with some white wine. And then begin to adjust again.

This is awesome over rice & such.
It is great with thick white fish (halibut, cod etc.)
And was born to be eaten with chicken or veal or...
White beans stewed in chicken broth.

And the leftovers went so very well with a tortilla with jack cheese and the ends of the chicken!

The Radish and the French Laundry

As an aspiring cook book writer... I am STILL in search of the best thing to do with radishes that does not make them a garnish (maybe they always will be...) But at the French Laundry - that mecca of food rooted in Napa Valley - I went there in Mid-June thinking THAT would be a fabulous time to experience the produce of that epically fertile area. I had wonderfully lush food, and all beautifully prepared - but so much of it was Not Local. It was lush but well, almost cliche lush. Oysters, caviar, scallops, tuna, duck.... I'm in Napa Valley and California in mid June... I want Late Spring Bounty. I get local butter, carrots and radishes. EVERYTHING else is from somewhere else.
BUt while enjoying myself, I am not to be daunted. What?, I think to myself will the French Laundry do with a radish?

As someone who strives to make the produce of the local farmers market, nearby farm and the small garden accessible to the average busy person with kids, the *Radish* is a bit of a challenge. Even the most kale eating, sunflower seed gulping tomato biting littler person is wary of a radish after the first bite. It is fiery for little tongues, and even big ones too. But if they could find a way to make it magical at the French Laundry, I would soldier on.

It came out lightly poached (or cooked sous vide in broth) and sliced paper thin.

The solution at the French Laundry to the radish was to use it (sparingly) as a garnish. I confess, this disappointment colored the rest of the meal (as did the large pieces of duck and tuna - while prepared simply and beautifully, they SERIOUSLY lacked in imagination. I can do simple and beautiful at home. If I pay that much, I deserve whimsy and complexity I choose NOT to engage in in my own kitchen.)

So the radish remains in limbo, and I must continue to experiment.