Zucchini & Yellow Tomato Pizza

We are turning a corner on our side-yard vegetable garden, and I am finding myself a bit flummoxed because for the first time in years, we actually have a tomato harvest! When I made the decision to plant this year—and it was definitely my decision, given that I’m the one who is home more during the day to tend to it—I swore that I would pull out all the stops in repelling the deer that reside in the woods behind us. Nothing I had tried in the past worked for more than a week, and dammit, I wanted tomatoes this year! If you have a similar problem, stop playing around with sprays and wind chimes (they don’t work anyway) and stop scattering human hair and soap shavings and whatever else you’ve tried, and just go get one of these—order it now, I’ll wait.

Here’s me, pretending to be a deer approaching from the woods…

The yard enforcer motion-activated sprinkler is by far the smartest thing I’ve bought this year, and friends, we are about to reap the benefit of so many tomatoes!

I planted an heirloom variety this year, called “Brandywine,” and they are large, sweet and juicy—perfect for tomato sandwiches and caprese salads. I am fond of the color of the Brandywine tomato—it’s sort of a blushy pink-red color, rather than the orange-red that is typical. They have a pleated sort of appearance, and a few wrinkly lines on the skin, but I don’t mind it and it certainly doesn’t affect the quality.

There’s nothing better than a simple tomato sandwich for a summer lunch!

Right next to those is a grouping of four Roma tomato plants, and I have been astonished to see how many fruits developed on these plants. They are extra-long fruits, compared to the wimpy Romas at the grocery store, and we are planning on canning a few things with those when they are ready—mainly homemade pizza sauce, I suspect. The Roma tomato is a determinate plant, which means they will likely overwhelm me by ripening all at once. I hope we’re ready!

Our sunbathing beauties!

Finally, the luscious, yellow “Lemon Boy” tomatoes, which were the first ones to ripen, and I love the slight tang they bring to my plate, despite being lower acidity than many other tomatoes. Lemon Boy is a hybrid variety, and it is indeterminate, so I’ll have plenty of fruit to harvest for a few weeks, which I love.

These Lemon Boys are the tomatoes I’m excited to share today, and of all the dishes I’ve made with them recently, this pizza stands out as a favorite because it really speaks to the transition of my garden. To date, I had struggled to keep up with the zucchini yield, and you can bet I won’t ever plant four of those again! It was about three weeks ago that I noticed vine borers had attacked my vibrant squash plant, and you know what that means—game over. I hate those things!

But we had a few squash that were near-ready, so I let them mature before I yanked the infested plants out of the garden. And just about the time I did so, I spotted this perfectly ripe, ready-to-enjoy Lemon Boy.

Hello, handsome! 🙂

I wanted to slice it on the spot and savor it with nothing but a sprinkle of sea salt and black pepper, but I restrained myself and made it a co-star with one of the last zucchini of the season on this summer pie. This dish felt like a passing of the baton in my garden. As my summer squash takes its final bow, the tomatoes are right on cue for center stage, and they were terrific companions on this fresh pizza. I just love this part of summer!


This is a thin crust pizza and it begins with my favorite sourdough base. The sourdough starter and the long, slow ferment in the refrigerator gives my dough a deep, complex flavor and the texture is always just right, thanks to our beloved pizza steel. If you want to level up your pizza game with only one move, this is the thing, right here. It takes the hottest temperature your home oven can put out and intensifies it to make the most beautifully blistered crust that is crisp on the bottom and chewy on top. It’s the closest you can get to brick oven at home.


The zucchini was cut up into bite-sized bits and lightly sautéed in a bit of olive oil, and I salted the yellow tomato slices a few minutes ahead, giving the juice and flavor plenty of time to bloom. I didn’t bother taking pictures of these steps because it’s simple enough to figure out. The rest of the pizza is also straightforward, including a store-bought sauce that we love (at least until our Romas are ready), plenty of freshly shredded hard mozzarella, some thinly sliced spring onions that I picked up at the farmers’ market and a scattering of basil leaves, which have also been good to us in this year’s home garden.

Here’s how it goes, beginning with shaping the ball of sourdough. As always, thanks to my dear husband for his photography skills for this part of the show.


Zucchini & Yellow Tomato Pizza

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: average
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This dish felt like a passing of the baton in my garden. As my summer squash takes its final bow, the tomatoes are right on cue for center stage, and they were terrific companions on this fresh pizza. I just love this part of summer!

Ingredients

  • 1 medium zucchini, trimmed and cut into small wedges
  • 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling onto pizza
  • 1 large yellow tomato, sliced and salted to release excess moisture
  • 1 small spring onion (or sweet onion), thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/3 cup favorite pizza sauce
  • 1 cup shredded, low-moisture mozzarella
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 Tbsp. finely grated Parmesan or parm-romano blend
  • Small handful of fresh, small basil leaves

Note that my method uses a heavy pizza steel, preheated at 550° F for one hour. If you don’t have a steel, use a pizza stone at the highest temperature recommended for your product. At lower temperature, baking time will require adjustment.

