Summer Soups – Roasted Corn and Chilled Zucchini

Wasn’t August delightful? For those of us with access to fresh vegetables like corn, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers and more, this late summer time feels special.

New recipes, of course, can take some time to explore. And of course, the past few weeks of August were a bit packed for me. Let’s just say there were a fair number of tomato sandwiches. When I did some cooking prep for the first time in awhile, I was so rusty I even sliced my finger while chopping onions!

I was faced with the reality that if I wanted to do my work, complete my final class assignment with any degree of quality, fulfill other obligations, AND prepare myself healthy meals, they were going to have to be fairly simple. The corn soup I made with leftover roasted corn? Not so simple. The chilled zucchini soup I made the following week was more reasonable. Though you might guess which was more delicious in this case. I’ll describe both here, in case they appeal to you.
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Starting with the zucchini soup: the recipe has wonderfully few ingredients, all of which I could get my hands on at home. I had almost forgotten about the garden zucchini in my fridge, which I acquired in a trade with my mom; she snagged some of my own garden tomatoes.

Chilled Zuchinni Soup
Adapted from the James Beard Foundation’s Isabela Wojcik

2 large zucchini
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion
, sliced thinly
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, minced and divided
scant 1/4 teaspoon red chili pepper flakes
1 Cup stock
, chicken or vegetable
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 Cup plain greek yogurt
(or other dairy such as sour cream or milk)

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Mise en place! Prep onion and oregano. To prepare the zucchini, trim, split in half lengthwise and thinly slice into half-moons.
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While slicing the zucchini, a couple of things dawned on me: my food processor could probably do this even faster, and the slices would be great for ratatouille. Next time.
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In a medium sauce or sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium. Add the sliced onion, half of the oregano (about 1/2 teaspoon), and red pepper flakes.

Careful with the red pepper flakes.

Careful with the red pepper flakes.


Cook until the onion softens and becomes translucent.
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Drop in the zucchini and cook through for several minutes, on lower heat. As soon as it starts to look dry, pour in the the stock.
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Let the mixture cook until the zucchini is tender and the stock is boiling. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Take off the stove and transfer to a blender or food processor. Purée.
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Add yogurt and blend. Taste and add more salt.
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Chill, and then serve with other seasonal foods and a hunk of bread. You could also eat it warm. I won’t judge.
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Roasted Corn Soup with Guacamole and Bacon
Adapted from Epicurious, Lourdes Castro

Soup
3 Cups of corn kernels, I used 2 Cups from 3 ears of leftover roasted corn and 1 Cup frozen, divided
1.5 Cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 to 1 Cup water
, as needed, for extra liquid
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove
, minced
1/2 onion, chopped
1 jalapeno, stemmed and chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Topping
1 slice of bacon, cooked until crisp (separate)
1/2 Cup roasted corn kernels (from above)
1/2 jalapeno, stemmed, seeded and chopped
1/2 avocado
1 Tablespoon shallot or red onion
, minced
zest and juice from 1/2 lime
Cilantro, if you have it!

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If using whole corn, remove kernels from cob.
This is one of those recipes that uses the leftover corn cob to infuse a soup with more corn flavor. Everybody’s doing it! The corn itself was leftover from a picnic, and I removed the kernels for the soup. So while prepping other ingredients, get your corn cobs simmering low in your broth plus some extra water.

This is how I keep broth on hand!

This is how I keep broth on hand!


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If using fresh corn, roast at least half of it in the oven at 450°F, on a lined baking sheet. Reserve some of the roasted corn for the topping, and put the rest in a blender.
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Cook the bacon and prepare the avocado, onion, pepper, and lime for the remaining topping.
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In a saucepan, heat the olive oil and add the garlic, onion, and jalapeno.
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Season with salt and pepper, cook until soft, at least 5 minutes.
Transfer to a blender with the corn.
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Pulse to combine.
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Remove the cobs from the stock and if possible, squeeze any liquid out of them. Transfer the corn mixture into the liquid and combine.
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Bring up the temperature to a boil while stirring frequently, and then lower heat. Simmer for about 10 minutes. You may need to add additional water at this point. Don’t worry–the flavor’s still there.

