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  • Easy Zucchini Gratin

    Hey. You guys all know what is going down: summer!! Whether that means vacations, afternoons sipping iced coffee on a deck or porch, evenings with fun cocktails or beers with friends, or a hot day with a copy machine for the next two weeks to prepare for a short course at school. You know-however you choose to celebrate the season, please do it!! Relax, enjoy, watch the sunset. After this crazy week, I plan on getting away to a semi-remote cabin by a lake, and soaking in some sun. There may be kayaking (kayak-ing?) involved, as well as campfires. Oh, and pudgy pies. You know-those square cast iron contraptions that you stuff bread in, top with delicious fillings, and cook over an open fire. Yep...it is happening. I am still on a quest for some vegan marshmallows, 'cause I may just have to make a s'more with some of the 12 bars of Mast Brothers chocolate I got in NYC in May. Why? Why not?!!

    Anyways, enough with my blabbing. Our CSA has graced our kitchen with some delicious zucchini and summer squash this season. Usually, I just grate them all up, and make bread. But this year, I have been more creative! See: Fried Zucchini Pasta Salad. 

    Also, I want to introduce this super-duper easy and tasting side dish perfect for summer get-togethers, a lazy summer dinner, or just when you have a ton of zucchini and summer squash laying around!! 

    I adapted the recipe and method from Minimalist Baker. Love those guys!! They provide such good, simpy and truly delicious recipes and inspiration. This gratin is no less: I went the super lazy route and did not saute anything before assembling the gratin, and used chopped garlic scapes in place of the asparagus the recipe originally called for. While the flavors are super tasty and fresh on their own, as I was shoving the finished gratin in my face, I couldn't help but think that a pinch or two of lemon zest and a small squeeze of lemon juice would help brighten those light, summery zucchini flavors a bit more. But, totally optional! And the good news? The vegan "parmesan" you make for this is so versatile, and it is a tasty addition for other dishes: pasta, salads, hummus/avocado toast....you name it, put that savory-nutty stuff on it. Maybe not your morning smoothie...but hey, I won't judge if you do. The nutritional yeast is essential for the cheese-y sprinkle, and with a high-protein, B-vitamin and fiber profile, that yellow powder will keep you going for all your summer adventures!

    Now, get at it!! Happy summer-ing!

    Note: as mentioned, the original calls for asparagus that is split the long-ways to facilitate quicker cooking, and easier tucking-in around the sliced zucchini. I suspect that any variety of summer bean (green bean, wax bean, etc) would also work here. I used garlic scapes that were trimmed of their flower ends, and the choped into 1 1/2" pieces. Be sure to bury those scapes into the zucchini slices, as if they are exposed, may get a tad over-cooked and tough. But, still tasty!



    Easy Zucchini (or summer squash) Gratin // vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, sugar-free, nut-free option// makes 1 9-10" gratin to serve 2 as a main component, or 3-4 as a side //

    For The Gratin:

    • 2-3 medium to large zucchini or summer squash (I used 1 light green and 1 dark green)
    • 2 TB olive oil
    • 2-3 long garlic scapes, chopped into 1 1/2" pieces (see note above for more ideas and tips!) 
    • sea salt and black pepper
    • 1/4 tsp garlic powder (or, finely dice 1 large garlic clove)
    • 3/4-1 cup vegan parmesan 
    • Optional: 1/4 tsp lemon zest + small squeese fresh lemon juice

    For The Vegan Parmsan:

    • 3/4-1 cup cashews, almonds or pecans OR for nut-free, use any combination of sesame seeds, sunflower seeds or hemp seeds
    • 3 TB nurtitional yeast
    • 3/4 tsp sea salt
    • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
    • optional: 1/2 tsp extra virgin olive oil (I find that this helps small clumps of "cheese" to form for easier sprinkling)


    1. Preheat oven to 350F. To make the vegan parmesan, combine all ingredients into a food processor, and process until the nuts/seeds are a fine texture. 

    2. Slice zucchini in ~1/4" rounds, or as thin as you can get them. The thinner, the fast the cook. Chop and cut the garlic scapes, or asparagus/green beans: if using scapes, simply chop into ~1 1/2" pieces. If using asparagus, trim of woody ends then slice in half the long-ways for thinner strips of asparagus. Is using green beans, trim, chop into ~1 1/2" pieces, and slice in half the long ways as you would have for the asparagus. 