Directions

  1. Place a small skillet over medium heat. Swirl in olive oil and saute zucchini until tender. Transfer to a bowl and let it cool to room temperature. Use a paper towel to blot excess moisture from the tomato slices.
  2. Shape pizza dough into 14″ round, and place on a flour and cornmeal-dusted peel for easy transfer to the oven. Drizzle on a small amount of olive oil and season the dough with salt and pepper.
  3. Spread on the sauce, keeping it at least 1/2″ inch from the edges of the dough. Scatter shredded mozzarella over the sauce
  4. Arrange the vegetables on the pizza, beginning with the fresh tomato slices. Follow with the zucchini bits, sliced onions and garlic.
  5. Finally, tuck in the basil leaves for a fragrant bite of summer. Sprinkle the parm-romano blend over the pizza and finish it with a quick zig-zag of olive oil.
  6. Slide onto the preheated pizza steel and bake for 6 minutes, until crust is golden and blistered and cheese is bubbly all over.
  7. Transfer to serving pan, slice and enjoy!


As a side note, it looks like I will be purchasing a second yard enforcer for next year, to keep the squirrels out of the low parts of the garden!

At least the squirrels have smaller mouths! 🙂


Garden Veggie Spiral Quiche

About once a week, my husband, Les, flashes me his phone to announce what has appeared on his Facebook page—“Five years ago, today!” It’s usually a throwback photo of our dog, Nilla, and I always love the ones that were taken years before I even met them. She was an adorable little fluff pup, and he has taken a ton of pictures of her through the years! The other day, though, he presented me with a picture that was instantly familiar— a pretty, fresh-from-the-oven spiral quiche made of fresh zucchini, yellow squash and eggplant from our own garden. The timing was remarkable, given that I had made plans to make the same recipe with veggies from this year’s garden, just days apart from the one I made in 2017. For your comparison, here they are, side by side:

Is it a quiche or a tart? Let’s just call it delicious.

My inspiration for this brunch-worthy dish came directly from Pinterest, but the recipe did not. It was one of those pins that appeared with an exciting image, but no title or description, and a link that led to absolutely nothing. But I took the clickbait in stride because at that point, I had all the inspiration I needed; my mind was already racing with my own ideas for creating such a pretty pie. I’d use thin slices of eggplant and squash from my own garden, layering them around and around inside a blind-baked pastry in my springform pan. I’d slip a few store-bought carrot slices in wherever I could make them fit, and then I’d pour an omelet mixture over the whole thing and bake it until the eggs were set. I was not blogging at that time, so it didn’t occur to me to write down what I had done—I just followed my instinct and used what was fresh from the garden at the time. I had one measly cherry tomato that year (the deer got the rest), and I showcased it by placing it right in the center.

As it happens, the same things are fresh from the garden at the same time this year!

This is a veggie-packed quiche! I ended up swapping the parsley for fresh basil, and I skipped the fresh onion and garlic.


This was a delicious, meatless dinner, and I dressed up our quiche servings with a generous spoonful of marinara sauce and some sprinkles of our favorite parm-romano blend cheese. It was hearty and satisfying, and just look at all those layers of vegetables.


I began with a homemade pastry dough, but there’s no reason you couldn’t use a pre-made crust; be sure it’s the kind you can roll out, rather than a crust already in a tin. Because of the spiral, this will work best in a baking pan with straight sides. I used a springform pan, but a regular 9-inch cake pan with straight sides will work fine as well.


At this point, I made a mistake and you have probably already spotted it. Trimming off the excess dough, even with the top of the springform pan, seemed like the logical thing to do. But I didn’t take into account that the crust would shrink during blind baking, and the pan did not have any slope to keep it in position. The better choice would be to keep a bit of dough hanging just over the edge of the pan. Or, as I suspect was my method in 2017, use a double layer of foil to hold the pastry in place during baking. So, my advice here is, “do as I say, not as I do.” 😊

Follow whatever blind-baking method feels right to you, and check on it during baking. I docked a few holes in the pastry (the bottom and the sides), laid a parchment round into the pan and filled a shallow layer of dried beans to keep it from bubbling. One of these days, I will buy some pie weights! As you can see, my trimming method backfired, and the dough slid down the sides a bit. Live and learn—let’s call it “rustic,” shall we?


Allow the crust to cool completely while you prep the veggies. Trim and slice the zucchini, squash, eggplant and carrots into 1/4” thin planks. This was a task for the mandolin, which is serious business, so I didn’t attempt to take pictures of that process. Use a knife if you must and aim to keep the planks as uniformly thin as possible. The carrots were cut into thinner, 1/8″ slices. Sprinkle all the veggies with salt and pepper and arrange your ingredients for easy assembly. Combine beaten eggs with ricotta and whisk evenly. Shred the cheese and chop the basil into strips.


When the pastry is cooled, layer the zucchini and eggplant slices around the pan, overlapping them slightly to eliminate gaps. Don’t worry about keeping the slices even—it’s natural for some of them to sit higher in the pan—and expect that you may have a few veggie planks left over. Wiggle in the carrot slices wherever they fit, and then sprinkle the shredded cheese and sliced basil over the tart.


Pour the egg-ricotta mixture slowly over the veggie swirl, taking care to let it seep evenly as much as possible. This was a bit tricky with mine, given that my pastry had collapsed in several places, but it worked out OK. In a nod to my 2017 tart, I also placed a cherry tomato in the center before I slid it into the oven. About an hour later, the eggs were set and the veggies were tender, but there was a fair amount of excess moisture pooled on top in spots.

I used a paper towel to blot away the excess moisture, and tucked it back into the oven for another minute or two.

