Big, bad zucchini

Cynthia Stone
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Those tiny zucchini in the grocery store are tender and versatile, but don’t dismiss the late-season honkers out of the garden. I was fortunate enough to be gifted with a couple last week and I put them to good use in two recipes that wouldn’t be nearly as delicious if made with their baby cousins.

If you’re unconvinced, just try one of these.

Egg-battered zucchini gratin

These tasty slices make a fabulous first course, a great vegetarian main, or a special side dish to go with a splurge like lamb chops or fresh halibut. If you’re thinking it’s odd not to dip the egged slices in bread crumbs or more flour, you’re right, but the light golden crust is exactly right.

You won’t believe how much of this people can eat, so it’s hard to count servings, but I’d serve this to 6 and hope for the best.

2 lb. medium to large zucchini

1 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper (divided)

2 cups flour (more or less as needed) for dredging

4 eggs

1/2 cup vegetable oil (or as much as needed for 1/4-inch depth in the pan)

1/2 cup chopped pitted green olives (optional)

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

Scrub zucchini and dry thoroughly. Slice crosswise into 1/2-inch rounds. Whisk half the salt and pepper into flour and dredge zucchini slices, shaking off the excess. Whisk remaining salt and pepper with eggs and dip floured zucchini slices into this mixture.

You don’t have to drain them but hold each slice up for a couple of seconds to let some of the egg drip away. Heat oil in a large non-stick frying pan and fry zucchini slices a few at a time until well browned. Crowding the pan will reduce the temperature of the oil and the coating on the zucchini will be soggy and greasy so you must be patient here. Place on a wire rack over a baking sheet while you fry the remainder.

Wipe any excess oil off the baking sheet and lay the zucchini slices on it, again in a single layer — try not to overlap or you’ll have some slices with no cheese and someone will be unhappy. Sprinkle olives over top. Divide Parmesan cheese among the slices — try and keep it on top of the zucchini. Bake at 375 F for 15 minutes or until cheese is golden brown and crispy. Squeeze lemon on top just before serving.

Spiced zucchini, eggplant and chickpea stew

One of the complaints I often hear about zucchini is that it weeps too much and makes the final dish soupy. That’s exactly what you want here, because the sauce depends on the liquid from the vegetables for its depth of flavour.

This is a wonderful potluck or buffet table choice because it is delicious piping hot but holds perfectly well right down to lukewarm. It is also a meal all by itself, especially if served with prepared couscous or a fragrant rice such as Jasmine or Basmati.

If I were doing that, I might consider stirring in a handful of currants — I might even soak them for a few minutes in a bit of hot water — and I’d definitely scatter some toasted sliced almonds over the top of each serving.

Cooking your own chickpeas does make a difference, but a large can is a perfectly reasonable shortcut. If you use canned, however, you must rinse and drain thoroughly — the gooey liquid has an unpleasant smell, taste and texture, probably more than any other variety of beans.

This is a large stew, plenty for six to eight people, and it freezes well.

1/2 cup dried chickpeas

2 fresh or 4 dried bay leaves

1 large yellow or white onion, chopped

1 large stalk celery, thinly sliced

1 tbsp. vegetable oil

1/2 tsps. Chinese 5-spice powder

1/2 tsp. each ground cinnamon, ginger, cumin, and turmeric

1/4 tsp. each nutmeg, preferably freshly ground, and cardamom

1 red pepper, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 whole bulb garlic, cloves peeled and thinly sliced

1 medium-to-large zucchini, about 1 lb.

1 large eggplant, about 1 lb.

1 14-oz. can diced tomatoes

1 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley

2 tbsp. chopped fresh mint leaves

Soak chickpeas in lots of cold water overnight in the refrigerator. Drain well and place in a heavy-bottomed pot. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, add bay leaves, cover and simmer about 1 hour or until tender. Drain and set aside.

In a Dutch oven or large pot, fry onion and celery in oil until wilted and lightly golden. Add 5-spice powder, cinnamon, ginger, cumin, turmeric, nutmeg and cardamom and fry another minute, until you can smell the spices. If mixture is completely dry add another bit of oil. Add red pepper and garlic and cook a couple of minutes, until mixture is fragrant.

Scrub the zucchini and cut into 1-inch cubes. Peel the eggplant if it is large and the skin seems tough; otherwise don’t bother.

Some people try and trim away the heavily seeded centre — up to you but I don’t. Cut into one-inch cubes. Stir zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, salt, pepper and cooked (or rinsed and drained canned) chickpeas into the pot and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat so it is barely burbling.

Cook, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Add a little water if the mixture gets too dry. If you prefer the vegetables more broken down, continue to cook up to 45 minutes. Add parsley and mint just before serving.

Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.

Organizations: The Telegram

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