Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Home Cookin':Attack of the Homegrown Zucchini!

It's about that time of year when home-gardeners back yards are overcome with a jungle of Zucchini plant leaves.  Some years are better than others when it comes to how well the vegetables themselves grow.  For PID and I, saying this this was an "on" year was a bit of an understatement.

This was our first pick of the season. For the record, that is a massive apple.

We knew we had a lot of Zucchini to use and not a lot of time to use it before a) it went bad or b) we had to pick another one. So I took it upon myself to create a full Zucchini themed dinner.  I was inspired by a Martha Stuart cookbook which was given to me by a dear FORT...but I made a few adjustments to make these dishes my own. PID seemed to enjoy it -- let's hope you do too!

My first course was a Cilantro Zucchini Chicken Salad with a Lime Vinaigrette.  This was a simplistically delicious dish that didn't take a lot of time to create.  Here's what you'll need for 4 healthy servings:

1 medium Zucchini -- sliced thin
2 large boneless chicken breasts 
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup + 1 tbs olive oil (I used Roasted French Walnut Oil from the folks over at A Taste of Olive - YUM!)
1/4 cup cilantro -- chopped
1/2 cup red onion, sliced thin in rounds
2 cups fresh spinach leaves -- chopped
1/2 cup pecans or walnuts -- whichever you prefer
Salt & pepper

Here's what you'll do:

1) In a large bowl, whisk together your lime juice, oil, and a heft helping of salt & pepper and add your zucchini slices, allowing to marinate 
2) Here's where you can make a call based on the amount of time that you have available: Either heat your tablespoon of oil on medium, season your chicken breasts with salt & pepper and cook until browned (about 8 minutes per side).  OR!!!!  You can do what I did and slice your chicken breasts in to thin slices and season each one individually with salt and pepper before heating your oil on medium and cooking the slices until browned (about 4 minutes per side). The upside to the latter? It takes less time. I personally liked crispier chicken slices, but I know some (/most) may not.  Doing it the former way makes for much juicier chicken.
3) When your chicken is finished cooking, rip the pieces or breasts apart with your hands until you have small chunks.
4) Toss the chicken in the bowl with the zucchini, vinaigrette, pecans, cilantro, onion and spinach. 
5) Serve and enjoy!
This dish was a PERFECT summer meal.  It was crisp and cool and had the perfect amount of citrus-y zing to it.  As I mentioned -- I loved the contrast of the crispiness of the thinly sliced chicken against the spinach and zucchini-- but some may enjoy a juicy bite!

The second meal on the menu last night was a Lemon Wine Risotto with Peas and Zucchini.  So um....lest I remind you that I write a RESTAURANT blog for a reason.  I am not a trained (or talented) chef and I think it goes without saying that I'd never made a risotto before.

Let me start by giving a piece of novice advice:  If you do not have 35 solid minutes to dedicate to NOTHING but your risotto...if you don't have the patience or stamina to stand and stir the entire time... then you should not even attempt to make a risotto.  This dish slightly resembled the girl my best guy friend dated in high school: high maintenance, but in the end -- beautiful.

Here's what you'll need for 6 servings:

2 cups chicken broth
2 1/2 cups water
4 tablespoons of butter
1 large zucchini -- cut into small cubes
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice (you can find it at Giant Eagle -- but it can also be substituted for medium grain white rice)

1 cup thawed frozen peas
1/2 cup dry white wine, like Pino Grigio
2 tbs fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt & pepper

Here's what you'll do:

1) In a large skillet, heat your water and chicken broth on low heat and keep it warm
2) Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in another large saucepan over medium heat and add your zucchini cubes -- toss and season with salt & pepper -- cooking and stirring often 8 minutes.  When your zucchini is complete, use a slotted spoon to transfer the zucchini cubes to a plate lined with a paper towel and cover.

 3) Reduce heat to medium-low and add your onion, cooking about 5 minutes or until soft, then season with salt & pepper
4) Re-raise the heat back to medium and add the rice -- cooking until the edges are translucent (about 3 minutes).  Then add the wine and cook another 2 minutes to combine.
5) Begin adding your broth liquid to the rice, 1 cup at a time, cooking the rice and stirring constantly until the entire cup is seemingly absorbed before adding the next. This should take you about 25 minutes.  Important: DO NOT STOP STIRRING!  I know most people have non-stick saucepans...so it may not be as big of an issue for you...but as an unmarried young professional who has never had a reason to register for anything or a surplus of money to spend on a new set, I'm stuck using family hand-me-downs which were crafted prior to Teflon times.

6) Once all the liquid has been incorporated in to the rice, immediately add the peas and gradually add your lemon juice - stirring all the while, then add the zucchini and stir again with the final tablespoon of butter and another flavoring of salt & pepper.

7) Serve with the grated Parmesan cheese on top and be prepared to NOM.

So there you have it.  My wrangle with the Attack of the Homegrown Zucchini. I didn't have time for dessert, but if I did i PROBABLY would have made these suckers -- which I attempted for my other (slightly underdeveloped) blog, Life is Cake. They didn't make this post because -- duh -- no zucchini. I didn't want to mess with my Iron Chef-esque status in Battle Zucchini (*said very excitedly...*)!

And so I say unto you in the words of some guy from TV's uncle....


Share this!