Nosh: Baked Zucchini Coins

Note: However much I tell you to make of this dish…double it. George and I used two medium-sized zucchini when we made this, and had only a teeny tiny little bit left over, which he ate all of the next day and I didn’t get any and I’m still pouting about it because I wanted more. That is all. Time for business.

Ahhhh, zucchini. It’s one of those vegetables. It can be kind of bland, kind of squishy, is often overly-dunked in butter to the point of being slick. And it is everywhere, as it is force-grown year round (though it’s best in summer…grilled, with some fresh herbs to finish, but I digress) so it almost becomes overlooked. Zucchini is that song you’ve heard a thousand times and aren’t quite sick of, but meh, it’s OK; it’s that perfunctory sandwich you eat at your desk because you need to eat so you don’t die. That’s often how I feel about zucchini’s contribution to the vegetable world.

There are notable exceptions to zucchini’s meh standing. Happily, this is one. As an added bonus, it’s pretty easy. Slicing the zucchini is the hardest part. That and the waiting, because they do take about a half an hour or forty minutes to cook. Here’s what you need:

  • 2 (at least) zucchinis
  • 1-2 Tablespoons your choice of flour (rice, AP, chickpea…whatever you prefer)
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon thyme (or herb/herbs of your choice*)
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper/Aleppo pepper, entirely optional
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • Olive oil cooking spray

 Preheat the oven at 350°.  Spray baking sheets with cooking spray. Take zucchinis and slice them fairly thin; aim for slices that are about the width of a quarter (or a Euro, if you’re more familiar with cash across the pond). If you let the slices sit and they start to weep (release the water in their cells), blot them. If they don’t start to weep, carry on!

Toss the veggies in a mixing bowl. Sprinkle them with thyme, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper. *Or, use whatever combination of herbs you’d like. Ground fennel and onion? Go for it. Herbes de Provence? Sounds yummy. Garlic powder and oregano? Molto bene! It’s your kitchen, it’s up to you. Toss the zucchini slices with the herbs, then add the flour (full disclosure: I used rice flour here) and toss again. You just want the flour to lightly adhere to the zucchini; in no way do you want a thick coating.

Right.

Right.

Lay the zucchini slices in a single layer on your oil-sprayed baking sheets. Redistribute any seasonings that stayed in the bottom of your mixing bowl, onto the zucchini, because who wants to waste anything that tastes good? Once this is done, spray the up-sides of the zucchini with cooking spray, so both sides of it have a nice, but light, oven-crisping-friendly layer of oil.

Ready to roll.

Ready to roll.

NOTE: Some of the slices you see before you are kind of thick. These will still be delicious, they just won’t get super-crispy. I admit that crispy = even yummier, but you’ll hardly suffer if you end up with some thicker slices.

Put this in the oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until they’re done, flipping the slices every ten minutes. You’ll end up with an insanely addictive zucchini side dish that looks kind of like this.

I'd eat it.

I’d eat it.

We served these with herb and cheese grits and a green salad, and OMG yes, they were fan-fricking-tastic. George and I love us some grits but we couldn’t decide which of the dishes were the star of the dinner show, which (if you’re going to have problems) is a great problem to have. We could have doubled the amount of zucchini we made and not gotten sick of eating it; next time we make these coins, we’ll make extra for sure. This is an easy, tasty, not-your-run-of-the-mill approach to a common and often sadly under-loved vegetable. Try this dish and let your love run deep.

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Nosh: Tortellini Soup

You know when you go away from your regular routine…say, you go on vacation, perhaps, to Myrtle Beach for a week.  And you completely fall out of sync with your own routine because you’re on vacation so who wants to be practical…so sure I’ll have the nachos and beer for lunch and burgers and fries for dinner every night!  Woo hoo!  The laws of food do not affect me!  I am impervious to the effects of excess!

Let me just say: It seems?  That I am, indeed, pervious.

When George and I get home from almost anywhere that generates a change in our habits and creates an opportunity for excess–a vacation, a long weekend out of town, an overnighter at a wedding, whatever–we generally come back craving something that will be a) filling and satisfying and b) crammed with non-fried vegetables.  Tortellini soup has become our go-to dish to get us back on the track of our regular, generally healthy eating habits.

This soup is wonderfully flexible and can be a device for using those sad-looking bits of vegetables that have started to wilt in your fridge after you’ve been away for a few days (as all soups can be) though I confess I am in love with the version I bring to you today.  So yes, you can (of course!) put in whatever you’d like but I recommend sticking to this version if you’re so inclined.  Here’s what you need:

  • 1 or 2 glugs of olive oil in the bottom of your soup pot
  • 3 white mushrooms, cut in a small dice
  • 1 sweet onion, diced
  • 2-3 medium carrots, sliced
  • 3 (or more!) cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 zucchini, cut in half-moons
  • a few large handfuls (sorry, that’s the best measurement I’ve got) of kale (or spinach or whatever leafy greens you prefer)
  • 1 – 9oz. package fresh tortellini (hahahaha, no I don’t make my own)
  • 1 – 35oz. can whole tomatoes (when tomatoes aren’t in season and are mealy, or you want to make this as easy as possible, do yourself a tremendous favor and use canned)
  • 4 cups vegetable broth (or chicken broth, if you’re not keeping it vegetarian), plus additional water to reach desired consistency
  • 3-4 bay leaves
  • 1 healthy teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 healthy teaspoon rosemary
  • red chili flakes to taste
  • a goodly pinch of nutmeg (freshly grated if you’ve got it)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • extra-virgin olive oil and shredded parmesan, for garnish (optional)

Get your soup pot heating and when it’s warm, add olive oil to said pot.  Dice mushrooms into about a half-inch dice, throw them in the hot oil and grind in a little fresh pepper.  Leave them alone for the next five minutes.  DO NOT TOUCH THEM.  Your objective is to get them caramelized, and if you stir them around they’ll just steam and won’t brown.

