Monday, July 16, 2012

The Zucchini Chronicles Part 2: Zucchini Soup

I think the Happy Husband and I are going to turn green by the end of the zucchini growing season!! I found a recipe for Zucchini Soup and, with several adjustments, I was pleasantly surprised at the tasty results. As you know, if you have ever tasted it, zucchini isn't the most flavorful food on the planet. It has a subtle sweet taste and is a great low calorie filler veggie. You can eat a TON of it, totally guilt free food! This recipe ends up being surprisingly creamy even though the only dairy is a little bit of butter in the beginning. This will make about 3.5 quarts of soup depending on the amount of stock/liquid you add.

The first thing you need to do for this soup is chop your onions and garlic. You will be puree-ing the soup later so just make sure they are pretty well broken down. This step doesn't have to be perfect! I doubled the found recipe and used two whole onions and about 20 cloves of garlic. The onion type is up to you. I went on a red onion craze at Costco so I went with them for the soup. I know it seems like a lot of garlic too. The flavor really mellows out after almost 90 minutes of cooking so don't be afraid. IF you are really worried, don't use as much.

OK, now that you have your veggies prepped... Next you need to 'foam' your butter. Foaming is just a fancy way of saying melt it but don't brown it. The easiest way for me to do this is to throw it into a cold pan and then turn the heat to medium low. When you start to see little white bubbles forming, you have achieved foaming. I used a whole stick of butter for my three pounds of zucchini that I added later. I think that six tablespoons would have definitely gotten the job done and made the soup even healthier.

The object of the onion and garlic in the pan with the butter is to 'sweat' the aromatics. This is just another fancy pants cooking term for cooking them on medium-low heat until they are soft and not browning at all. The sweating time is a great time to add some salt and pepper. The salt will help to draw some of the moisture out of the onions and garlic (making the softening happen faster) and the pepper will become tastier with the low heat. This process should take about 10 minutes or so, depending on the freshness of your onions and garlic. This tip is a little late but... when cutting onions you should stick them in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before you start your slicing. The onion releases and enzyme when you cut into it that becomes a gas and reacts with the water in your eyes causing the tears and discomfort. If you chill your onions the enzyme becomes less reactive. I use this method all the time and it really works!!

Once your onions and garlic are translucent (soft and getting easier to see through) its time to add the zucchini. Looking back, I wish I had used an 8 quart stock pot for my double batch of soup instead of the 4 quart sauce pot that you see in the photos. Keep the heat on medium low and sweat the zucchini for another 10 minutes or so. You want to draw out some of the moisture that is trapped inside. I used one of my baseball bat sized zucchini that had gotten out of control. Smaller ones are ok too and will be slightly sweeter.

The amount of liquid that needs to be added depends on the amount that is released by your zucchini. Add enough that it just barely covers your sweaty veggies. I keep using the term liquid because its totally up to you what you add. I added water with some powdered chicken bouillon. You can add low sodium chicken stock or, if you are of the vegetarian persuasion, add some low sodium veggie stock. The low sodium stock allows you to control the saltiness of your soup. This option is key for those of you with Happy Partners with less than perfect blood pressure :)

Simmer your brothy mixture for about 45 minutes. If you prefer a brothy soup you are almost done! Taste your broth and season according to your preferences. I added a bit of pepper and some Italian dried herb mix at this step. For you broth with chunk soup lovers, you are done. If you prefer a smooth creamy texture, there is one last step. Use an immersion blender to puree your soup until its smooth. Never fear if you are without the immersion blender, VERY carefully blend in a blender or food processor in batches until smooth.

Soup done!!! I would suggest serving this yummy soup with some toasted, garlic rubbed crusty bread and a dollop of sour cream or a tablespoon of heavy cream plopped in the middle!! The one additional step you could take would be to strain your soup. You would only need to take this step if you used an older zucchini. If you take a look a the finished product picture at the top you can see some white flecks in the soup. These are the pieces of seed that didn't break down during the blending process (not a problem with younger fruits). The bits didn't bother the HH and certainly didn't bother me so I left them for some added texture. I froze most of the soup in individual servings for taking to lunch at the office when in cools off later in the year. I hope you enjoy the soup! The zucchini are still pouring out of the garden so be ready for some more garden creations!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Zucchini Chronicles Part 1: Zucchini Bread

OK... so perhaps four zucchini plants was a bit ambitious for the Happy Husband and I. I have been giving zucchini away like nobody's business and still they are getting out of control. It could be because there are actually two stalks per plant which means I really have more like eight zucchini plants for two people. So far, I have made two 2 loaf batches of zucchini bread but I'm thinking I'll have anywhere from 8 to 12 loaves in the freezer before the growing season is through. Traditional zucchini bread recipes call for some type of nut to provide a bit of extra texture and flavor. I have a mild pecan/walnut allergy so on the first batch I used sunflower kernels instead. The flavor was nice but the HH said he NEEDED chocolate in batch number two. Off I went to pick up some semi-sweet morsels and that's where this batch for the post comes in.

I am not one to use pre-written recipes often. However, baking is a different story. You will get very frustrated, very quickly if you attempt new things with out proper measurements. I used the Better Homes and Gardens recipe (click to see recipe) and substituted the nuts for the same measurement of chocolate chips. The first order of business is to grate the zucchini. I prefer using a box grater for this because it is very stable and contain the shavings until you are ready to use them. You will want to be careful to leave a stub of zucchini so that you don't grate fingernails or fingertips into your bread. While it would be a nice added protein, I don't think your Happy Partner's or other zucchini bread recipients would be too thrilled to find a fingernail in their pastry.

Next, follow the recipe by mixing the wet together in one bowl and the dry ingredients together in another bowl. The chocolate chips come in later so don't include them in either bowl just yet. Now you need to combine the wet and dry together. Make a well (a hole in the center) in the bowl of the dry ingredients. Dump the entire bowl of the wet into the dry. Mix with a spatula or fork until it is just combined, lumps are OK. The final step before loading the batter into your greased pan is to fold in the semi-sweet morsels. Take care not to over mix the batter as it can cause your bread to be tough.

Load your batter into your greased pan/pans (I did a double batch here) and pop them into your pre-heated oven. Follow the recipe directions on cooking time. About 5 minutes before the bread is supposed to be done you need to check it. Stick a toothpick into the center of your loaf. The recipe will tell you that if it doesn't come out clean you need to leave it in longer. I like to take it out when its slightly under cooked (the toothpick will be kind of gooey but not runny). This yields a more moist bread and I think it helps if you are going to freeze it after cooling.

Be sure to allow the loaves to fully cool before wrapping tightly with plastic wrap for storage. As you can see in the far loaf in the picture the crispy edges are pretty darn amazing when hot and I just couldn't help myself. My favorite way to enjoy the bread is for breakfast. I slice it, toast it and top it with whipped cream cheese. Its a convenient little to go package for my commute during the week. The Happy Husband has another preferred method of consumption. He likes it sliced and then slathered with cupcake icing. To each is own I suppose... Stay tuned for more zucchini recipes :)