Ladle into bowls, garnish, and serve!
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See how dark it is? This took awhile to make.

See how dark it is? This took so long to make.

Fresh Gnocchi & Baby Zucchini with Pan-friend Squash Blossoms – Blue Apron

This post is the third in a series in which I review one of the services that provides pre-portioned ingredients and recipes, delivered to your door. The first was Hello Fresh, then Plated, and now Blue Apron.
See: Salmon Salad – Plated and Hello fresh – hello leftovers?

Like I did for the others, I signed up for Blue Apron through a promotion. It may have had to do with the process of entering that code, but I was a little put off by the fact I had to fully commit my credit card and ordering information before I could select the meals that were going to be covered. I saw the recipes they were featuring in the upcoming weeks. I discovered that while I wasn’t permitted to mark off individual recipes for my next delivery, I could fiddle with my meal preferences (whether I ate meat, fish, etc.) in order to get what I wanted. From some of the reviews, I see that people don’t always receive their top picks. I was pretty excited about the three meals kits I would be getting: Pan-Seared Drum and Tomato Jam with Himalayan Red Rice Risotto & Asparagus, Fresh Gnocchi and Baby Zucchini with Crispy Squash Blossoms & Lemon Brown Butter, and King Trumpet Mushroom Steam Buns with Miso Butter & Japanese Sweet Potato Salad.
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I felt good about the recipes because several of them used ingredients I never have or had never even tried. Like Hello Fresh, I had to order three meals of two servings (I could, mercifully, order only two with Plated). The pricing is very similar, at $10-$12 per person per plate.
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Blue Apron’s delivery came in a giant box. It was thoroughly lined with padding, which kept the ingredients well-protected.
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Everything arrived in great condition. Blue Apron uses the same brand of freezer packs as Plated to keep highly perishable items, like fish, cool at the bottom of the box. I liked the use of brown bags for packaging some of the smaller, miscellaneous ingredients. There was a mix of items that did and did not need refrigeration, but they were small enough to stick in the fridge either way.
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As usual, I executed the fish recipe first. I enjoyed the fish itself, and appreciated the accompanying ingredients, but the dish as a whole seemed overly simple. I had the same issue as before with the rice being bland at first, until I realized that I needed to be truly liberal with salt and pepper. Perhaps I should have added extra garlic–the recipe called for two cloves and they gave me a whole head, which happen to be pretty old.

The recipe I am featuring here is the gnocchi and baby zucchini recipe; this one came out great!

I will say that on the day I unpacked the box, I looked over the squash blossoms, the very top item. I was shocked to see in blaring text that they were a product of Israel.
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Now, I know my produce can come from various parts of the world a different times of the year. But I felt that Blue Apron had specifically alluded to the fact it is spring in the United States, and it is the season to pick the blossoms from the zucchini plants here. Nevermind that it is a little early for that. I felt slightly misled.

Fresh Gnocchi and Baby Zucchini with Crispy Squash Blossoms & Lemon Brown Butter
From Blue Apron
Makes 2 servings

4 whole squash blossoms
1 small lemon
1/2 lb baby zucchini
1/4 Cup rice flour
2 Tablespoons butter
1/3 Cup pecorino cheese
, grated
10 ounces fresh potato gnocchi
Approx. 2-3 Tablespoons of canola oil, for frying

Start by washing and drying the produce.
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DSC_8903Set a large pot of salted water over heat to bring to a boil for the gnocchi for later. Remove the stems and pluck the stamens out of the squash blossoms. Reserve two of the whole flowers to fry. Roughly chop the other two flowers.

Take the lemon and remove some of the yellow rind with a peeler. Avoid the white bitter pith. Finely mince the rind and measure 2 teaspoons to set aside. Cut the lemon in half. Take one of the halves and half that, so that you have a wedge for serving with each of the plates.
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Cut the tops and bottoms off of the zucchini and discard. Slice the zucchini in half lengthwise and then crosswise so you have quarters. Set aside.
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DSC_8907Now we fry the flowers. Combine the rice flour and ⅓ cup of water in a medium bowl to create a batter. It may seem very thin.