The moisture was not disastrous, and it didn’t make the crust soggy, but next time, I’ll salt the vegetables longer to draw out moisture, the same as I do with eggplant for moussaka or eggplant parm, and my instructions reflect this suggestion, too. More lessons learned. 😊


Garden Veggie Spiral Quiche

  • Servings: 8 wedges
  • Difficulty: intermediate
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It’s fun to make, and uses up some of the fresh veggies coming out of the garden! This was delicious for Meatless Monday, or make it the star of the show at a summer brunch.

Ingredients

  • 1 rollout pie pastry (store-bought or homemade; my recipe is below)
  • 1 large or 2 medium zucchini, sliced lengthwise into 1/4″ planks
  • 2 medium Japanese variety eggplant, sliced lengthwise into 1/4″ planks
  • 1 medium yellow or zephyr squash, sliced lengthwise into 1/4″ planks
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced lengthwise into 1/8″ planks
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup ricotta
  • 1 tsp. dried minced onions
  • 1/2 cup shredded gruyere or cheddar cheese
  • Small handful of fresh basil leaves (or substitute Italian parsley)
  • Marinara sauce and grated parmesan, for serving

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Prepare and blind-bake the pastry in a 9″ springform or other straight-sided cake pan. Allow it to cool to room temperature.
  2. Spread out the veggie planks and season them generously with salt and pepper. Allow them to rest for about an hour, to draw out some of the moisture. Blot dry with paper towels. Select a smaller, “bendy” slice or two for the center of your quiche.
  3. Whisk together the eggs and ricotta until evenly blended. Stir in dried minced onions.
  4. Arrange zucchini, eggplant and yellow squash planks in the cooled pastry crust, overlapping slightly and alternating veggies for visual interest. Wrap the reserved slices tightly around your index finger and place it in the center (it will unwind to fill up the space). Tuck carrot slices in wherever you can make them fit.
  5. Scatter shredded gruyere all over the veggie spiral. Slice or tear the basil leaves and scatter those over the quiche as well.
  6. Carefully pour the egg mixture over the tart, taking care to let it seep down between the veggie planks. The mixture may or may not come all the way to the top.
  7. Bake the quiche at 350° F for about an hour, until eggs are fully set and vegetables are softened. Let it cool at least ten minutes before slicing and serving.

Use your favorite pie pastry recipe, or take a shortcut with a store-bought, roll-out crust. Below is the recipe I used for mine.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or white whole wheat)
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, cold, cut into small cubes
  • 1/8 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup very cold water

Directions

  1. Combine the two flours and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse one or two times to evenly mix.
  2. Scatter the butter cubes all over the flour. Pulse about five times until the butter bits are smaller and coated in flour.
  3. Slowly pour the cold water into the chute of the processor. Run continuously as you add the water, and mix just until the dough forms a ball. Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic film; wrap it up tightly and refrigerate at least one hour or up to overnight.
  4. To blind-bake the pastry, preheat oven to 350° F. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured countertop and drape it into the springform pan; trim off excess, but allow the dough to catch the edge a bit. Use a fork to prick a few holes into the dough; this helps reduce puffing while baking. Lay a piece of parchment over the bottom of the crust and fill with ceramic beads (or dried beans work well). Alternative, gently lay a doubled sheet of foil directly over the raw crust and up the sides. Bake for about 20 minutes, just until pastry is set but not golden. Allow it to cool before filling.



Zucchini Sunshine Pancakes

“Zucchini—it isn’t just for dinner anymore!”

As I whipped up our breakfast this past weekend, I kept imagining this as a useful advertising slogan for anyone who is, like me, trying to use up an explosion of squash coming out of the garden this time of year. It’s easy to get bored with eating it the same few ways, and it occurred to me this week that I had not tried many ways to incorporate zucchini into a breakfast dish. Sure, I have occasionally tucked leftover sauteed zucchini into an omelet, but I wanted something more interesting—something new. The weekend is the only time I venture beyond the most basic of breakfasts, and though I considered making a version of morning glory muffins (subbing zucchini for the usual shredded carrots), I wanted something simpler, and that’s what made me think of pancakes.

Shredded zucchini would cook quickly inside a pancake batter, I figured, and I could use up a decent amount of this summer vegetable (which is technically a fruit) that has overtaken my countertop and refrigerator. Fresh citrus—in the form of juice and zest from a lemon and an orange—would make the overall flavor of my zucchini pancakes bright and sunny, just like the Saturday morning we would enjoy them.

The bright citrus was like a shot of sunshine in my zucchini pancakes!

For the body of my pancakes, I used a tried-and-true recipe that already has its own health benefits. Unlike typical, carb-heavy pancakes, these are packed with protein, thanks to Greek yogurt, ricotta and whole eggs (which also offer an assist in leavening the batter). The only flour in the mix is white whole wheat (King Arthur brand), and I added a few quick shakes of ground cinnamon to spice things up.   


What I love about these pancakes, other than the fact that they have lots of good-for-me ingredients, is that I don’t suffer any sugar shock effect a few hours after breakfast. Whole grains provide complex carbohydrates, which help keep blood sugar levels stable longer than highly processed white flours. And the protein from the yogurt, ricotta and eggs keeps my hunger at bay for hours. I have made these pancakes dozens of times, and this is the first time I’ve jazzed them up with extra ingredients, though it surely won’t be the last.

Grab an apron, and I’ll show you how easily I whipped them up!


The first step is to get the wet ingredients blended really well. A whisk is the best tool for this, or you could use an electric mixer. Get the mixture smooth and even, and then squeeze in the orange and lemon juices. Whisk it again to incorporate the juice and zest of the citrus fruits.

