Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Oven-Baked Zucchini Fries with Cornflakes and Olive Oil

It is an idyllic summer morning. The sun has barely beamed above the eastern horizon, some honeybees are making an early start for the cutting garden, and the air is soft and sweet. You peek your head out the door to make sure the coast is clear, that the quiet and privacy of the moment allow you to pad quickly across the dewy grass to your little patch of nirvana, your vegetable garden. Barefoot and still in your robe, you feel as carefree and lithe as a child, clutching your trug by its handle and zeroing in on the harvest to come. Considering your breakfast options, you feel around for a nice, robust squash and travel your fingers up its smooth length to snap it off at the blossom end. You meet with resistance, a lot of resistance, and begin twisting and tugging until a victorious last pull throws you off balance and onto your backside. You look at the monster clutched in your hand. It is not so robust as you had thought; it is beyond robust. It is a baseball bat.

What are you going to do with a one-pound zucchini? This bears contemplating, but not so fast. When you reach under again, you pull off another, and another, and another. OK, then. What are you going to do with four pounds of zucchini? The cliché of the prolific squash vine cannot be overstated. You can’t go sneaking into the night and lay baskets of them on unsuspecting neighbors’ porches, like newborns left on church steps. You’ve done too much of that; they are on to you. No, you are just going to have to stew, bake and broil these cudgels even though the skin is tough and the seeds are innumerable. You’re going to have to suck it up, but you are going to have to get smart, too.

Conquering a massive squash harvest takes the commitment of Madame Curie and the ruthlessness of Robespierre. It means off with their heads, their blossom heads, to prevent the formation of fruit, as well as collecting the fruit when it is very young, no more than four inches long. You must go out and inspect your vines two, even three times a day, but your extra effort will pay off with tender, virtually seedless specimens that you can eat raw, as well as blossoms to stuff or fry. This bounty is no longer a nuisance crop, but gourmet-coveted produce which commands a premium price in the marketplace.

Once in the kitchen, you marvel at your baby zucchini’s skin, fragile enough to nick with a fingernail, and consider recipes worthy of their delicacy. You have just enough to slice and sauté for a frittata or save for crunchy oven fries later in the day. You are feeling pretty good about yourself now. You should. You only have one more night run to go.

Cheese Zucchini Crisps - Adapted from the Food Down Under recipe

1/3 cup cornflake crumbs
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese or other hard cheese, grated (or vegan cheese)
1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt or dried herb/s or both
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
4 very young (4-inches long) zucchini or other summer squash,
cut in 1/2" strips
1/4 cup olive oil (or olive oil spray to further reduce calories)

MethodPre-heat oven to 375 degrees F.

Combine dry ingredients in a small bowl. Either dip squash strips in olive oil or spray both sides with oil spray. Press each strip with crumb mixture on both sides. Arranged coated strips on cookie sheet and bake approximately 10 minutes until golden brown and crisp. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 as a starter, side dish or snack. --

This post is being submitted to Joanna of Joanna's Food, host of the June addition of The Heart of the Matter. This month's theme is vegetables.


Shaun said...

Susan, lovie - I can imagine you doing this, furtively checking corners and darting out, glamorously, in your robe. And I would love to be a neighbor receiving the occasional offering from a bumper crop. Having said that, if we were neighbors, I'm sure we would both have vegetable plots, confirming with each other what one has and what one doesn't, so we don't do double-duty. This speaks to good neighborly relations, but I think you and I know that this would really come down to culinary greed, wanting to get the most out of our little plots.

I am surprised at the usage of cornflakes instead of panko, but I suppose you were going for a lot of crunch. I can imagine these being wolfed down in seconds, hardly worth the effort for party finger-food but definitely something to put on a table set for one or two.

Engaging and evocative writing, as always. I love how you draw in your readers and take us on a journey, even if it is to a backyard vegetable plot in a robe.

Suganya said...

Have you tried this with hummus? Yum!

Edward said...

Well, Shaun, you took the words, quite literally, out of my mouth. Lovely piece Susan.

Grew zucchini sucessfully for the first time this year and know of the 'problems' associated with both excess fruit and those monster ones that somehow manage to lurk undiscovered beneath the foliage! Like your experience though, it's a world of possibility. And you've made me long for a trug of my own.

And, of course, another gorgeous recipe.

Truffle said...

Oh what a wonderful idea! They look so beautiful and elegant. Lovely photos :)

Nora B. said...

Susan, yet another very well written post. I love zucchini even though my partner, Q, thinks it doesn't have much flavour. When I am at the market, I can't help but buy a big bag of zucchini. I've done many things with this veg but have not tried making oven crips, so this is a great idea I will try this week. I may even convince Q to change his mind about zucchini! Thanks for this wonderful piece & recipe.

