Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Summer Fest 2010: Week 1 -- Cukes and Zukes

For the last two summers a cross-blogging celebration of summer's hopping bounty has been organized by Margaret Roach of Away to Garden and Deb Puchalla of Scripps. Deb invited me to join their garden party, this year called Summer Fest 2010. Each Wednesday those of us involved will be writing about a specific kind of produce--with stories, tips, and recipes, of course--and let you know who else in our little cross-post fest is involved so you can see what they're doing, too. Some of the other blogs involved are Matt Bites, White on Rice Couple, Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, Homesick Texan, and Simmer Till Done. So, I'm in amazing company!

And so are you -- because this is meant to be a vast collaborative effort. The more info we all give, the more we'll all enjoy summer's harvest. Have a recipe or tip that fits any of our weekly themes? Starting with our posts of Wednesday, July 28, for five Wednesdays through 8/25 and possibly longer, you can contribute in various ways, big or small.
  • Contribute a whole post, or a comment—whatever you wish. It’s meant to be fun, viral, fluid. No pressure, just delicious. The possibilities:
  • Simply leave your tip or recipe or favorite links in the comments below a Summer Fest post on my blog any upcoming Wednesday, and then go visit my collaborators and do the same.
The cross-blog event idea works best when you leave your recipe or favorite links (whether to your own blog or someone else’s) at all the host blogs. That way, they are likely to be seen by the widest audience. Everyone benefits, and then we're all cooking with some great ideas.

Or go big: Publish entire posts of your own if you wish, and grab the big red tomato Summer Fest 2010 badge above (illustrated by Matt of Mattbites). We'll also be tweeting using #summerfood as our hashtag.

Here's the schedule:
  • 7/28: cukesnzukes
  • 8/4: corn
  • 8/11: herbs, greens, and beans
  • 8/18: stone fruit
  • 8/25 tomatoes
  • more to come if we all want it — stay tuned!
This week is all about cukes and zukes. Now, I have to admit that neither of these is what make me pant for the beginning of summer. I see cucumbers all year round, thanks to living in San Diego. I do like them but I'm not exactly worshipful. In the case of cucumbers, I think it was because for too many years I was served those tasteless conventional cukes in big ugly chunks in salads made of iceberg lettuce and topped with equally tasteless pale slices of tomato, all smothered in bottled chemically Italian dressing.

Well, forget those guys and come with me into a more beguiling world of Persian cucumbers, English cucumbers, and lovely little mini white cucumbers. Even gorgeous variegated Armenian cucumbers, which are actually relatives of honeydew melon.

You can find Persian cucumbers at Middle Eastern Markets, of course, but also at the big chains in packages called "mini snacking cucumbers." But, here's what they look like:

English, or "hot house" cucumbers are everywhere -- they're the looong skinny cukes sealed in plastic because their thin skins are so delicate. They're my go-to cuke because they're sweet and so easy to use since they don't need peeling and have so few seeds.

Mini white cucumbers, which are actually yellow, are thick like conventional cucumbers with the same big seeds. Buy them as small as you can for real flavor. As someone at the Suzie's Farm stand at the Mission Hills farmers market told me, "These cucumbers taste like summer."

And here are the marvelous Armenian cucumbers. Their looks speak volumes but they're also very tasty.

Another cucumber variety I enjoy is the Japanese cucumber, which is slender with a thin skin and small seeds. You can find them at Asian markets. On a hot summer's day, I'll use a hand-held mandoline and slice Japanese cucumbers into a bowl, cover the slices with rice vinegar and refrigerate them for about an hour. When they're ready to eat, I sprinkle the marinated cuke slices with toasted sesame seeds and hot pepper flakes, pull out a pair of chopsticks and nosh on them while reading a good book. It's really a summer tradition.

Then there's the Mexican gherkin. I don't have a photo unfortunately but imagine the tiniest watermelon possible, maybe an inch or two long at the most. That's what they look like. They're adorable and I've enjoyed them pickled by my friend Melissa Mayer. Suzie's Farm grows them so you can check and see if they have them at the farmers markets or at Specialty Produce.

For a meal on a steamy summer day, I'll turn cucumbers into a cold soup with yogurt -- not Greek-style yogurt, but the looser version. This week, I bought Persian cucumbers (okay, I'll admit, I usually slice them up and drop them into the leftover juice in the empty pepperoncinis jar to create no-work pickles). And I bought radishes. Hmmm, I changed up my long-time recipe to create what I'm calling Cucumber and Radish Confetti Soup.