    2. In a bowl, toss the zucchini slices and garlic scapes/green beans/asparagus with 2 TB olive oil, 1 TB vegan parmesan and season with garlic powder, a generous pinch of sea salt and pepper, and the lemon if using. Toss thoroughly. 

    3. In a 9"-10" pan that is safe for oven use (I used cast-iron), arrange the zucchini/summer squash in a concentric overlapping pattern. Tuck in the garlic scapes/asparagus/green beans. 

    4. Sprinkle on a few generous handfuls of the vegan parmsan. Bake in a 400F oven for 25-30 minutes, or until the zucchini is tender and topping is light brown. 

    5. At this point, you could take out the gratin and let it cool, and store for up to 1 day in the frdge. To brown the topping for serving (and re-heat if cool) simply place the gratin under the broiler for only 1-2 minutes, watching closely since the nuts/seeds burn very easily. Serve immediately after the topping has been broiled.



    Garlic Scapes!! Kinda creepy looking, but for sure beautiful. And garlic bulbs come from trimming these guys off...so win-win! You want to trim off the tougher pointy flowering end.

    The stuff you'll need: the layered zucchini, the vegan parm and the scapes...not trimmed or cut.

    The vegan parm, up close. And personal.

    All the veg into the pan, layered in wahtever way you can muster. Note: I didn't tuck in my garlic scapes, so they got a touch over-cooked. Make sure to tuck them (or the asparagus/green beans) in to prevent this!

    Everything all ready for the hot oven:

    30 minutes later....

    Now would be the time to cool, and wait until later to broil or you can broil right away, and dig in! 

  • Fried Summer Squash or Zucchini Pasta Salad

    First off, HAPPY SUMMER! I am so excited. I am running out of time to do my research and write my thesis, but here I am making glorius summer salads. Whatever-you live once, and I LOVE summer. It is right up there with autumn. And, I know I was on a gluten-free challenge, but I also live with an Italian. That means carbs are a reality, especially with pesto season upon us. So what was a girl to do?? Uhh...Trader Joe's to the resecue!! Have you tried their gluten-free pasta made from quinoa and brown rice? I am in love. Indeed, even my boyfriend had a hard time discerning in a side-by-side taste test the difference, and mixed in with a flavorful herby dressing with lots of summer veggies? Win! And at less than $2.50 per one pound bag, you get several servings for an affordable price. Whatever variety of pasta you do use, I think the bite-sized pasta shapes are best here, so save that bag of angel hair, linguini or spaghetti for summer tomato sauce dishes. 

    This pasta was inspired by Deb at Smitten Kitchen. Is there any recipe that she shares that isn't simple and delicious? Now, I know what you are thinking: frying zucchini or summer squash? Won't that be super greasy and heavy, on top of an oil-based herb dressing? Asnwer: no (and yes, I too was skeptical at first!). If executed properly, pan frying is actually a dry cooking method; the water in the produce steams away, and higher temperatures, thanks to the oil, produce a brown, crispy texture. The key is to keep the oil at the proper temperature, as oil that is not hot enough can seep into the food, and too hot oil can be a smokey mess. Be sure that when you add batches of the zucchini or squash, that it sizzles right away-and doesn't just sit there in a pool of oil. Yes, you're probably adding some extra calories here, but to help bulk-up the dish and dilute any frying oil that does make it into the zucchini, I added a ton (yes, a metric ton) of fresh veggies. Tomatoes, arugula, green onions, garlic...be creative with what you add in addition to the zucchini, and suit to what is in season. My additions were based on what was in my fridge/CSA box. A nice dose of lemon juice and zest really lighten this salad and make the flavors pop-so don't skip the lemon!!

    I used  olive oil for the frying step, but please feel free to substitue any oil you'd like for this (yes, I do know that it has a lower smoke point than other oils). Virgin coconut, sunflower, grapeseed, etc. would work, too. But please, please use a good quality extra virgin oil for the pesto...it is a requirement, not a suggestion, since it is the basis for the salad's dressing. Not a fan of nutritional yeast or it freaks you out? Then omit it, or add your favorite locally sourced hard italian-style cheese, such as romano, asiago, parmesan (look for a veggie rennet type if you're a true stickler about this, as traditional is made from animal rennet) or even ricotta salata. 

    p.s.: I betcha a picnic or cookout would be a great occasion to make this! And, bonus! You can make it up to a day ahead of time, and let the flavors meld in the fridge. Boom! You're awesome.