Lydia said...

Now all I can think about is my friends who've planted zucchini, running out into the garden in their pajamas in the middle of the night to harvest the zukes before they get too large! Hah! I'm one of the people who find zucchini on the porch, from these same friends. Love your recipe -- a wonderful idea.

Susan said...

Hi, Shaun - I fear I am falling from grace with you. ; ) Yes, I used pedestrian cornflakes as the recipe said, but I can see the argument for panko. I think it would be particularly good with an Asian squash dipped in sesame oil, akin to tempura without the deep frying.

You're right; they don't really work for party food since they need to be eaten straight out of oven without delay. Even with the crunch factor going, the few that remained did get soggy pretty quickly.

I'm glad you are enjoying the journeys. Thanks for letting me know. Next, I'll be falling down a rabbit hole or writing a cookbook: "A 1001 Uses for Cornflakes." It's going to be a challenge to use up the box I bought for this recipe.
Welcome, Edward. Thanks for the dear compliments. Everyone jokes about too much squash, but we are all secretly delighted at the bounty. There's something magical about it, like Jack and the Beanstalk. There's also a general hesitance to thwart the growth, but from a practical gardening perspective, it is less of a burden on the vines. Good to see you here.
Thanks, Truffle. This was one recipe where the beauty was definitely in the lack of details.
Nora, thank you. Q has a point; alone, squash can be bland and watery, depending on variety. Perhaps he would like them shredded and made into fritters with a cilantro sauce on the side. I will probably try this myself. If you like cilantro, it can brighten up even the dullest dish.

Nanditha Prabhu said...

very innovative....i could imagine the whole thing:-)

Ive started really liking your blog! may be i could blog roll you? how would you like that?.. though i don`t own a food blog.

sra said...

Susan, LOL at leaving the zucchinis on doorsteps like abandoned babies! They look lovely!

Patricia Scarpin said...

Susan, I love, love, love visiting you - I know that not only will I find great and delicious food but also wonderful writing.

These zucchini crisps look so yummy - I can't tell you how much I'd love to taste them right now! So crisp!

One day I intend to live in a house with a garden - I'd love to grow beautiful things like these.

Cynthia said...

I wish I lived next door to you :) Susan the zucchini crisps look so elegant. If you make this for a party, I imagine that it will be gone in no time.

Shaun said...

Susan, lovie - I doubt cornflakes could spell anyone's downfall. Besides, who am I to judge? I look UP to you.

It is funny the things we buy for a recipe, like a whole box of cornflakes. I don't have them for breakfast either. I remember my mother using them as ingredients to create a base for chocolate slices (actually, we called them American crunch, for some weird reason) and cheesecakes. Perhaps there are 1001 uses for them!

Susan said...

Welcome, Suganya. No, I haven't tried this with hummus yet, but I do love any kind of chickpeas, so your suggestion holds great promise. Thanks for coming to visit.
Thanks, Lydia. It's the perfect pastime for the insomniac. Sure beats QVC.
Thank you, Naditha. Yes, I would be delighted. I was going to add you to my non-food blogroll on this site since I already am subscribing to you. Genre shouldn't be a requirement for rapport. I enjoy your writing very much and am glad you like coming here, too. Thanks again.
Patricia, you say the nicest things. Thank you, dear girl. Gardening is not without its work and worry, but there's a great deal of simple, honest satisfaction in it. You can't get farming any more local and in season than your own backyard.
Thanks, Cynthia. Their elegance, I think, is mostly b/c they are so tiny. Should I make them for a party, I will have to move quickly. They are best very hot out of the oven.

Susan said...

Thanks, Sra. Laughter is the best tonic and tranquilizer around.
Hi, Shaun. One of my shoe's is bronzed, the other in clay. Works for me. I'd toss the cornflakes out for the birds, but I fear only naughty pigeons will reply.

Johanna said...

thanks for the vicarious experience of picking veggies in your own backyard. I am a huge fan of zucchini and these look just beautiful - now I will see them and think of baseball bats

Sandeepa said...

You had such a wonderful harvest of zucchinis...woww. Loved your description, you have a pretty big veggie patch I think

I love how the crisps look

Mandira said...

that looks delicious susan. I saw flowers on my zucchini plant yesterday. I'll try your recipe. Did you change the header...absolutely gorgeous! love it.

Mishmash ! said...

Susan, many think that zucchini is bland but somehow I feel,they are good...atleast to my palettes :)cheese zucchini crisps is a neat idea....I would need a dip too :P


Susan said...