Next, blend in the shredded zucchini and flour mixture. I did this in stages, the same as I did recently for my Healthy-ish Zucchini Bread with Drunken Raisins recipe. You want to avoid overworking the mixture once the flour hits the batter, because excess stirring causes gluten to develop, and that results in a tough pancake. Stir or whisk in about half of the shredded zucchini first, then fold in half of the flour mixture, then the remaining zucchini and then the remaining flour ingredients. Folding is easy—use a wooden spoon or silicone spatula to circle the bowl, turning the batter over onto itself. I did this “folding” action about 10 times, until I couldn’t see any unincorporated pockets of dry ingredients.


Any pancake or waffle batter performs best when it has a chance to rest several minutes after mixing, so I waited until the batter was ready before I began heating my range-top skillet. You can use a large cast iron pan or an electric skillet if that’s what you have. Heat the cooking surface over medium heat, leaning a little toward medium-low. This is a tricky thing, because every stove is different, and even different burners on the same stove can have a different heat output. I have found that the best way to ensure the temperature is right is to make a couple of small “test” pancakes. Your heat should be at the point that the first side of the pancake is golden brown at about the point that the edges begin to look dry on top. If it’s too brown, reduce your heat slightly and try another test pancake. If it’s too pale, increase the heat slightly and try again. It’s nice to have a test pancake for another reason as well—you get to sample the goods!


When you’ve confirmed the griddle temperature, carefully spoon or ladle out your pancakes onto the heated skillet or griddle, about 1/4 cup per pancake. Keep some distance between them for easy turning, and keep them relatively small to ensure the middle cooks through. Mine were no larger than the palm area of my hand, and I didn’t bother trying to make them in perfect rounds. The yogurt and ricotta make for a heavier batter than is typical for regular pancakes, so the visual cues for doneness are also different. You may not see large bubbles form and pop on the surface; watch for the edges to appear slightly dried out, and a little bit of swelling in the center of the batter. It should take about four minutes for the first side, and two more to finish them.


My camera angle didn’t quite capture the rising action of the pancakes after they were turned, but when you make them, you’ll see that they puff up quite a bit on the griddle. Every bite was fluffy, tender and satisfying, with the fiber goodness of zucchini and the light, sunshine-y citrus.  

Every bite of these zucchini pancakes had a bright, citrus-y flavor, like sunshine on a fork!

Serve these with real maple syrup or switch it up with a spoonful of warmed marmalade or tangy lemon curd.


Zucchini Sunshine Pancakes

  • Servings: about 10 pancakes
  • Difficulty: average
  • Print

Shredded zucchini and citrus provide a fresh burst of summer flavor in these protein-packed pancakes. For best results, let yogurt, ricotta and eggs stand at room temperature for 20 minutes before mixing.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup plain, Greek-style yogurt (stir well before measuring)
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 3 large eggs (or 2 extra large)
  • Juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
  • Juice and zest of 1/2 navel orange
  • 3/4 cup shredded fresh zucchini, blotted dry with paper towels
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour (I like King Arthur brand)
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • Real maple syrup or warm marmalade, for serving

Directions

  1. Whisk together (or mix with electric mixer) the yogurt, ricotta and eggs until the mixture is smooth and even.
  2. Stir in juice and zest of lemon and orange.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.
  4. Whisk or stir half of the shredded zucchini into the yogurt mixture. Add half of the flour ingredients to the bowl and fold gently with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula to combine. Fold in the remaining zucchini, and then fold in the remaining flour ingredients, folding about 10 times to ensure all the flour is fully incorporated.
  5. Preheat griddle or skillet to medium/medium-low temperature. Allow pancake batter to rest during this time.
  6. Cook a test pancake to ensure heat is correct; the pancake should be golden brown on the first side when the edges appear dry on the top. Spoon or ladle about 1/4 cup of batter per pancake onto the skillet; the batter will be thick, but resist the temptation to thin it or spread it out into flatter rounds. Pancakes should be ready to turn after about 3 minutes. Stack them on a platter to keep them warm until all pancakes are cooked.
  7. Serve hot with real maple syrup or warmed marmalade.



Zucchini Tzatziki

Remember that song from long ago“Anything you can do, I can do better?” I believe it was from the musical, Annie, Get Your Gun, and I had it on repeat in my mind as I was putting shredded zucchini in the starring role for this popular Greek condiment. A typical tzatziki would be made with grated cucumber, but the sheer volume of zucchini coming from my garden has me changing up everything these days. I thought there was a good chance zucchini could stand in for the cucumber—alongside the Greek yogurt, minced garlic and fresh herbs—and it really worked!

We enjoyed this zucchini tzatziki over July 4th weekend, with grilled chicken souvlaki and grilled shrimp. And it was just as delicious last night with the leftovers!

Zucchini was an excellent understudy to the usual cucumber in my tzatziki!

If you find yourself with an over-abundance of zucchini, as I expect is probably the case for everyone who has planted it, then give this a try.

As with cucumber, the zucchini needs to be salted generously and rested in layered towels so that the excess moisture can be released. The amount of salt used to draw out the moisture is almost exactly the amount needed to season the dish, so it works out well.


Next, stir and measure out the Greek yogurt into a small bowl. Add the drained zucchini, finely chopped fresh garlic, black pepper and fresh herbs—dill and mint are traditional, so that’s what I used—and give the whole thing a big stir. Adjust the salt to your liking; it may not need any extra at all. Cover and refrigerate the tzatziki until you’re ready to use it. Stir it well just before serving.


