Archive for July, 2008

Zucchini Happiness: Four Ways

I love this time of year. It’s often a bit warmer out, the kids are out of school, and zucchinis are in season. Although you can easily get zucchinis all year long, they just aren’t as fresh when shipped from hundreds of miles away (usually from Mexico) in the winter. As a fan of this versatile squash variety, I have been indulging in its seasonality, purchasing and eating it pretty much every week, all summer long. I prefer to buy zucchini at my local farmer’s market, where there are a range of varieties (light green, dark green, with a ribbed exterior, with yellow stripes, and the list goes on) that are usually just-picked and on the small side. They are also pretty easy to grow at home.

Zucchini is best barely cooked. Baked, fried, or simmered too long, and it looses its moisture content and becomes soggy. Al dente and raw zucchini recipes highlight the squash’s naturally subtle sweetness and crisp texture. It’s unfortunate that so many people overcook their vegetables anyway, but with zucchini, it is — as my mother would say — a sin because you lose its innate nutty sweetness. Following are three of my favorite recipes which I think capture the summer flavor of zucchini best. I hope you like them.

To get recipes, please go to Bay Area Bites.

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Making Pizza with Kids

About once or twice a month, we have pizza night at our house. The great thing about pizza night is that everyone gets to make their own pizza, and within reason, choose their own toppings. My daughters love making their pizzas and view the assembly more like making crafts than preparing food. There’s just something about handling dough that appeals to kids of all ages.

Pizza night is only as hard as you make it. You can prepare your own dough from scratch, which we’ve occasionally done, or you can just purchase pre-made dough from Trader Joe’s or a bakery and start from there. If you make the dough yourself, be sure to let your kids help you mix the yeast with the water as it fizzes nicely and provides a great opportunity for you to share a little science lesson about leavening. Oh, just look at that yeast rise!

When we have pizza night, I make a simple marinara sauce and then set out a range of different toppings, which might include fresh basil, mozzarella cheese, fresh tomatoes, black olives, prosciutto, sausage and mushrooms. Whatever I have on hand (again… within reason. As an Italian mother, chicken is just not allowed) is an option. We all then have a great time stretching the dough, patching holes, and making our own personal pizzas just the shape we want. When it’s winter, snowmen pizzas might get made. At Halloween, a pumpkin shape might appear. Anything is fine. After that, we lay on the sauce (or none, if that’s your preference) and toppings.

Pizza night is a great way to get your children engaged wit their food. Some of my favorite moments cooking are sitting around our kitchen counter and chatting with my daughters while they spread olives all over their pizza. So if you’re up for a family cooking night, I highly recommend making pizzas with your kids.

Some simple pizza-making tips

1. Heat your oven to 500 degrees. This will allow the dough to crisp nicely, but you need to keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn.

2. You can cook your pizzas on baking sheets or a pizza stone. Anything is fine.

3. It’s nice to set up the toppings in small bowls and set them up assembly-line style.

4. If you’re interested in making your own dough, here’s a simple recipe.

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Tomato, Cauliflower and White Bean Stew with Basil

Okay, I readily admit it. I’m a cauliflower fanatic. But why shouldn’t I be? It’s a vegetable readily available throughout most of the year, is delicious and easy to cook, and is full of cancer-fighting antioxidants. It’s also incredibly versatile. Last week seemed a great time to experiment with how to cook it. All throughout July we’ve been partaking of far too many hamburgers, flank steaks, grilled chicken and fish, and sausages. Feeling a bit overloaded with meat, I wanted to make a nice vegetarian meal one night, and, what did I find in my fridge? Cauliflower, of course! Here’s the recipe I threw together. You can make it either on the stovetop or roasted. If you’d like to do the latter, just put all the ingredients in the pan, mix, and roast on 400 degrees for about 15-20 minutes. Served over pasta or with a baguette, this is a great and satisfying dinner that is low in fat and very high in fiber, vitamins and taste.

Tomato, Cauliflower and White Bean Stew with Basil

Serves 2-4

Ingredients

1 small head of cauliflower

2 cloves garlic

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 tsp fresh oregano or 1 Tbsp dried

1 can white canelini beans drained (or 2 cups home-cooked white beans)

1 can stewed or diced tomatoes

1 small bunch of basil chopped

Parmesan cheese


Instructions

1. Wash and chop up cauliflower into 1-inch florets.

2. Heat oil in a large pan and add garlic.

3. Add cauliflower and saute for a few minutes. Add oregano along with salt and pepper to taste.

4. Add canned tomatoes and beans, stir, and then cover for about 3-5 minutes.

5. Add more salt and pepper to taste.

6. When cauliflower is al dente, add basil and serve with Parmesan cheese either over pasta or with bread.

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