Coat the bottom of a medium sauté pan with oil and heat until very hot. If you flick a little water into the oil and it sizzles, it is ready to go. Dip the whole squash blossoms in the batter, allowing any excess to drip off. Because my batter was so watery, I felt like hardly anything stuck. Perhaps I could have added less water.
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Transfer the battered squash blossoms to the pan and cook until crispy, 2-3 minutes per side. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle with salt. Set aside.

Discard the oil from your sauté pan, pouring it into a heatproof bowl to cool first. Carefully wipe out the pan.

Time for the lemon brown butter sauce. To the same pan, add the butter and melt. As a warning, the pan may have retained so much heat that the butter already starts to melt and brown without turning the heat back on at first.
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Watching closely, cook until the butter foams, and swirl around until it becomes golden brown and smalls nutty, about 2-3 minutes.

Add the chopped squash blossoms and lemon zest and cook, stirring frequently, 5 to 10 seconds, or until thoroughly coated.
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Add the zucchini and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, 3-5 minutes. Once the squash is tender, stir in the juice of your lemon half.
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In the meantime, add the gnocchi to the pot of boiling water.
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The gnocchi should be done and tender in 2-3 minutes, when it floats to the top of the pot. Use a slotted spoon or strainer to transfer the cooked gnocchi to the pan with the cooked zucchini and brown butter. If the zucchini isn’t tender yet, transfer the gnocchi temporarily to a separate bowl.
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I love the little ridges! These reminded me of Alf.
ALF Season 1

Pour in most of the Pecorino cheese, keeping a few pinches for serving. Scoop ¼ Cup of reserved pasta water and stir into the mixture.
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Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve the gnocchi on 2 dishes, topped with a fried squash blossom each. Sprinkle with the remaining Pecorino cheese.
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Once I scooped out what I felt was two servings, there was about one serving left in the pan. I was underserving because my husband and I had snacked beforehand, and were eating a salad as well. For once, I was content with the quantity of food that came out. And the taste was wonderful. The lemon flavor really shined, balanced by the salty cheese, and the tender gnocchi and zucchini created a very pleasant mouthfeel. I would have liked to see the fried blossoms come out crispier; improvements could be made to the batter. This will be a great recipe to return to when the squash blossoms are harvested here in New York!

Blue Apron Rating (on a scale of 1-5):
Ordering: 2
Packaging: 4
Ingredients (freshness): 3
Recipe accuracy (quantities, ratios): 4
Instructions: 4
Recipe uniqueness: 4
Accuracy of portion sizing: 4
Taste: 5

The Urge to Preserve

I started to feel the impending change of season press upon me.

The weather certainly wasn’t providing any hints, as I was enveloped by hot, wet, soupy air all last weekend. I did notice brown and orange leaves start to accumulate around the edges of the streets in my neighborhood. It was the obvious things: all of a sudden, Labor Day passed, beaches closed, schools started back in session, and I was reminded that, being September, we are only one month away from October, the month it first SNOWED last year.

Fortunately, it is possible to capture the lushness of summer in a tupperware container! I long to keep the excitement of my garden treasures alive. Call it the urge to preserve.

Cue the whir of the food processor.

Bunches of my healthy basil plant and flourishing parsley plants in hand, it was time to make some sauces and condiments.
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Basil Pesto
Parsley Pesto
Fromage Fort

Pesto is one of the very few “recipes” I pretty much have memorized, and/or feel comfortable adjusting by taste and feel. It all started with a recipe Matt and I received from a cooking class put on at a now-closed local Viking Cooking School location.