Tzatziki is so flavorful, with a garlic bite and the cooling nature of the mint and dill. I could eat it all summer, and now that I know how well zucchini works in this recipe, I’ll be doing it this way again. Below is a printable version of the recipe, and keep scrolling to find a few more delicious ways to enjoy tzatziki. 🙂


Zucchini Tzatziki

  • Servings: 1 cup
  • Difficulty: so easy!
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This recipe is an easy way to use up an extra zucchini squash, and it was a fun twist on a classic Greek tzatziki sauce.

Ingredients

  • 1 smallish unpeeled zucchini, shredded (about 1 cup)
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt (for drawing moisture from the squash)
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt (I used 2% milkfat)
  • 2 or 3 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh dill, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh mint leaves, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • additional salt, to taste

Directions

  1. Spread zucchini shreds evenly across a double layer of paper towels, or on a clean kitchen towel (choose one that is lint-free and not washed with fragrance or fabric softener). Sprinkle salt all over the shreds, tossing them a bit to ensure even coverage. Fold the towel up to contain the zucchini in a “packet,” and put it in the fridge for a couple of hours. I placed my zucchini packet in a shallow glass dish to prevent drips.
  2. Transfer salted zucchini to fresh layers of paper towel and blot well to wick away lingering moisture. You may be surprised how wet the original paper towels are, and a great deal of the salt will be soaked into them as well.
  3. Stir the Greek yogurt and measure it out into a small bowl. Add the zucchini shreds, garlic, herbs and black pepper. Stir to combine. Adjust salt to your liking.


Keep the tzatziki refrigerated until ready to serve. It will keep in the fridge for several days, but may separate over time. Give it a good stir just before serving.




Healthy-ish Zucchini Bread with Drunken Raisins

When it comes to eating healthier, getting started is the hardest part. I’ve had fun making rich and decadent foods for me and my husband, especially since I started Comfort du Jour. But I’m on a roll with healthy swaps in the kitchen lately, and we are certainly not suffering for it; I dare say we may be enjoying our foods more than ever, and some of that is because we are giving up guilt, but not flavor. It helps a great deal that my commitment to lightening things up is timed exactly to the start of garden season and especially to the arrival of so much fresh zucchini.

I will admit that I have been surprised by the prolific yield of our zucchini plants, given that one of the four we planted was crushed when (apparently) a startled deer fell on the trellis. The plant was tied to grow up through the trellis and there was no way to release it from that mishap without pulling up all four plants. I figured that one was a goner, but nature always amazes me with its resiliency, and I am pleased to report that after a rough start, the crushed plant has rebounded and is still producing blooms. We have literally picked squash each day for the past week, and I’m scrambling to come up with fun ways to use them all.

These beauties are coming in faster than I can use them!

I have loved zucchini bread since I was a kid, and I set out to modify an old family recipe to reduce the oil and sugar without sacrificing flavor or texture. The original recipe was handed down from my maternal great-grandmother, and it has always been delicious as written, but includes some things I don’t use in my own kitchen today, like “vegetable oil.” I had a few ideas in mind, such as subbing in Greek yogurt for a portion of the oil, and melted butter for the rest—the way I see it, if a recipe must have fats, they should at least contribute richness and flavor—and I reduced the overall amount of sugar by a fourth, using a combination of cane sugar and brown sugar (the latter keeps the zucchini bread nice and soft). As always, I also substituted whole wheat pastry flour for half of the total amount, because white flour is just empty carbs.


There was one more special switch-up in my modern version of my Great-Gram’s zucchini bread; I had this idea to embellish the bread with rum-soaked raisins for a fun twist. But would that have been OK with Grandma? As a young adult, I had the great fortune to know my great-grandmother, but I had no recollection of her ever taking a drink, so I paused over these rum-drenched raisins. On this twist, I consulted my aunt, who also likes to make healthy changes to time-honored dishes, but still respects the family heirloom recipes, as I do.

“I think she would be delighted,” was Aunt Joy’s reply, as other family members had recently confirmed to her that Grandma did enjoy a little nip on occasion. I have no doubt that she would have accepted my other changes, and I could even imagine exactly what she’d say, in her sassy, Norwegian accent:

“Sure, just use whatever you’ve got. You’ll know what to do.”

Despite being at least 6 inches taller than her, I looked up to my great grandmother in every way. ❤

The only thing Grandma might have fussed about was just how long I had been soaking these raisins in rum, which I’m only slightly embarrassed to admit has been since, ahem, Christmas or so. I had doused them in Jamaican rum in an effort to revive them (they were desperately dry), and I intended to use them in a holiday treat but got distracted. Then I figured I’d put them in banana bread, but I kept either forgetting or changing my plan. We have moved these raisins around in the fridge for months, and by the time the zucchini started coming in, they weren’t just tipsy, they were plain drunk!

There are worse things to be soaked in than rum.

Obviously, not everyone has a bowlful of drunken raisins hanging around, and that’s perfectly fine. Soaking for a few hours or a couple of days will get the job done, and as the rum (or bourbon or orange juice or whatever you use) absorbs into the dried fruit, the natural sugars seep out into the liquid, forming a syrup of sorts. That sweetness adds the special something to this zucchini bread, and you honestly don’t taste any alcohol. It’s more about making them super plump before baking, as you can see in these juicy jewels of sweetness, nestled in among the toasted walnuts and all those shreds of fresh zucchini.