Hi, Johanna. A few weeks ago I saw what I think were giant okra in an Indian market - talk about baseball bats!
Thank you, Sandeepa. You would be surprised how prolific even one plant is. Squash need a lot of room for the vine to spread out, but are pretty indestrucible and easy to maintain. Managing the harvest is the hardest part. : )
Hi, Mandira. Now that you have blossoms, it won't be long...I tweaked my header a bit; photo's the same, but I superimposed the text on it. Thanks for noticing!
I like the dip idea, Shn. I thought of a little something else for them myself, but these were gone before any serious consideration. : )

Nora B. said...

Hi again, Susan. Thanks for the idea about shredding the zucchini and making them into fritters. I don't usually fry stuff (I find it too messy) so I will see if it will work in the oven. Experimenting is fun! And the cilantro sauce is a great idea too.

Simona said...

Hi Susan, I love this post and I love zucchini too. I planted some seeds in my new garden and nothing happened, so yesterday I planted a seedling, which I now have to defend from snails' assault. Have you thought of using the flowers in some dish? Battered and deep-fried are delicious, or as part of a sauce for pasta. In Sicily, land of zucchini, they also use the young leaves at the tip of a branch (called tenerumi) to make soup and pasta sauce. For a piece I wrote a while ago, I researched the history of zucche and zucchini: it is fascinating and maybe I should publish some excerpt of it in my blog.

Freya and Paul said...

I would be pleased with courgette freebies, they're so expensive over here! Lucky for me, my mum is growing some so, I'll just pinch hers instead.
This is a great recipe, Susan, and seems like I can put my limp courgettes to use after all (they've been in the fridge for a fortnight. More tenacious than a cockroach, dare I say).

Susan said...

What a lovely ode to the zucchini. I adore zucchini in just about any form, though I'm partial to crispy toppings like yours.

Susan said...

Hi, Nora. You probably can bake them, too, perhaps putting them under the broiler so they'd be exposed to high heat like frying but not produce much water. I'll leave the experimenting in your capable hands.
Thank you, Simona. I definitely would enjoy reading an excerpt of your zucchini research. Italian food has so many nooks and crannies that many cooks aren't aware of but would welcome, including me.
Thanks, Freya. I can nearly guarantee there will be many courgettes (love the word) to pinch from your mom's garden. Trust me, she will be happy to share.
Hi, Susan. Thank you. Simona (above) made some suggestions that I'd really like to try. I'll bet you are already familiar with them.

Abby said...

Thank you for this idea! My dad brought me a TON of zucchini and yellow squash last night (when I asked for a couple of pieces from his garden!) I can't wait to try this ... although I love deep-fried zucchini, I think this will be a BIT more heart-healthy!

Kristen said...

I can't wait to give this delicious recipe a try. Oh my! This looks too good to be true.

Susan said...

Welcome, Abby. It's quite tasty, though I can't fault you for loving deep fried. Thanks for visiting.
Hi, Kristen. It was a good recipe. Really. For those watching calories, it does help compensate for the things you have to give up. Big taste, low fat. Good to see you.

bee said...

i was away and look how much i have missed. susan, it's so evident how much love you lavish on your culinary creations.

this one in particular is spectacular.

Susan said...

Hey, Bee! I knew you'd approve of this one. Thanks. Good to see you back.

Wendy said...

Great post. I didn't believe friends when they told me two courgette plants would be sufficient for a one person household and planted five.
All recipe ideas are welcome!

Susan said...

Thanks, Wendy. Welcome! You planted five? You are brave. I'll bet you've made a lot of courgette bread!
Good to see you. Thanks for visiting.

Dana J. Tuszke said...

My mouth waters as I read this!

Susan said...

Hi, Dana. Welcome! I know I've succeeded when a veggie dish inspires mouth watering rather than a cake! No slam on cake, mind you. ; D Thanks for visiting.

claudia said...

i wonder if i could make these with summer squash instead of zucchini - i don't see why not...

Susan said...

Hi, Claudia. There's no reason not to try summer squash since they are related. I'll be making this again when my mom's yellow crooknecks are ready to be picked. Hope you enjoy it.

Brilynn said...

What a great idea! I'll certainly give these a try when the garden becomes overrun with zucchini!

Becky said...

wow. the fries in the first photo look absolutely perfect! golden and crisp. the fact that they're baked and not deep-fried is even better. it means i can eat more of them.

My Sweet & Saucy said...

What a great twist on french fries! Now I can enjoy my unhealthy addiction with a healthy addiction! Thanks!

Erin said...

What a unique way to use up zucchini! I love this idea and can't wait to test it out.

Deborah said...

This looks delicious!! I really wish I would have planted zucchini.

Paula said...

Perfect timing with zucchini bounty just around the corner!