Get those 'shrooms going in the bottom of your pot.

I repeat: DON’T TOUCH THEM!

While they’re cooking, chop the onions, garlic and carrots.  You’re going to want the onions and carrots to roughly match the size of the mushrooms as they meld into one delicious flavor base for your soup.  Mince the garlic, of course, because who wants to bite into a half-inch dice of garlic?  Not me, unless I’m prepared for it.  Anyway.

There we go.

There we go.

Once the mushrooms have browned unmolested in your soup pot, start adding your veggies.  Add the onions first and let them saute for 3-5 minutes, until they soften and start to turn golden. Then add the carrots and garlic. Let them cook together for another 2-3 minutes.  While the veggies are all cooking together you can measure out your herbs. I tossed the dried fennel and rosemary in a mortar and pestle and crushed them lightly to help release their flavors, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to.  The herbs just won’t taste quite as strong.

I put the bay leaves in the mortar and pestle for ease of photography. Don't crush them.

I put the bay leaves in the mortar and pestle for ease of photography. Don’t crush them.

Once the mushrooms, carrots, onions and garlic have cooked together for a few minutes, add the herbs (and the crushed red pepper to taste, if you’re using it), a decent pinch of salt and a few shakes of pepper.  Let them saute for another few minutes; by this point the bottom of the pot should be developing a nice fond, which is the brown residue from the veggies (fond is a French term, it means “foundation”, get it?)

While your veggies and fond are cooking, manhandle your tomatoes. I mean, really, get ready to stick your mitts into them.  Crush them to bits. Yes, you could buy pre-crushed tomatoes but I just…the more other people process your food for you, the less it tastes like the thing it is.  So you get your hands dirty, so what?

Your hands: the best tomato crushing tools on the planet.

Your hands: the best tomato crushing tools on the planet.

I mean, I’m not suggesting you stick your (impeccably clean, to start this job) hands in a bucket of acid.  They’re just tomatoes.  You’ll recover.

Once they’re smooshed (which should really take you no more than a minute or two) check your veggies, and make sure you look at how brown it’s getting on the bottom of the pan.  I ended up taking this fond exactly as far as it would go before it started to burn, which is great but can make a person a little nervous.

Fifteen seconds longer and it would have started to burn.

Fifteen seconds longer and it would have started to burn.

If you don’t want to let it get quite this brown, I totally understand.  But.  Once the fond is the color you want, add your beautifully crushed tomatoes and start to scrape up the fond from the bottom of the pot, because it is jam-packed with deliciousness.  Let that all simmer together for a minute, then add the stock and water to get it to a soupy consistency.  You can add a little more water than you originally might think you need.  The soup is going to cook down and you’re also going to cook the tortellini right in the pot, so an extra shot of water in preparation isn’t a bad thing.

Looking more like soup all the time.

Looking more like soup all the time.

Bring this to a boil and then let it simmer for twenty minutes or so. If you’ve just gotten in from a long trip, this is a great time to empty out a suitcase or put away toiletries or log into Facebook to see what’s going on.  Slice your half-a-zucchini into half-moons.

These?  Don't dice. Half-moons are funner.

These? Don’t dice. Half-moons are funner.

Toss ’em in the pot.  Let them go for another fifteen minutes or so.  Open your package of tortellini and chop your kale into manageable bites.

When you've got this ready, dinner is mere minutes away.

When you’ve got this ready, dinner is mere minutes away.

You want the zucchini to soften but you don’t want it to cook into an unrecognizable mush, so really only let that go for 10 minutes before you add the tortellini.  The pasta will cook quickly; it only takes about three minutes for it to go from this

Scrawny raw tortellini.

Scrawny raw tortellini.

To this

Mmmm! Nice plump pillows of cheesy pasta.

Mmmm! Nice plump pillows of cheesy pasta.

Once your pasta reaches this stage, add the greens, which will wilt within moments of being in the hot soup.  Add the pinch of nutmeg, or give it a few passes with a nutmeg grater, if that’s what you use.

Of course I use a nutmeg grater.

Of course I use a nutmeg grater.

Because it is true: nutmeg + bitter greens = true love.

Once your greens are fully wilted, it’s SOUP TIME!

This soup has become our go-to, full-on comfort, I am home and cooking how I want to and done eating nachos for a while-type soup.  You can go from unprocessed to done in about an hour, and much of that is unattended, so you’re not tied to your stove and can take care of the business of coming home from a trip while your dinner cooks.  And maybe detox with a little herbal tea (I recommend the hibiscus).  Serve this with a nice grainy piece of bread and a green salad and you’ve got a hearty, savory, satisfying way to get yourself back into the healthy groove.

And if you have a great back porch to eat this on on a summer night?  Bliss.

And if you have a great back porch to eat this on on a summer night? Bliss.

This is a recipe I intend to make for the rest of my cookin’ life.  I hope you enjoy it!

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