Have you ever noticed that come a particular time toward the end of each summer, we become awfully vocal about zucchini? I’ll be sick if I eat another, we say, and I can’t possibly freeze one more loaf of zucchini bread. We offload it on unsuspecting neighbours in great heaps. This terrible, terrible glut of zucchini.
I really like the romantic story of zucchini over-abundance. But here’s the thing: I don’t know what on earth people are talking about! I’ve never been at the receiving end of a zucchini dump, and I happily scoop them three-for-a-dollar all summer into my basket. Perhaps next year, when I plant a garden, I will be revisiting this post in horror at my naiveté. I will be leaving bowtied zucchinis in mailboxes along the street. For now: bring on the summer squashes!
I never intended to post this recipe. It looked pretty unassuming in the pan, on my plate. It was a late Monday spent at work. I arrived home and yanked a zucchini from the fridge, contemplating what to do with it – a great, spindly green specimen – the kind that are long but not too thick and watery. I shredded it to toss in a pan with garlic and olive oil. Halfway through, I flung in a great heap of flame raisins. I dumped the lot over some fettuccine and over that grated some cheese. It looked bleak, all the green and brown and beige.
But this sauce! It was the best of every contrast. Soft and textural. Sweet and salty. Gentle and assertive. And made even better by this strange floral taste that the zucchini and raisins share. Since then, it’s all I think about. I shouted its greatness to Sameer: I made pasta with a zucchini/raisin sauce! SO good. I don’t know how people get sick of zucchini. It is so delicious. And last night over dinner, I near-demanded that Mere make it. (Speaking of: Rawlicious, have you been, Toronto? Name aside, the food is great! Try the pad thai and the brownies with coconut butter-vanilla icing.) Tonight, I made the sauce again, but this time with a yellow squash, and it was no less tasty.
While there’s still a glut of zucchini at your disposal, I hope you will make this sauce, too. I think you’ll agree that more zucchini is always better. But if not, please send your surplus vegetables my way.
I made this using green and yellow zucchini with equal success. I ate it one night over pasta, and another straight from the bowl dusted with cheese. Next time, I want to serve it cold, atop croutons, as an appetizer. It would also be a terrific side to fish or pork.
4 cups grated zucchini
1/3 cup flame raisins (sultanas or golden are fine, but flame raisins are extra absorbent because of their size)
3-4 medium cloves garlic, crushed
2 Tbsp olive oil
ample salt and pepper, to taste
Parmigiano-Regianno, for grating, to taste
Grate zucchini and crush garlic. Heat olive oil in a good-size saucepan over medium heat. Add zucchini and garlic and cook about five minutes, until the zucchini starts to break down. Add the raisins and salt. Continue cooking about 10 minutes total, until the zucchini is soft and the raisins plump. Add more salt and pepper, to taste. Serve over pasta, alone, on toasts or as a side. Top generously with grated Parmigiano-Regianno, or another hard cheese. This is equally good warm or cold.
Seasons of the year: spring, summer, fall, winter. And seasons of life: sister, daughter, aunt, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother.
Both arrive and leave before you have chance to notice. You never imagine that all this is going to change soon. Day by day it’s the same, and then you wake and it’s all gone and different and some pieces look familiar, but mostly not.
Last night I became an aunt. My sister a mother. My mom a grandmom. My grandmothers great-grandmothers.
My family is four sisters spread over an eight-year span. I’m the eldest. Sisters are a beautiful, difficult, impossibly rewarding thing, let me say. As we age the changes in our relationships are subtle but apparent. I’ve grown to appreciate more these women who are me slightly rearranged. I try harder to do good by them, knowing they will be with me all my life, friends unconditionally. Like no other, they have known me all my days, they have seen me through every season.
At moments it is so hard, being physically separated from my three sisters, who are together in Windsor. So much of the time I am jealous of them there, me here. I imagine them growing close, sharing days, living perfectly well without me. They live perfectly well without me. But proximity does not make family. Soon, Niki will head to university, Melina too. Less soon, we will each have families – whatever forms these families may take, wherever they may end up – we will gather for births and birthdays and markers of future seasons.
