Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Canal House Cooking -- Soft Zucchini with Harissa, Olives, and Feta

It's the middle of summer and just about everyone with a garden has a ton of zucchini that needs using. Yes, you can make pickles and soup and ratatouille. And I'm certainly not going to turn down a delicious stuffed squash. But after the fifteenth serving of grilled zucchini, who isn't craving something a little different?

In Canal House Cooking Volume No. 1, the women of Canal House have come through with yet another gem -- Soft Zucchini with Harissa, Olives, and Feta. Apparently, this is their adaptation of a Gabrielle Hamilton (of Prune in New York City) dish that she created to help beat the pants off Bobby Flay on Iron Chef.

Hamilton's victory will make perfect sense, once you prepare and taste this winning dish. Brimming with North African ingredients like harissa, preserved lemons and cured olives, this dish will surprise and delight you.

I'm quite serious.

Perhaps, you will find that you are not as sick of summer squash as you were beginning to believe.

I suppose this zucchini could be served warm, but I prefer the idea of it as a room temperature salad. Easily a vegetarian main dish served with a loaf of crusty bread, this dish is also a natural cozied up next to a bloody rack of lamb.

To begin, you will prepare the harissa vinaigrette, whose usefulness is only limited by your imagination -- think spicy chicory salad or marinade for grilled beef.

It is a nice change to bump into a recipe using caraway. If caraway is not your thing, the Canal House women provide an alternative -- a mixture of fennel and cumin seeds.

This is the perfect moment to pull out your sturdy mortar and pestle. Furiously smashing up the toasted seeds and plump garlic is fun work, and the perfect moment to get your toddler in on the act.

If you've got one handy.

Making the harissa vinaigrette is a quick and easy process. Slicing the zucchini into thick rounds can be done in the blink of an eye, plus they only take about five to seven minutes to cook once you've thrown them into the vat of heavily salted boiling water. All in all you're in about for about twenty minutes. That is nothing compared to what you end up with.

The flavors are naturally a bit spicy and garlicky, but refreshing from the heavy dose of acidic lemon juice and kick from the preserved lemon. The olives and feta cheese provide just the right amount of salt -- there is plenty of it, but not too much.

If there were no feta and no olives in the pantry, this dish would survive. It would not be up to its most glorious potential, but it would still be a very tasty way to enjoy zucchini as an accompaniment to meat or poultry.

I would miss the parsley however, if there were none about. It brings more of the bright green garden into the dish, and its clean herbaceous flavor should really not be omitted.

One final note. Please don't overcook the zucchini. It must be very tender, but you absolutely do not want this summer squash reduced to mush.

Canal House Cooking's Soft Zucchini with Harissa, Olives, and Feta

1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds or a combination of fennel and cumin seeds
1 clove garlic
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons harissa paste
6 tablespoons really good extra-virgin olive oil, plus a bit more for drizzling at the end
4 zucchini, sliced into thick rounds
Handful cured olives, a combination of oily and briny ones is nice, pitted (I used oily ones exclusively and did not bother pitting them.)
1/2 cup coarsely crumbled feta
Small handful parsley leaves, chopped
Rind of a quarter of a preserved lemon, chopped

Toast the caraway seeds in a little heavy pan, until fragrant -- only a couple of minutes. Pay attention, because they will burn quickly! Smash the seeds with a pestle in a mortar. Add the garlic and a pinch of salt and smash it into a paste. Add the lemon juice, harissa and olive oil. Season with salt.

Bring a vat of heavily salted water to a boil. Add the zucchini and cook until very tender, but not mushy or falling apart, approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Drain well. Toss the warm zucchini with the harissa vinaigrette in a large bowl.

Add the olives, feta, parsley, and preserved lemons. Drizzle the finished dish with good olive oil. Serve at room temperature.

Serves 4 to 6

1 comment:

Helen said...

I just had a chance to read the new postings on your blog and they just make me hungry. Everything sounds and looks so good and your enthusiasm is so infectious that I just want to be invited over for dinner rather than start to cook in this weather. I do hope to get around to trying one or two or three of the recipes soon. Thanks for all your efforts. Your blog is great!