Basil Pesto
From Viking Cooking School’s recipe packet for a Breads and Pizzas class
Makes about 1 Cup

1 large clove garlic, or to taste, peeled
1/4 Cup pine nuts
2 ounces/approx 1/4 Cup packed Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
, finely grated
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (to taste)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
2 Cups (packed) fresh basil
1/4-1/3 Cup extra-virgin olive oil
should be plenty

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Toast the pine nuts by putting them in a 350 degree oven for just a few minutes, watching closely and shaking the pan after the first minute or two. This can also be done in a dry cast iron or saute pan over medium heat, stirring constantly. Pine nuts will continue to brown if they sit in a hot pan.
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Combine garlic, pine nuts, cheese, salt and pepper in a food processor and pulse to make a paste.
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Add basil and pulse.
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Drizzle in olive oil gradually, ideally with the motor running, until pesto reaches desired smooth consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning.
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Basil doesn’t retain its green color in pesto, when exposed to the air, so the best plan is to drizzle extra olive oil on top and put plastic wrap directly on the surface before refrigerating or freezing (it still tastes fine when it darkens). Pesto is both flavor and calorie rich, so I usually only use a little at time, which I can snag from the frozen container.
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While I was at it with the processing, I needed to deal with the variety of cheese cubes I bought on a whim at Fairway. (I swear, I have gotten much better about resisting the urge to impulse buy.) Cheese is one of those things that lasts a long time, making it easy for you to forget to use before it is too late. Fortunately, you can make something called Fromage Fort, a cheese spread, to transform the old cheese into something desirable for another week or so, and even use it for entertaining.
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Fromage Fort
From Alton Brown via Food Network online

1 pound left-over cheese, (cheddar, parmesan, ricotta, provolone, fontina, mozzarella, stinky blue cheeses all work*) at room temperature
1/4 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
, softened
2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves
1 small clove garlic

Grate hard cheeses and cut others into 1/2-inch cubes. Place cheese, wine, butter, herbs, and garlic in a food processor and blend until smooth, approximately 2 minutes. Serve immediately or refrigerate for at least 1 hour for a firmer consistency. Store in the refrigerator; consume within a week (no problem!).
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*I used 5 ounces of ricotta, 7 ounces of the miscellaneous cubes that were probably in the gouda and ricotta salata families, and 6 ounce of Wisconsin extra sharp cheddar. It was beyond delicious, especially broiled on some sourdough toast.

Parsley Almond Pesto
Adapted from Food and Wine

1 clove garlic
1 1/2 Cups lightly packed flat-leaf parsley
with thick stems removed
1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 Cup olive oil
1/3 Cup unsalted almonds

Puree garlic and parsley with the salt in food processor. Drizzle olive oil in gradually, ideally with the machine running. Add the almonds and pulse to chop.
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This can be saved in the same way as the basil pesto. However, it keeps its bright green flavor much better in the refrigerator.

I served this with gnocchi I made from the King Arthur Flour website.
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and a recipe that served gnocchi with zucchini and tomatoes but substituted in the parsley pesto:

Recognize those tomatoes yet?

Recognize those tomatoes yet?


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I can still taste summer!

Love Affair with Zucchini

I could barely contain my excitement when I came across coveted squash blossoms while visiting the Ithaca Farmer’s Market last weekend.

These lovely, edible, light orange flowers of the zucchini plant are a delicacy, for sure, because as far as I know, they are only available for a short time in the summer. There is something special about eating a flower, especially when it has the potential for preparation as a feature in a meal, rather than a garnish.
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I had to wait a day to cook them, so they did wilt a little bit. But I already had ricotta in my fridge, planning ahead for this very time when I would get to stuff the flowers.

Rather appropriately, I also had zucchini itself in my fridge. I added it to a Smitten Kitchen recipe I saw a few weeks ago, “One-Pan Farro with Tomatoes.” I had been dying to make this recipe, mostly because I stinkin’ LOVE farro. (So chewy and yummy…shaped kind of like orzo pasta but with a denser texture, as a grain. Barley is somewhat similar). But also because Deb gave a very useful guide for one-pan cooking, based on her reliable testing. You see, most people (including myself) expect that the grain gets cooked in its own pot, and then the vegetables sauteed separately in second pan. Not her!