    Fried Zucchini or Summer Squash Pasta Salad // plant-based, vegan, gluten-free option, soy-free, sugar-free, nut-free option // Serves 4 as a main, 8 as a side //

    For the Zucchini/Summer Squash:

    • 3-4 small/medium zucchini or summer squash
    • 3-4 TB olive oil (enough to cover the pan bottom), or other oil for pan frying 
    • Sea Salt

    For the Pesto:

    • 2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves, or other fresh herb combination, like parsley and basil
    • 4 TB extra virgin olive oil
    • 1 or 2 large cloves garlic (2 if you like it super garlic-y)
    • 1 TB fresh lemon juice 
    • 1 TB nutritional yeast
    • 1/4 tsp sea salt
    • 1/4 cup walnuts or pinenuts (use sunflower seeds or just omit entirely for nut-free), toasted

    For The Salad:

    • 2 cups gluten-free or other favorite pasta (I used Trader Joe's Quinoa and Brown Rice Rotini)
    • 1 1/2 to 2 cups tomaotes (I used small San Marzano; a similar cherry/grape tomato is perfect here)
    • 1 1/2 TB capers, rinsed (salt packed or brined will both work), OR finely chopped kalamata or other quality olive
    • 3 scallions/green onions, white and green parts
    • 1 TB red wine vinegar (or lemon juice)
    • Zest of 1 lemon
    • 4 heaping cups arugula or spinach
    • Sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste
    • Nutritional yeast, if deisred (or favorite hard Italian cheese) for topping

    1. Bring a pot of salted water to the boil, and cook pasta to al dente. Drain and set aside to cool a bit. While you wait for the pasta to cook, carry on:

    2. In a medium to large pan, bring the 1/3 cup oil up to tempertaure over medium-high heat. Slice zucchini or squash into 1/4" rounds. Fry in a few batches, to make sure the oil stays hot. The zucchini/squash should sizzle immediately when added to the oil. Cook until golden brown, then flip. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate or cooling rack to allow excess oil to drain, and sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Repeat with remaining zucchini.

    3. In a food processor or blender, combine all the ingredients for the pesto. If necessary, add a TB or two of water or more oil to help blend. Taste, and adjust seasoning. 

    4. Cut tomaotes into small bite-sized pieces, chop scallions into small rounds, and add to a large bowl or container. Add the remaining ingredients for the salad, fried zucchini, and the pesto. Gently toss in the cooked and slightly cooled pasta, and adjust seasoning/lemon juice and zest. Serve with freshly cracked black peper and nutritional yeast, if desired. Pasta will keep for up to 4 days, covered in the fridge.



     The zucchini and summer squash, all green and gold and glorius!

    Cut into rounds...and ready to pan fry:

    Fried and fabulous (did you know that is a food cart here in Madison??):

    Ok-we're making progress! The arugula, tomatoes, green onions, capers (I got my salt-packed capers from Fraboni's Italian market in Madison. Love that place, and spend waaay too much when I go there! Fun Fact: my boyfriend's grandfather had a butcher shop right accross the street from the Fraboni's on Regent street, back in the glory days of the Greenbush area in Madison!).

    Ok, now for the pesto! You may toast your nuts (ha!) or sunflower seeds if you are using them. Really, I included this picture because my boyfriend, as awesome as he is, got me an All-Clad Copper Core 10" fying pan for by birthday. Can I tell you how amazing nice cookware is? Such a treat after dealing with my sub-par pans for years! I will slowly have nice cookware...one piece at a time!

    Everything for the pesto into a blender or food processor:

    And there you have it-a delicious vegan pesto perfect for this recipe OR for anything you'd like to use it for.

    Now we gently toss everything together. You are done! Make sure to taste for seasonings and lemon-I usually have to spike mine with another pinch of sea salt. But do your thang!

    Enjoy now, or cover and place into the fridge. You can snack on this all week, or share it at a summer picnic or cookout. Enjoy and HAPPY SUMMER!