The raisins are so soft and sweet!

To get this recipe started, I first wrote down all the substitutions I planned to make, and I also cut my Great-Gram’s recipe in half, because her instructions were for two loaves. I find it challenging to change a recipe on the fly, and I probably should have mentioned that when I wrote about “the problem with recipes,” given that it is a frequent challenge for me. We have a small household—just me and my husband—and unless I am cooking to entertain, I like to make things in small amounts. I wrote out the exact amounts of all the ingredients I’d be using for a single loaf, and arranged them on the counter. At our house, we call it mise en place, the French term that means, “all in its place, lined up, ready to go.”

If I don’t set it up this way, I will forget something!

The eggs were whipped first, and I started with a hand whisk but quickly switched to my electric mixer with the single whisk head attachment. Despite my excitement in outfitting my kitchen with new, upgraded small appliances, I have thus far refused to replace my handheld mixer that I have had since the late 90s. There isn’t anything special about it, except that it was made in the USA and still works great after all these years. My Great-Gram probably had one just like it, and she would heartily agree that “they don’t make things like they used to.” After the eggs are whipped and foamy, I added the sugar, a little at a time. Then the yogurt and melted butter. The original recipe didn’t call for the vanilla yet, but I find it easier to mix that into a batter with the wet ingredients, so in it went.

The dry ingredients got whisked together in their bowl—this is important, because you don’t want the baking soda or cinnamon to clump up when they hit the wet ingredients—and they were added to the egg mixture a little at a time, alternated with the shredded zucchini. Blending and folding a little of each in stages ensures more even mixing without overworking the batter (which would make the bread tough).

Finally, the drunken raisins and toasted walnuts were folded into the batter, and my modernized, somewhat health-ified version of zucchini bread was ready for the oven!

Grandma’s recipe said to grease and flour the pan, but I made a hammock of parchment paper instead, for easy lifting of the finished loaf. I’ve never liked inverting a soft loaf of quick bread; it’s too easy to break it and I don’t care for the unsightly rack marks it leaves on top. No oil or greasing is necessary here—just lay the parchment into the pan with a bit of a flap hanging over each long side, and then pour in the batter. For a nice crunch on top of the loaf, I sprinkled on a tablespoon of turbinado sugar just before baking.

The house smelled sooo good while this was baking, and 55 minutes later, a clean toothpick confirmed it was done. There’s no doubt, this quick bread would be a winner with my great grandmother. It’s packed with plenty of garden-fresh zucchini, and with reduced fat and sugar—plus the substitution of whole grains—I can enjoy it for breakfast or dessert without guilt.


Healthy-ish Zucchini Bread with Drunken Raisins

  • Servings: about 12
  • Difficulty: average
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I’ve made a few “lighter” adjustments to a family heirloom recipe, and the result was delicious. My raisins were soaked in rum, but you could also use whiskey or bourbon, or skip the alcohol and soak them instead in orange or apple juice.

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar; I did halvsies of white and brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt (stir it well before measuring)
  • 4 Tbsp. melted butter
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 3/8 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • a few scrapes freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 cup grated zucchini (unpeeled, large holes on a box grater)
  • ½ cup raisins (soak them at least a few hours, with just enough rum to cover them)
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts, optional (I toasted them in the oven 8 minutes first)
  • ½ tsp. vanilla
  • 1 Tbsp. turbinado sugar (for sprinkling over the surface of the batter before baking)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Toast walnuts if using, and allow them to cool while you prep the batter.
  2. Whisk together flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices.
  3. Use a handheld mixer to beat the eggs until they are light-colored and fluffy. Add sugar gradually, blending to dissolve and fully incorporate it. Blend in yogurt and then butter.
  4. Using a silicone spatula, fold 1/3 of the dry ingredients into the egg mixture, alternating with 1/2 grated zucchini and repeat, ending with the dry ingredients. Fold in raisins and walnuts.
  5. Pour batter into non-stick (or greased, floured) bread pan. I laid in a sling of parchment, so I could lift the baked bread out rather than inverting it. Sprinkle the surface evenly with turbinado sugar.
  6. Bake in lower third of oven for 55 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool at least 20 minutes in pan, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.


This zucchini bread is delicious when served warm. Wrap leftovers snugly in aluminum foil at room temperature or refrigerate for longer storage.



Moroccan Zucchini “Boats”

One clear advantage to growing your own garden vegetables is that you have a wider range of varieties and sizes of veggies to choose from. I can find zucchini, for example, at my local supermarket, but only smallish ones that can be fried, steamed or skewered. Because this year we gave in to the deer and decided to forego attempting our own garden, I had to go to the farmers’ market to get a large zucchini, like the ones everyone gave away for free this time of year in my hometown. I appreciate that unlike grocery store produce, whatever I bring home from the outdoor market was probably hanging on the vine mere hours before.

You can make a generous meal from a foot-long zucchini!

On our last visit to the market, I was specifically on the lookout for large zucchini because I wanted to make a “boat” out of it. I have enjoyed stuffed zucchini for years, dating back to my hometown days and first apartment meals. Through the years, I have made them with sausage stuffing, ratatouille flavors or Italian-themed ingredients, depending on what else I had in the fridge at the time.


This time, I kept it entirely plant-based and gave it a spicy Moroccan twist. Israeli pearl couscous found its way into the mix, along with tomatoes, onions, mushrooms and garlic. I added a robust harissa paste for a big afterburn flavor. It was a double win for me—I got my wish for a hearty garden-based meal, and it was a fun flavor twist that my heat-loving hubby enjoyed, too.