Full disclosure: I did use a second pan to saute my zucchini, since I thought it might benefit from a little sear and pre-softening, in case it became soggy when dropped directly into the main pan. I had looked over one of Smitten Kitchen’s other recipes with zucchini first for inspiration. That recipe has the squash ending up in a tart, and it does call for using a saute pan. At least I used that same saute pan for frying the blossom, which made me fairly efficient at minimizing the dishes pile in my sink!

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Squash Blossoms Stuffed with Ricotta

adapted from Gourmet on epicurus
Can be served with your favorite tomato sauce for dipping.

1 Cup ricotta, freshly made is best, and whole-milk is better, but part-skim (I used) is fine
1 large egg yolk
1/4 Cup fresh mint or basil or a combination, finely chopped
2/3 Cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
12 to 16 large zucchini squash blossoms
1/2 Cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3/4 Cup chilled seltzer, club soda, or beer
Vegetable oil for frying

Equipment recommended: frying/candy thermometer.

For the filling, stir together ricotta, yolk, herbs, 1/3 cup parmesan, and 1/8 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.

You may end up with extra filling, so feel free to scale it down to match the approximate number of blossoms you have. Yes, I realize that involves using part of an egg yolk–you could cook and eat the rest (why not?). Otherwise, I think that eggs are inexpensive and biodegradable enough that you aren’t being too wasteful if you discard a portion.

I used a combination of fresh spearmint and fresh basil from my garden.

I used a combination of fresh spearmint and fresh basil from my garden.


Carefully open each blossom and fill with ricotta filling, gently twisting end of blossom to enclose filling. I wouldn’t recommend using a spoon. The process will be so much easier if you can get your hands on something with a tapered tip which you can insert into the flower. Some reviewers did use the Ziplock bag-with-a-corner-snipped-off method.
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Whisk together flour, remaining 1/3 cup Parmesan, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and carbonated liquid in a small bowl.
I didn't want to open a new bottle of seltzer to use only a small portion! But opening and using up a beer? That could be arranged.

I didn’t want to open a new bottle of seltzer to use only a small portion! But opening and using up a beer? That could be arranged.


Heat 1/2 inch oil to 375°F in a heavy skillet sized to fit half your blossoms. Meanwhile, dip blossoms in batter to thinly coat.
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Fry coated blossoms in batches, gently turning once, until golden, 1 to 2 minutes total.
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Transfer with tongs to paper towels to drain. (Check the temperature of the oil so it comes back up to 375°F between batches.) Season with salt. Serve alone or with tomato sauce.
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Farro with Summer Garden Vegetables
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1.5 Cups water
3/4 Cup semi-pearled/whole farro
1/2 medium onion
(I used about 3 ounces)
2 cloves garlic
4 ounces grape or cherry tomatoes
4 ounces zucchini
, diced
1 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt
Up to 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (to taste)
2 teaspoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
Basil leaves, cut in chiffonade, for serving
Grated parmesan cheese, for serving

Place water and farro in a medium saucepan to presoak while you prepare the other ingredients.

Add a little olive oil to a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add diced zucchini and cook until slightly softened, about 3 minutes.
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Add to saucepan with farro.

Cut halved onion in half again, and very thinly slice it into quarter-moons. Add to pot with farro. Thinly slice garlic cloves and add to pot.

Halve tomatoes and add.

Fresh from my front-yard garden!

Fresh from my front-yard garden!


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Add salt, pepper flakes (to taste) and 1 tablespoon olive oil to pan.
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Turn on heat to medium-high and set a timer for 30 minutes. Bring UNcovered pan up to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally. Check the farro’s texture after 30 minutes–it should be tender, but will be still chewy, and most of the water should be absorbed. If you let your heat get too high and the water boils off, you may have to add extra liquid.

Transfer to a serving bowl. Drizzle with additional olive oil, basil and parmesan.
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It’s a zucchini + pasta/grain craze! Melissa Clark of the New York Times also used zucchini and tomatoes this week in her recipe.

Having the plant and the flower together!

Having the plant and the flower together!