Monday, September 26, 2005

Newspaper - September - FRENCH ZUCCHINI LOAF WITH TOMATO BASIL SAUCE

This column appeared in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix on 26 September 2005

When my husband agreed to marry me, he insisted on a prenuptial agreement with just one demand – that I would never plant more than six zucchini at a time. That was a tough contract to sign. Zucchini is my favourite summer vegetable. It grows abundantly with little fuss, the flowers are beautiful and it’s very versatile in the kitchen.

I had just passed the first summer in my own house, and I must admit I went overboard with the zucchini. I had no fewer than a dozen zucchini plants in my little garden. Even if I ate zucchini three meals a day, I could not keep up with that level of production. I offered zucchini to all my friends. We would be at a party or a café and the conversation would go something like this:

"Would you like a zucchini?"
"Sure."
"Great, I’ll just go get a few from the trunk of my car."

My husband-to-be suggested I just leave the trunk open and with any luck, someone would steal them. One day, I found a newspaper headline stuck it to the fridge. It read: "That’s not a dead body, that’s a zucchini."

I signed on the dotted line. Since then, I have focused on quality not quantity by finding new and wonderful ways to make the most of my limited zucchini crop. A trip to France was a great eye-opener. In France, they eat the zucchini flowers. What better way to limit production than by lopping off the source of the fruit before it gets a head start? The French batter the flowers and fry them in hot oil. Sometimes, they stuff the flowers first with a mixture of breadcrumbs, herbs and cheese. I like to pick the young zucchini when they are as thin as a finger and the flower is still attached, and deep-fry them together. The flowers are so bright and sunny, I feel happier just to have swallowed them.

The end of summer is bittersweet for me. My garden is abundant with good things to eat, but there is so little time to enjoy it. Everything needs to be picked at once, before it over-ripens or freezes. Or, in the case of zucchini, grows to the size of Shaquille O’Neal’s shoes.

This year, I am preserving as much as possible by freezing or canning. I am doing this because I have pledged to eat nothing but Saskatchewan foods in my own home for one full year. I began in April, and it has been amazingly easy so far. There has been abundant fresh produce (from my garden and the Farmers’ Market) and local fruit (apples, cherries, saskatoons and other berries), but what about February? If I want to eat this winter, I better be prepared.

My freezer is now full, and I’ve billeted out some food to the freezer of a friend. Just last week, I canned a peck of pears from a tree on Temperance Street. Now, if only I could find a way to save zucchini flowers for a blustery winter day... If ever I discover a zucchini the size of a small boat, I know what to do with it. This recipe comes from a French tourist brochure. It’s good on its own or with a sauce like the one that follows. (For more zucchini recipes go to: homefordinner.blogspot.com.)

FRENCH ZUCCHINI LOAF
one big zucchini
4T flour
3 eggs slightly beaten
1 clove garlic chopped
1 handful parsley chopped
pinch of nutmeg
150g gruyere cheese

Peel the zucchini, scoop out the seed pith, and cut into chunks. Steam the zucchini until it begins to soften. Mix everything together and pat into a buttered bread loaf pan. Bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes. (I like to brown the crust under the broiler.) Serve in thick slices.

Tomato Basil Sauce: Warm a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet. Add a chopped clove of garlic until fragrant. Add 2 or 3 well-chopped tomatoes. Cook slowly until the juices evaporate and the tomatoes break down into a sauce. Add 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh (or 1/2 tbsp. dried) basil. Season with salt and pepper.

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