 

Harissa is a staple seasoning of North African cuisine. It packs a spicy punch, so use it sparingly.

Ingredients

Large zucchini, halved lengthwise and insides scooped out

Olive oil spray

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup Israeli couscous* (see notes)

1 cup vegetable broth

1/2 medium sweet onion, chopped

4 or 5 large cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

Half of a large can of whole peeled tomatoes with puree*

1 tsp. harissa paste (more or less to taste)

1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs

2 Tbsp. melted vegan butter*

Fresh chopped parsley for garnish


*Notes

Couscous is essentially really tiny pasta, and for this recipe, I used a blend from Trader Joe’s that combines Israeli (“pearl”) couscous, which is larger than regular couscous, with various other ingredients, including split baby garbanzos, orzo (another tiny pasta) and quinoa. Any type of cooked grain would work here, including bulgur, freekah, wheat berries or even brown rice. You need about 1 cup cooked.

I almost always have San Marzano tomatoes in play in my kitchen, and half of a 28 oz. can was about right for this recipe. Use a standard can of diced tomatoes or, obviously, go for fresh! 🙂

There are so many good options for non-dairy “butter.” I am fond of the olive oil version made by Country Crock. It looks, melts and spreads just like dairy butter.


As usual, Nilla is ready and waiting for a piece of vegetable to fall! ❤

Instructions

Here’s a quick visual walk-through for making this yummy, plant-based zucchini boat. Steps are listed below, along with a downloadable PDF for your recipe files. Enjoy!

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F, with rack in the center position. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Cut the zucchini in half lengthwise, then score the inside to scoop out the seedy flesh. Cut the flesh up into chunks and toss with salt in a colander to remove excess moisture.
  3. Drizzle, brush or spray olive oil onto the cut sides of the squash and season generously with salt and pepper. Lay the squash on the parchment and roast for 30 minutes, or until squash is tender.
  4. Meanwhile, cook couscous according to package instructions, using vegetable broth in place of water to afford additional flavor to the dish.
  5. Heat a medium sauce pot over medium heat. Add a generous swirl of olive oil and sauté the onions until softened and translucent. Add mushrooms and zucchini chunks to the pot and cook until tender. Transfer the mixture to a separate bowl.
  6. Add another swirl of olive oil to the sauce pot and simmer the tomatoes and garlic over low heat until the tomatoes are soft enough to break when pressed. Stir in harissa paste and adjust seasonings to taste. Return the onions and mushrooms to the tomato mixture, along with the cooked couscous and the reserved salted zucchini pieces.
  7. Melt the vegan butter and toss with the panko crumbs, salt and pepper.
  8. Spoon the couscous filling into the zucchini shells. Top with buttered panko crumbs. Return the zucchini boats to the oven and bake until crumbs are browned and crispy. Serve with chopped parsley sprinkled on top.

Delicious and satisfying!



Ratatouille Lasagna Roll-ups

The summer season brings all the garden-fresh vegetables I love, including zucchini and eggplant, which I would definitely be growing in our little garden plot if it weren’t for the deer. Year after year, I have tried in vain to grow my own veggies, and the increase of deer activity on our property and that of our neighbors has been almost humorous. Almost.

Gardening, for me, started as a fun, nature-loving adventure but has rapidly declined into a frustrating drama, and now we have this elevated box in our yard, where we cannot grow anything but marigolds and basil, which have proven to be the only things our local deer detest. Last year’s garden was demolished, right down to the flowers and budding fruit of the eggplants and even the jalapeno pepper plants (which I had been told deer would never eat). We have tried all the folk remedies on the internet—human hair, shavings of bar soap, peppermint oil, so-called deer repellent, and even a weird concoction I made from rotten eggs, cayenne and dish soap. That last remedy had near-catastrophic results, but I won’t embarrass my husband again with that story (you can read it here, if you’d like). This year, we didn’t even bother planting a garden, and I’m contemplating turning the raised bed into some kind of wildflower bed. I get exasperated just thinking about it.

To make up for a lack of homegrown veggies, we are regularly visiting our weekly Cobblestone farmers’ market, which features a variety of vendors offering fresh produce as well as pastured meat, eggs, organic mushrooms, jams and preserves, and even handmade alpaca wool products. It’s a fun way to spend an hour on a Saturday morning, and this past weekend, we came home with everything I needed for a new batch of ratatouille. Ah, my favorite veggie-centered summer meal!

Classic ratatouille ingredients = zucchini, eggplant, pepper, onions (leeks this time), tomato and herbs de Provence!

Me being me, though, I cannot simply chop up these ingredients and make a “traditional” ratatouille, which would be a rustic casserole-meets-stew kind of thing. I have to twist it up! My culinary muse inspired me this time to combine the French classic dish with another favorite comfort food—lasagna. I figured that I could infuse my herbs de Provence seasoning into a ricotta mixture with lemon zest and some grated cheese and that it would be the “glue” to hold the other ingredients together inside a rolled-up lasagna noodle. The eggplant and zucchini would be sliced and roasted, and the red pepper would be worked into the sauce. This is how my mind sees a pile of ingredients, and the end result was exactly as I had imagined, both visually and in perfect summer flavor. Delicious!

Inside, you can see and taste all the flavors of a summer ratatouille!

