Friday, August 1, 2014

Zucchini & Charred Cherry Tomato Suace

HELLO! Zucchini.

Yup, it is THAT time.  Good news it is HOT here in the great Spongerific NorthWest.  Questionable news - here comes the zucchini.  I confess, I had long been a zucchini avoider, a “barely-tolerater”, someone who would work around or through it, but not enjoy it… until recently.

The main problem was that I’d been dealing with grocery store zucchini for years. Those zucchini can be bland, potentially fibrous flavor pits.  If not used properly they can suck the savor out of an amazing range of flavorful ingredients - stocks, Parmesan cheese, herbs.
I had never understood why, other than obligation , someone would, on purpose, voluntarily pay for and eat zucchini.

Then - I started getting farm fresh zucchini in my weekly veggie box I had to confront this food nemesis and figure out how to make it good.

It turns out... the secret is how much you cook it.  Zucchini is one of those special things that can get cooked both too much and too little.

When zucchini is tiny and tender and sweet and crunchy raw, it should be barely cooked – merely charred on the outside, and the inside should be sweet and crunchy, almost cucumber-like.  When these small sweet ones are cooked to softness, it is a pity.  So char them and eat them crunchy – that was my first revelation.

The second revelation was the bigger zucchini.  They still have that sweetness, but it is buried and must be coaxed out.  When not cooked long enough the large amounts of water makes the cooked zucchini somewhat bland and bitter.  Incompletely cooked eggplant suffers from this as well.  But that is another column for another day.

The answers for larger zucchini: cut them smaller – 

and use a cast iron or other heavy pan. 

And cook them longer. 
Cook it until it gets brown!
You've cooked off enough water
and brought out the sugar.
The results are almost unexpected; and it is the key to a deep, delicious zucchini tomato sauce you will be proud to share.

On the other hand - TOMATOES

Despite my whining, this year there are great tomatoes in Seattle.  And this year - it looks like there is going to be an amazing season!

Grow tomatoes? I confess,
totally beyond me.  MAJOR thanks to
Helsing Junction Farms of Chehalis, WA  &
Garden Treasures of Arlington, WA
And the acid, sweetness and flavor of a good tomato are more than a match for a zucchini.  IN FACT there is a whole category of Mediterranean cooking dedicated to the marriage of the two ingredients.

They also include garlic, oil, onions, pepper and/or eggplant.  Why fight such a delicious tradition?

Zucchini and Charred Cherry Tomato Sauce


zucchini – 2 banana sized
cherry tomatoes – 1 pint (2 cups, same thing)
garlic – 2 cloves finely chopped or pressed
red wine – ½ C
salt – to taste
oil – 1.5 tsp & 1.5 tsp & 2 tsp
water – as needed

Optionals – tasty bread to char or delicious noodles or polenta, and excellent mozzarella (worth it this time).


heavy sauté pan – cast iron is best for the charring
2nd sauté pan (optional – but it allows you to work on the two vegetables at the same time)
lid or other splatter guard (optional)
cutting board
spatulas or stirring spoons


Rinse off the zucchini, rubbing off any prickly hairs.  Trim off the ends, and cut the sides to square off the sides.  Cut into 2 or 3 rectangles so each zucchini is manageable.

You are going for diced cubes.

Slice each rectangular box into slices thinner than your pinky (about 4), tip this stack on its side, and do it again so you get sticks.  Now cut these sticks into slices so you get cubes (or something like it).  The most important part is that you have small pieces about the same size and shape so they all cook pretty quickly.  The perfect cube will come with practice.

Smash or chop the garlic and rinse the tomatoes.


(Note: if you have two sauté pans, cook both vegetables at the same time – and use the heavier pan for the tomatoes.  Otherwise, just follow the recipe.  Please don’t “throw it all in together” or the browning will not happen and it will be a very different sauce.)

Heat 1.5 tsp of oil in your heavy sauté pan over medium-high heat with a small piece of zucchini.  When the test piece of zucchini is sizzling, add half of the zucchini and about ½ tsp of salt.  Let the zucchini sit and cook for about 3 minutes – until a few pieces are starting to get a little browned.  Stir the zucchini and continue to cook it until the pieces are getting browned again – and so on.  If brown is sticking to the pan – this is good, and part of the plan.

When the zucchinis thoroughly browned and soft, add ¼ of the wine to dissolved the brown stuck on stuff.  If you need more liquid, add ¼ of water.  Keep cooking until most of the brown is dissolved.  Remove this zucchini sauce from the pan and repeat with the second half of the zucchini.  If the tomatoes go here, wipe out any large amounts of zucchini, and move on to the tomatoes.

For the tomatoes, heat up the last 2 tsp of oil over high heat.
When the oil shimmers – about 4 minutes – add the cherry tomatoes whole.  Let them sit for two minutes.  Shake the pan to roll the cherry tomatoes.  Let them cook until they char and burst.

Add the garlic, about a ½ tsp of salt, and cook it with the tomatoes until it mellows and the juice thickens. 
Turn the heat down to low.  Add the zucchini mixture back in, stir it together and taste for salt.  Add a little carefully until it tastes just right.

Sauce ready!

I tried eating this Charred Tomato and Zucchini sauce on some grilled bread
OW! That bread is hot!
Rub the grilled bread with a cut, raw garlic clove
for extra special flavor!

Mmmmm.... spiffy mozzarella over the sauce
on grilled bread.

Also - try it on some noodles.

 Wow, that is incredibly good!
(Oh yeah... and if you make a double recipe - this freezes and captures summer flavor!)

No comments: