Welcome to late summer! The corn is high, and I am in a race to pick the cherry tomatoes at just the right stage of ripeness before the birds move in for a crafty peck or two. The zucchini are abundant on the vines and need to be harvested before they turn into inedible monsters the size of footballs. Yes, we are thankfully in the time of abundance and here are some quick and easy recipes to complement the seasonal glut. Enjoy them on your porch or deck, with a cooling drink and your friends and family around you. Peak summer joy!
It is very important to get the grated zucchini as dry as you can before mixing, and to cook a small test sample and adjust for saltiness before frying the whole batch. You can play around with the flavors, and I sometimes add a little crumbled feta cheese and a hint of different spices such as cumin and coriander. The mixture should be quite wet, so if your eggs are small, you may need two. Rest the mixture for no more than 15 minutes or the zucchini will release too much water. Tomatoes, either in a salad or sauce, are excellent partners, as is a cooling and tangy cucumber salad.
4 medium zucchini (about 2 ½ lbs. or 5 to 6 cups when grated)
1 cup finely sliced scallions, white and green part
1 cup of fresh corn kernels
1½ Tbsp. finely chopped dill
1 Tbsp. chopped parsley
½ cup finely grated parmesan cheese
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. turmeric
Fine sea salt
Fresh black pepper
1 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup olive oil
Fresh lemon quarters for serving
Coarsely grate the zucchini on the largest holes of a box grater. Add to a sieve placed over a bowl and mix in 1¼ tsp. fine sea salt. Leave to drain for at least 30 minutes. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, paprika, turmeric, a pinch of salt and a few twists of fresh black pepper. Press down on the grated zucchini to extract as much juice as you can (it will be a lot). Wrap in a clean dish towel and squeeze gently to remove any remaining moisture.
Place the zucchini, corn, scallions and fresh herbs in a bowl and fold in the dry ingredients, followed by the cheese and beaten eggs, and mix thoroughly. Cover and store in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes.
Heat the olive oil in a large shallow skillet over medium heat. It should be about ¼ inch in depth. Do a test cook to taste for seasoning. Gently drop a large teaspoonful of the mixture (it will be quite wet) in the oil and cook gently for about 1 minute on each side. Let it cool slightly before tasting. Add a little more salt if needed. Add ¼ cup scoops of the mixture into the skillet and press down to make thin cakes. Leave plenty of space in the pan and cook in two batches. Fry gently on each side, turning after 2 to 3 minutes, until both sides are golden brown and the insides are cooked through. Place the first batch on a wire tray, set over a baking sheet and place in a 300-degree oven to stay warm while the second batch is cooking. Serve immediately with a side of simple tomato salad and a quick squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
Cherry Tomato Pasta
Right about now, I have an abundance of cherry tomatoes. They thrive with little care and attention, and as long as they get sunlight and water, they will continue to reward you until the first frost.
This pasta dish is little more than tomatoes, oil and garlic, garnished with lots of fresh basil and some parmesan cheese. I have added some shallots and a little Aleppo pepper, but it is not necessary. Plenty of good olive oil and the pasta cooking water are key to creating a good sauce. Amounts I have given are an estimate, so use your judgement.
For a more substantial dish you can add some ricotta, burrata or mozzarella right at the end, but it is just plain good as it is. It makes a wonderful side for grilled Italian sausages or a piece of grilled swordfish.
2 cloves local garlic, minced
1 large shallot, minced
1/3 cup olive oil
¼ tsp Aleppo pepper or other medium to mild chili flakes
1½ lbs. ripe red and yellow cherry tomatoes, washed and halved widthways
Fine sea salt
Fresh black pepper
8 oz. spaghetti or linguine
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil and add the pasta. Cook until al dente and drain. Reserve one cup of the pasta water.
While the pasta is cooking, make the cherry tomato sauce. Heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a heavy skillet at low heat and add the shallot, cooking gently for a minute. Add the garlic and Aleppo pepper and cook for two more minutes, stirring all the time. Do not allow the shallot and garlic to brown. Add two more Tbsp. oil and add three quarters of the cherry tomatoes and a large sprig of basil, reserving the rest.
As the tomatoes are cooking, they will start to soften. To help them break down into a sauce, press them gently with the back of a heavy spoon. Add a little more oil from time to time and a splash of the pasta cooking water. You should have a thick and chunky sauce. A couple of minutes before the sauce is done, add the rest of the tomatoes and cook gently to allow them to soften but hold their shape. Add more oil and a tablespoon or two of cooking water and stir gently. Add the pasta and gently heat everything together. At this stage, if you are adding mozzarella or burrata, you can chop and add to the dish. Pour into a large, warmed serving bowl and garnish with fresh basil leaves and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve with the freshly grated parmesan.
Simple Tomato Salad
Use the most luscious, ripe tomatoes you can find. A mixture of yellow and red heirlooms and cherries work best, and make sure they have never seen the inside of a refrigerator! You can also add a little thinly sliced shallots for extra flavor.
A mix of ripe local tomatoes
1 clove garlic peeled
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 tsp. red wine or sherry vinegar
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp. shredded mint leaves
A handful of basil leaves, torn into small pieces
Slice the tomatoes in chunks over a serving bowl so that you catch all the juices (be careful with that sharp knife!). Add 1/4 teaspoon of fine sea salt and mix. Grate in 1 small clove fresh local garlic, using a fine micro plane grater. Stir in the vinegar, oil, and fresh herbs. Leave for a few minutes at room temperature for flavors to marinate before serving with the fritters.