Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Doing The Rounds Again

Zucchine Tonde Gratinate con Gorgonzola, Menta & Pomodoro
Round Zucchini Gratin with Tomato, Mint & Gorgonzola

I know- your opinion of zucchini is probably more "meh!" than "yum!", but as with most ingredients (and indeed most things in life!), the simple truth that "it ain't what you do- it's the way that you do it", applies here to 100%! Especially if you have these wonderful round zucchini, which are in my humble little opinion, much tastier than the regular, straight ones. And yes, of course they taste a little bland, a little sweet and a little neutral on their own... so give those little sweeties a hand! You only get back what you put in after all!

All kidding aside, so many things that we eat need at least a little coaxing to get the best out of their natural flavors. Just think of rice, potatoes or pasta without salt. How about eating an egg without salt and pepper? Nope- as with all things, you can totally bring them into their own with the right herbs and spices and preparation. Here's a little idea to breath a lot of life into an ordinary little vegetable and to transform it into a delicious and satisfying meal. Word.

Usually, what people tend to do with zucchini is indeed to slice it up and to fry it, season it with salt and pepper and be astounded at how bland it tastes. The other thing that happens is that it soaks up plenty of oil whilst it fries. alternatively, many people do grill it during the Summer months, which is a much better cooking method and has much more flavorful results. But what else can you do with zucchini that makes it yummy and delicious?

Of course you can stuff zucchini with ground meat or rice... but let's be honest, the real novelty in those dishes is to use the zucchini as an edible container. And yes they still taste sweet and bland and neutral! This evening I steamed and baked the zucchini, adding mint which is a great pairing at all times for zucchini and Gorgonzola, to add seasoning and a richness to counterpoint its natural sweetness. A little nutmeg and parsley to add a bit of depth of flavor and the sweet and tangy cherry tomatoes for contrast- and yes, a different and tasty dish was born!

To make it, I cut the zucchini, 2 in this case, into slices of almost 1". I lightly salted them, popped them onto my steam-rack in a little saucepan and let them bubble and steam away for around 10 minutes- just the time it took to prepare the  rest of the ingredients and to get the oven nice and hot for baking them in a short while.

In the meantime I finely chopped a good handful of mint and a little parsley and put them into a bowl, together with 2 cupfuls of bread crumbs and half of a finely chopped onion. I then cut off a piece of Gorgonzola of around 3"- just a good handful, and in turn, cut this into very small pieces. You have to work quickly to do this as it tends to get warm, melt and become very sticky, very quickly. The way to do it is this- cut off a slice of cheese, cut the slice into little bits and scatter these into the herb bread crumbs, then mix them in with a spoon. That way, the little Gorgonzola pieces get coated in crumbs and therefore do not simply all clump together :-) You gotta use your head in the kitchen and not just your hands!

I seasoned the bread crumbs with pepper and nutmeg, but no salt- the Gorgonzola is rich and salty enough to flavor the zucchini in my opinion... try it without and you can always add a sprinkle of salt later if you prefer... but if you season it first and find the result is too salty at the end... you'll be sorry!

As soon as the zucchini was good- it actually only took 7-8 minutes, I took it out of the steamer and let it cool a little, then fanned-out the slices in a baking dish, ready to assemble. Once the pieces were arranged nicely and evenly-spaced, I lifted them one by one and spooned-in a little of the bread crumbs... carefully at first and then adding more later, once I had an even spread over everything. Any excess just got sprinkled around the edges- extra crunch is always good, right?

I then added 5-6 cherry tomatoes, cut into slices, which I slid in between the slices here and there, gave everything a good sprinkle of pepper and a trickle of olive oil, then kissed it good by and popped it, covered in foil, into a hot oven, 350°F, for 10 minutes, to get it all steamed up, moist, and ready to be browned off. Then 5 minutes with the foil removed and a further 2-3 minutes under the broiler to get it nice and crispy... finito!

What I like about this is that it is not greasy from frying, has very few but very concentrated ingredients and flavors- and because of the bread crumbs, becomes satisfying enough in itself to serve as a meal. Of course you could serve this as a side dish to some meat or fish too... all that I will say is that I hope you give it a try! Because you might just like it! ;-) Enjoy!

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