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Today's food challenges - zucchini

"such a dish is always, in my experience, made more scrumptious by the knowledge of unpromising beginnings." Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Today I'm beginning yet another mini series - the day's meal concocted from items in the fridge. I'll try and do this about once a month I think, although, of course, I cook like this most of the time.

My very first post, way back in 2016 was entitled Inside my fridge and began, more or less with these words: "the starting point for what I cook is always the fridge". Back then, on that particular day, it was rice, chicken and fennel, today it is a large, beginning to go off, zucchini, an old jar of pickled zucchini and the last bit of a Christmas ham.

Mind you I have arrived at this particular selection after fairly lengthy browsing of 'what to do with zucchini' recipes. The zucchini is obviously key - the starting point. Tomorrow will probably be too late. The jar of pickles has been lurking in the fridge for far too long. I moved it to our spare fridge over Christmas to make more room, but when I brought it back I decided that today was the day it would meet its fate. The ham, just needs using. I am trying to get it down to a size suitable for the background taste for soup.

The zucchini is from my friend Monika, who is currently experiencing the dreaded zucchini glut. Herewith an aside. I have never experienced a zucchini glut. I have tried to grow zucchini but with very little success. Lots of plant, which eventually starts to go mouldy and very few zucchini. Monika. on the other hand has so many, and they grow so quickly that occasionally one - like this one - escapes notice and almost grows into a marrow. So when I see her she is happy to offload some to me. Mostly they are small ones and this year they are the pale coloured kind, but no less tasty for that. This one, however was larger and I was going to stuff it or something, but when I looked today I saw that it is beginning to rot.

I am probably the only person in the world who cannot grow zucchini, but for those of you who are struggling - here are two somewhat facetious ideas of what to do with them from an American website called The Easy Garden:

  • "Place in a Walmart bags and randomly hang the bags on neighbor's doors"

  • "Allow to over-ripen and save seeds so you can make more zucchini next year"

The problem with zucchini is not the lack of possibilities. There are a 1001 ways with zucchini. It's a bit like potato in that respect, maybe cauliflower too, although that has a rather more dominant flavour. The value of potatoes and zucchini (rice and pasta too) is that they are relatively bland and can be cooked, using just about every method that exists, from pickling to cake. I found a couple of preserving suggestions as I browsed: Zucchini relish from The Australian Women's Weekly and Courgette and lemon confit from Nigel Slater, but there are, of course, zillions of others - or just make it up - a bit of vinegar, a bit of sugar, some dried fruit, onions or other veg ...

Zucchini is packed with vitamins and other useful things, but not much in the way of carbohydrates, which is good if you are trying to remain relatively slim. Its main problem is that it's watery, which I generally get around by squeezing my sliced, or grated zucchini in a tea towel. Sometimes I salt it and leave it for a while in a sieve for the water to be encouraged to escape, but this isn't really necessary.

My other challenge today is that it is pretty hot - it was supposed to be around 30 degrees, although I suspect that this has not happened. Anyway too hot to put on the oven. David goes spare if I use the oven on a hot day. Which is why I finished off the plum and nectarine jam (the fruit was also a gift from Monika and needed using), early this morning. Because of the heat of the day I need to do something that does not generate too much heat. Soup was one idea I had - with that ham and some peas, but I decided that would not go down too well on a hot day. Particularly if I made some focaccia to go with it. I was tempted though.

So I browsed the net for exciting ideas, and here are a few of the more interesting ones that I found - I'm ignoring all the fritters, cakes, breads, muffins, slices, focaccia ... - Crumbed zucchini spiral skewers with romescu sauce/Australian Women's Weekly; Ricotta zucchini rolls with roasted tomato sauce/Australian Women's Weekly; Grilled zucchini with ras el hanout, ricotta and mint - Matt Wilkinson/delicious.; Potato, taleggio and zucchini pizzas - Jamie Oliver/delicious.; Stuffed Sicilian zucchini - Jamie Oliver/delicious.; Zucchini, caper and dried seaweed salad - Rick Stein/delicious.; Fried zucchini with cheese and pepper dipping sauce - Dominic Smith/delicious.

Most of these did not really lend themselves to a slightly rotting zucchini, and besides I have been looking for an excuse to make this glorious looking pasta from Rachel Roddy - Linguine with courgettes, egg and Parmesan for some time now - ever since I found it in her An A-Z of pasta. Besides it's a take on carbonara - a dish that I have never been able to make and which I had on my list of dishes to try to master. Because of my earlier failure - scrambled eggs, bacon and pasta was how it turned out - I have been rather scared of having another go. So today is the day. Crossing fingers. Then I also thought it would be hard for me to slice up the zucchini with my injured hand, but that has improved enormously and I could now manage that I think. So when I discovered that she had another, earlier version that involved guanciale - pig's cheek - on her now defunct website, Rachel Eats I was encouraged to give it a try. I have no guanciale, or any means of getting it, but I do have ham, and she does say in that post that adding the guanciale, and onions too (there are onions in the pickle), is delicious. More like a true carbonara as well. And pasta is OK on a hot day as is a quickly fried sauce of ham, zucchini, onion, egg and cheese. So I'm going to give it a go.

It was also interesting to see her two different versions, plus yet another two, the first of which is Pasta con salsa di zucchini e pancetta - also from Rachel Eats, and with no carbonara - eggy element this time. The second is: Pasta con le zucchini. Well I suppose this is different - no eggy carbonara and no ham, although of course you could add some, but similar at least in the frying of the zucchini to Ottolenghi's Courgette pappardelle with feta and lemon and also to a dish called Spaghetti alla Nerano a version of which I found from Danielle Alvarez on the delicious. website.

During my internet browsing I discovered many versions of this basic dish - pasta with zucchini - including all the different versions of Pasta all Nerona - which is from Campania. Just fried zucchini, fried and boiled or braised into a sauce, just the sauce ... It's sort of what Rachel Roddy is talking about when she says:

"I am reminded of an essay in Rebecca May Johnson’s wonderful new book, Small Fires: An Epic in the Kitchen, about making something a thousand times, and how repetition turns recipes into conversations we have with ourselves, shaping both us and the recipe. Repetition teaches, maybe reassures, possibly bores – and is no guarantee against the unexpected. Which is hardly surprising, given all the knives, fire and appetites." Rachel Roddy

So I'm going to improvise around those themes - the carbonara finish and the braised and fried other ingredients. I have two worries. That once again I will get scrambled eggs, and also that the pickled factor may do something funny to it all. But then Ottolenghi had lemon in his version, so maybe not. I will report tomorrow. And if the zucchini is completely rotten (I think not) then I have more.

"Winging it with what's to hand can be so liberating - flinging in this or that with the joyful abandon that comes from not trying too hard or expecting too much." Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

I'm definitely not expecting too much. Oh and zucchini is a fruit, not a vegetable.


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