Sunday, November 7, 2010

Second Time Around: Baby Zucchini

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         I am not a big squash fan, but I do like the little finger-size zucchini and golden squash that are the first of the season—and, if we are lucky enough to have a final burst, the last. This year was such a year: a long, dry, very warm (OK, hot) summer. As a result, everything was early, and many of the things I enjoy most when they are small came along twice. Recently I bought some nice little zucchini of my favorite size, well under 1” diameter, from a local couple selling at least a dozen varieties of squash, mostly winter ones, laid out on tables. The little zucchini were snuggled in a basket like babies, which of course they were.

Given that squash is not a preferred vegetable, I tend to be as finicky about how I eat them as I am about their size. I like them split and grilled with olive oil, or stuffed with seasoned mashed potatoes and served next to a steak. When I lived in California, a coworker used to make a salad with zucchini, avocado, and cream cheese that was very nice, and that I still make a variation of occasionally. Just after I bought these zucchs I was looking through my newly acquired Oaxaca al Gusto cookbook by Diana Kennedy, which reminded me of another favorite way to cook them from Kennedy’s first book, Cuisines of Mexico: with cream, cinnamon, tomato, and chile. I had some of the high-fat cream sold at the farmers market —as it turns out, the season’s last. But I did not have anything suitable in the house to serve a zucchini side dish with, and I had been craving a pizza. So I made a kind of deconstructed version of Kennedy’s squash dish, a cream-zucchini pizza in the Mexican style, using the cinnamon- and chile-enhanced cream as the sauce and topping it with pan-fried zucchini.

Zucchini and Reduced Cream Pizza

Pizza Dough
1 ½ cups flour
½ tea salt
2 T olive oil
½ cup warm water
2 tea yeast
Dissolve the yeast in the water. Put the other ingredients in the food processor, and add the water/yeast while the motor is running until it forms a ball; let it run another 15 seconds. Remove and let rise til double, about 3 hrs. Punch down and one aside, covered, for about 15 minutes before using.

Cinnamon Cream Sauce
1 cup heavy cream, preferably unhomogenized  
1 fresh, 4” piece stick cinnamon
½ small chile Serrano, seeded, or ¼ tea Tabasco
¼ tea salt
1/8 tea freshly grated nutmeg
Put all the ingredients in a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and cook until the cream is reduced by half. Turn off the heat and let sit a few minutes, or until the cream has a pleasant but not too strong cinnamon flavor. Remove the cinnamon and discard.

Zucchini Topping and Assembling the Pizza
About 4 small zucchini, trimmed and sliced ¼” thick
1 small clove garlic, finely chopped
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Torn fresh arugula or basil
1/4 cup chopped walnuts or pine nuts (optional)
¼ cup freshly grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 450F.
In a large frying pan, quickly sauté the zucchini slices with the garlic in a little olive oil, turning them, over high heat until they are lightly browned on both sides. Sprinkle them lightly with salt and pepper.
Roll the dough out into a 12” round and place on a pan sprinkled with cornmeal. Spread the cream on the dough; top with the zucchini; and sprinkle with the nuts, cheese, and arugula. Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes, until lightly colored and somewhat bubbly.


Jane said...
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john at PVD said...

Me too, not a fan of Squash but Zucchini is an exemption. I also Like baking them with potatoes and tomatoes plus cheese on top.