Our labels change and our seasons change.
Fruit trees are harbingers of the fleetingness. Last year, as peaches came and went, and I made peach-ricotta pizza to honour their visit. This year, I walked downstairs to a kitchen perfumed by another summer’s fruit. Knowing I’d soon be in Windsor – to hold a new nephew and to hug a new mother – I preserved them for later, to remember August 7, 2010 as something sweet and new.
(Makes about 4 cups)
I am a lazy preserver. I’d rather bag and freeze seasonal excess than get out bell jars and a pot of water big enough to bathe a newborn. So: I used some of this compote from the pan for a sweet-savoury French toast with herbes de Provence. I let the rest cool and ladled it into freezer bags by the cup, to enjoy later.
1 quart peaches (~20 medium)
3 Tbsp water
aromatics to taste – I used 1/2 a vanilla bean, scraped and a piece of cinnamon bark, but lemon zest, dried fruit, almond extract or nutmeg would be nice, too…
In a heavy-bottom saucepan, cook ingredients over medium heat until they reach a consistency you like. Keep in mind the fruit will thicken slightly as it cools. I cook at a low bubble for about 25 minutes until I have something more than a sauce, but less than a jam. Jar and refrigerate for up to a week, or let cool and freeze in one-cup portions to defrost mid-winter, when peaches are far away.
Before, my commute looked like this: exit front door, cross park on diagonal, walk two more blocks, cut through building courtyard, enter office, sit at desk. It was a 20-minute stroll, and one of the best parts of my morning.
Now, my commute involves a streetcar and subway train, and while it’s not all that bad – at least a week in – thirty minutes on public transit demands some light reading. (I say light reading, because I always scratch my head at someone poring over Ulysses or Derrida’s collected works on the subway. I hardly understand these things sitting still, let alone with a stranger’s armpit jostling my nose.)
This is how I found myself trolling the magazine section at Shoppers Drug Mart on Tuesday at 7:30 a.m., in search of something to match my new ride. Real Simple’s August 2010 issue ended up wedged against my fried-egg-and-arugula sandwich.
I’ll be honest, I’m at once fascinated and repulsed by the kind of effortless charmed world Real Simple presents as truth. Real Simple is like that friend whose perfectly edited life you’d love to hate, but can’t – because she really is just that fabulous. And don’t we all crop the messy bits from our photographs? Still, reading this magazine always leads to a loaded internal dialogue about how we frame our lives for one-another. Perhaps not what I was seeking for light subway reading.
To the task at hand – my praise to the editor who decided “Spectacular Three-Ingredient Recipes” should be this month’s lead cover story. As those who eat with me will attest, that I share recipes here at all is odd, because I never cook from recipes. I love to read cookbooks, and cobble together dishes from flavours I think make sense in my head. I’m fastidious about documenting combinations I’ve enjoyed at restaurants the moment I get home. But in matters of food, if not life, I’m pretty much an ambler – through markets and grocery stores – picking up what makes sense in that moment.
I loved these three ingredient recipes for many reasons. For me, it was a little idea map – how smart to create an icebox cake of pureed ricotta and melted chocolate, or douse balls of honeydew and torn basil with cava for a simple dessert. The feature would work just as well for someone who follows recipes to the letter. And because each is only three ingredients, there’s no fear of stray components left to die in the fridge.
A recipe for plum tart from this story has consumed me with thoughts of puff pastry for days. While puff pastry is relatively easy to make, here’s a secret: buying it pre-made is okay. It’s more than okay – it’s the right thing to do. The thing is, good store-bought pastry contains the same stuff - flour, butter, salt, water – as the homemade kind, but lends elegance in a snap! (And all without flour in your hair, a bonus ’round these parts.) I’ve resolved to keep a sleeve in the freezer at all times – who knows when inspiration (or dinner guests) will strike.