Cucumber and Radish Confetti Soup
Serves 4

1 large English cucumber or 3 good-sized Persian cucumbers (about 6 inches long)
1 dozen radishes
2 cups unflavored yogurt
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 small cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fenugreek (for a different flavor, try dill or mint -- they're all equally good)
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Slice the cucumbers in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, and discard. (If you're using a conventional cucumber first peel the skin; for the other types, leave the thin skin on for color.) Cut into chunks and put in the bowl of a food processor. Trim all the radishes and cut all but one into chunks and add to the food processor. Save the remaining radish for garnish. Add the rest of the ingredients to the food processor and blend thoroughly. Remove to a bowl, cover, and chill at least two hours or overnight. Just before serving, slice the remaining radish very thinly, again with the little mandoline, and use it to top the soup. Feel free to squeeze in a little hot sauce when serving.

Now for the zukes. Get out that mandoline and slice zucchini or other summer squash into long thin strips to marinate in olive oil, garlic, and herbs and create zucchini carpaccio. Or hollow them out and stuff them. Buy baby zucchini and grill them to serve as a side dish.

Or, make zucchini pancakes. I did this recently at Olivewood Gardens, where I'm a volunteer cooking teacher for local low-income grade school kids. My friends who are parents of young children warned me, "no way, they won't eat them." I was expecting the big "Ewww." Well, not only did these 4th graders devour the pancakes, but some of the kids came up to us in the kitchen as we were cleaning up and asked if they could have more to take home. I originally published the recipe last March when I first used it at Olivewood, but this recipe is a favorite and since we're in the height of zucchini season, it's worth repeating.

Zucchini Pancakes

Makes about two dozen, three-inch pancakes.

1 pound of zucchinis
1 large yellow onion
3 large eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup of Panko or seasoned bread crumbs
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon of fresh oregano, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Vegetable oil or olive oil for frying

1. Cut off the ends of the zucchini and grate each one coarsely, using the big holes of a grater. Put the grated zucchini in a colander and the colander into a bowl and let the liquid drain from the zucchini.
2. Cut the onions in half lengthwise and remove the skin from the onion. Then grate each onion coarsely, using the big holes of a grater. Add the grated onion to the zucchini in the colander to drain. Feel free to gently but firmly squeeze the grated vegetables to get out as much liquid as possible.
3. Put the vegetables in a large bowl and add the Panko, baking powder, the herbs, the garlic (if you’re using it), and the salt and pepper. Stir it all together to fully mix ingredients. Add the eggs and mix well. The batter should be moist but not runny.
4. Heat ¼ inch of oil in a hot pan. Place a tiny bit of the batter in the pan. If it begins to sizzle, the oil is ready for the batter. Use a large spoon and drop the batter into the pan and flatten into a pancake. Don’t crowd the pancakes by putting too many in at one time. Cook them for several minutes on each side until the pancakes are golden brown. Put the pancakes on a plate with paper towels placed on top to drain. Then serve with applesauce or sour cream.

And, here is this week's list of participants with a link to their blogs and their Twitter handles:

Margaret Roach
awaytogarden.com: pickling tips and tricks and freezing the excess

Deb Puchalla (all Scripps/Food Network sites)

Elizabeth Gray: cuke salad and lighter cuke/zuke eats

Kirsten Vala and Sara Levine (FN Dish and Cooking Channel): zucchini bread + riffs

Michelle Buffardi – Cooking Channel’s Devour the blog (Scripps): 10 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do with Zucchini

Alison Sickelka: three zucchini appetizers
Food2 blog (Scripps)

Kelly Senyei
www.justataste.com: cucumber and sesame salad

Jennifer Iannolo

Chef Mark Tafoya

Alice at Alice Q Foodie

Nicole at Pinch My Salt

Caroline at The Wright Recipes
www.thewrightrecipes.com/: marinated summer squash salad

Cate O’Malley at Sweetnicks.com
http://sweetnicks.com/weblog/2010/07/summerfest-2010-indian-cucumber-wraps/: Indian Cucumber Wraps

Shauna James Ahern
glutenfreegirl.com: turning cold cucumber soup into popsicles

Paige Smith Orloff
thesisterproject.com/orloff: zucchini/summer squash bread pudding recipe, as well as links to a couple of pickling/preserving ideas

Diane and Todd/White on Rice Couple
whiteonricecouple.com: prosciutto, sour cream and feta stuffed cucumbers

Tara Weaver
teaandcookies.blogspot.com/: stuffed zucchini, zucchini "noodles" and pickles

Alana Chernila
www.eatingfromthegroundup.com: cucumber-mint sorbet with lime shortbread
Twitter: @edability

tigressinajam.blogspot.com: jams
http://tigressinapickle.blogspot.com/2010/07/can-jam-july-round-up-cucurbits.html: pickles

Judy Witts Francini
www.divinacucina.blogspot.com: fried zucchini blossoms and more

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