This reimagined one-dish meal took mostly time to put together; it was not at all difficult. I cannot say definitively how much time is needed because I was cooking all day, in between work emails and other home tasks. I will say that it was mostly passive time; I was either waiting for things to lose moisture or to finish roasting or to boil or bake. The rest was just slicing, chopping and stirring, and there’s no particular order that must be followed. You could even make everything a day ahead and just assemble and bake it the next day.


The entire ratatouille-meets-lasagna project weaved itself nicely into my busy day, and because each ingredient received its own treatment, the simplest way I can describe it is to share the process of each component. I’ll share a PDF version of the recipe at the end if you want to try it, but I’ll let the pictures tell the story in today’s post. Here we go! 🙂


The Ricotta Filling


The Eggplant


The Zucchini


The Red Bell Pepper


The Onions


The Tomatoes

The only classic ratatouille ingredient remaining is tomato, and though my ingredients photo displays a big, lovely heirloom tomato from the farmers’ market, I thought better of it when I began cooking my ratatouille. The heirloom tomato would have been full of seeds and too juicy for this dish, so I cast it aside and used half a can of San Marzano tomatoes instead to produce a fusion sauce, together with the roasted red pepper and a healthy dose of garlic. This sauce was similar to the roasted red pepper sauce that my husband, Les, discovered last year, but it leans more toward tomato than pepper. It was exactly what this recipe needed.


Putting it all together

Assembling and finishing my ratatouille lasagna roll-ups was a cinch! I par-cooked the lasagna noodles until they were soft and flexible, spread the ricotta mixture onto them, layered the eggplant, zucchini and leeks and rolled them up!


First ratatouille of the summer! 🙂

Oh, and that plump, juicy heirloom tomato I mentioned found its way instead to a BLT, which we enjoyed as a separate meal on freshly baked sourdough bread with local greens and some pastured pork bacon (also from the farmers’ market).

Who needs a garden, anyway? 😉



Souvlaki Pork Chops with Grilled Zucchini Salad

The warmth of summer is fading, and I’m not complaining. My favorite things to cook are autumn and winter foods, and I’m scheming to bring exciting new flavors into the new season.

But we still have to eat between now and then, and the grill has been our BFF this summer, especially as we have challenged ourselves to elevate our home-cooked meals while so many restaurants were closed. Here’s a quick look back at some of the fun grilled foods I’ve put on my plate since I launched Comfort du Jour:


Before the sun sets on summer 2020, I’m throwing down a Mediterranean twist on simple grilled pork chops. I love the flavors of souvlaki, the Greek specialty that highlights the brightness of lemon and pungency of garlic, and is often applied to chicken or pork on skewers, so why not just skip chopping the chops into chunks and just marinate them as they are?

Does this look healthy and delicious, or what?

And tasty grilled meat deserves a fresh grilled side, so I have also whipped up a flavorful, healthy salad made with fresh summer tomato, crunchy red onion and marinated grilled zucchini squash. Here we go!


Ingredients

2 thick sliced, bone-in pork chops

4 cloves garlic, minced

Juice of one lemon

1 Tbsp. white balsamic vinegar (or any white wine vinegar + pinch of sugar)

2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

1/2 tsp. dried oregano leaves

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (I used Greek Kalamata)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


For the salad:

1 medium zucchini, trimmed and cut lengthwise into wedges

1 medium firm tomato, cut into chunks

2 thick slices red onion, cut into chunks

6 Kalamata olives, drained and chopped

Dressing: 1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar, 1 Tbsp. white balsamic, a few shakes of garlic-pepper seasoning, 1/4 tsp. dried oregano, whisk in 2 Tbsp. olive oil.

Feta cheese, cut into cubes

Fresh parsley, chopped, for garnish


Instructions

Take a walk through the slideshow for visual instruction, and refer to the notes below if you need them. Remember, you can download the recipe in PDF format to try it yourself, and please let me know how it comes out for you!

  1. Season pork chops with salt and pepper.
  2. In a glass measuring cup, combine lemon juice, vinegars, oregano, salt and pepper. Drizzle olive oil into the blend, whisking constantly, until mixture is emulsified. Stir in minced garlic.
  3. Pour most of the marinate over the pork chops in a glass dish and set aside for 30 minutes. Turn once or twice during marinating time to ensure even distribution of flavor.
  4. Pour the remaining marinade over the zucchini strips in another dish. Salt and pepper the zucchini and set those aside while you chop and prep the remaining salad ingredients.
  5. Mix together the dressing ingredients and set that aside, giving the dried oregano time to hydrate.
  6. Prepare grill and pre-heat to about 450° F (medium). Carefully place the pork chops over direct heat and sear each side about 1 minute to seal in juices. Then reduce the heat to about 350° F. The olive oil may cause flare-ups, so keep that cold beer in your hand to splash if necessary. Just kidding; either keep a squirt bottle nearby or use a grill tool to try to put out the flare or move the chops.
  7. Continue to cook for about 10 minutes each side, or until juices start to run clear when pierced with a knife tip.
  8. When you turn the chops, pile the zucchini onto the grill also, and turn them frequently to cook evenly and to get those beautiful grill marks.
  9. Allow the finished chops to rest and chop the zucchini spears into bite-sized chunks. Immediately toss the grilled zucchini with the rest of the salad ingredients. Whisk the dressing briefly, then pour over salad and toss gently to combine. Scatter cubes of feta and fresh parsley over salad and serve alongside the pork chops.
Grill, I’m gonna miss you…

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