Friday, March 30, 2012

Breaking up with Zucchini

Every cook has a food that becomes a challenge. For me , it has been the zucchini ! There seems to be only one way to prepare it where it does not suck the life out of a dish, and that is carpacio style ( raw with olive oil, lemon juice, parm cheese and salt). In anything else it becomes like a very rude party guest with a bronchial infection. Why must a readily available, affordable veggie trip me up ?  Why does not happen with other related foods like cucumbers and melons ? Couldn't this happen with lobster or Kobe beef ? The other day I cooked my absolute last zucchini of my life in the following dish- Ratatouille over Ravioli 
Looks pretty, includes eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, garlic, basil and salt and pepper, but never has there been a more bland dish ! The zucchini absorbs flavor, but then sends that flavor packing to a tropical island where it can hide for all contact forever. Even the cheese flavor from the ravioli disappeared. After waking up my bored to death taste buds with water ( which incidentally had more flavor), I saw the look of politely restrained aversion on my families face and vowed never again to use zucchini in a dish .

Then in a couple of days I thought about the rules of basic good cooking ( start with flavor, bring it to its best and add more flavor), and came up with this very tasty dish

Salsiccia e melanzane oltre la polenta (Sausage Eggplant over polenta)

1 lb Italian sausage, cut into small pieces
1 Sicilian eggplant, cut into cubes, salted and drained
3 red bell peppers, cut into chunks
3 plum tomatoes, cubed
1 lb button mushrooms, quartered
4 cloves garlic, de germed and sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
polenta ( warm or cooled and cut into squares)

In a large pot, heat the olive oil and cook the garlic until golden. Add the sausage and cook until golden, then add the sausage and brown on all sides. Next add the peppers and tomatoes and cook for about 5 minutes, or till they begin to release juice. Then add the mushrooms and eggplant, bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to medium. Let cook for 30 minutes and serve over polenta

My way of making polenta may not be according to the book, but it works and is tasty. In a large pan I bring 8 cups of liquid to a rolling boil ( usually half chicken stock and half salted water) , and then whisk in 1 cup of yellow cornmeal- I use cornmeal because it is what I have on hand.Stir constantly and when the cornmeal begins to thicken I add a half stick of butter and continue to whisk. ( Some people add cheese, some people add cream, some add milk- there are a lot of variations). After a few minutes - a.k.a. my arm gets tired and I get bored with stirring- I pour it onto a greased cookie sheet to cool and cut into shapes OR I pour it into bowls to top with something. The cookie sheet method wins when I know dinner could well be delayed .

I'm sorry zucchini - it's not me. It's you !!! I can't say it's been fun. I will meet you again in muffins and as a salad, but you are never going to be included in hot dishes again.

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