In the spirit of keeping this recipe-free, here’s what to do. Buy a sleeve of puff pastry and two or three ingredients that sing together. Try to avoid anything with a high water content (it’ll make the dough soggy), and you’ll want at least one ingredient to be assertive, as puff pastry is a neutral backbone.
- quince paste + prosciutto
- ricotta + olive oil + radicchio
- blueberry + orange zest
- mascarpone + prune + hazelnut
- sliced pear + dark chocolate
- sweet pea + pancetta
- roasted pepper + goat cheese
- asparagus + fried egg
- grapes + marzipan
- cherry tomato + anchovy + black olive
- caramelized onion + bacon
…the options are many – other suggestions?
Thaw the pastry and unfold onto buttered or parchment-lined baking sheet. Score the edges to make a one-inch border. Arrange toppings inside the border and bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for about 30 minutes, until things look puffy and golden and right. Tarts are good hot or cold, today or the next, with company or alone over the sink, warm or straight from the fridge.
I’ll just say it: if I never have to walk into another grocery store again, I will be okay.
Don’t get me wrong, I love grocery shopping more than the average person. I’ve been told by my housemate that it’s a regular anthropological study, watching me in a produce section. I fawn over the vegetables, make notes, and roam around haphazardly taking in the stock. I pick up apples one by one, run my thumb over their skins with care, much as I imagine a goodly squirrel treats his walnuts. Eventually, I gather a bagful of acceptable specimens. I pull heads of lettuce off the shelf until I find the prettiest and frilliest of the lot. Max has taken to giving me a head start when we shop together: we usually cross paths somewhere around the preserves and honey. I can’t help it. Grocery stores are nice places.
But it’s late-March in southern Ontario. I’ve finally tucked my parka away in the closet until next year. Parka-less, I’m stuck in the grocery store, under the fluorescent lights and the fake umbrella tree in its entryway. See, Toronto’s many markets won’t be open for another month or so. Count on your fingers with me: this is almost five straight months that I’ve been seeing Whole Foods. We’re entering a long-term relationship. Each year, I forget my city’s long winter. I expect a fling with the grocery store.
There’s been some strange behaviour on my part. Take today, for instance: I grocery shopped on my lunch hour. I efficiently toured the aisles. On autopilot, I packaged kale and chard and a whole bag of alphonso mangoes, yielding and begging to be peeled. My favourite produce man brought me a bouncier bunch of cilantro from storage (he’s started to anticipate my requests, after all these dates). Breakfast tea, olive bread, preserves went into my basket. Twenty minutes later, I was back in the sunshine walking to the office.
Hoisting the bag over my shoulder, I recoiled. What on earth had I become? I was – dare I say it – an efficient grocery shopper.
As it goes, efficiency has taken over my dinner table as well. A steady stream of avocados parade through my kitchen. They ripen and get squished in warm wheat tortillas, slathered in the tangiest Greek yogurt I can find, sprinkled with cumin and sea salt and cracked pepper, heated through ’til the wrapper is spotted with golden bubbles. Which – if not inventive – isn’t terrible, once you taste it.
Come May, my neighbourhood market will be back, and I’ll be back to asking a million questions about asparagus and radishes. I’ve started a countdown. Until then, efficiency will tide me over.
Warm Avocado Roll
This is hardly a recipe at all, but it is delicious and takes two minutes from pan to plate. I’ve decided, in my many samples consumed since February, that it’s just the cure for grocery store blues. Cumin – in one-sixteenth teaspoons – it’s magical stuff!
1/2 very ripe avocado, sliced
2 Tbsp whole milk yogurt (thick Greek varieties work best, here)
a sprinkle of coarse salt, a shake of ground cumin, a turn of black pepper
1 small whole wheat tortilla
Place the tortilla shell in a nonstick or greased pan over medium-high heat. Line the middle with avocado slices and dollops of yogurt. Sprinkle with salt, cumin and pepper. Pull up the sides and squish down so it all sticks together. Let it heat through. Eat, over the sink. Repeat for dinner until the markets finally open, wherever yours may be.