Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Vegetable Innuendo

Yeah, I know sparse blogging, etc., but man, the world's a depressing place lately, and I gotta leave the horrors of war, climate, corporate governance and Mitt Romney to people of better wit and stronger stomach than me. Instead, let me take you to a place that's really more my wheelhouse: gluttony, amusingly-shaped food, and sausage jokes. I have admitted that I love those gristly meat wands beyond their value as a perpetual straight line, and while I feel no shame in massaging that vein, I constantly find myself wishing I had a place to actually put some.  Hey, if it's impossible to leave all the girthy double entendres out of the discussion, then I say ram 'em in wherever they're allowed.

Zucchini is almost as funny as sausage, but it's not remotely as tasty. It maybe has a little more of the herbal and a little less of the soapy flavor of yellow summer squash, but that hardly makes up for its general blandness and, as I find, the very slightly gag-inducing quality it possesses, which gets even worse when you let it grow big and knobby. I really do like the stuff, but if you could concentrate whatever that essence is, it'd make a fine emetic. Unfortunately, at this time of year, zucchini moderation is not much of an option, as I manage to always find myself overrun with the stuff. Perhaps you, like me, want an easier way to choke it down. I am here to help.

And okay, I actually hate to be offering up a casserole on general principles, but this one is, at least, an exercise on how young garden vegetables are just plain better than the supermarket garbage you're stuck with for the rest of the year. I make this one on rare occasions in the winter, and it amounts to little more than the uninspired American cuisine we all regret growing up with. But we had some awesome little fennel bulbs from the CSA recently and more baby zucchinis than I could carry out on my back, and loading it up with quality veggies pretty well transformed this thing. Hell, maybe next time I'll just do it up as a ragout and serve it over some obscure starch so as to preserve what's left of my culinary dignity. Given the whole running theme here, it should clearly be ladled on top of gently simmered wheatberries. Maybe I can somehow find blue ones.

So anyway, my zucchini and sausage casserole. My favorite wine to have with this is an inexpensive New Zealand Savignon Blanc called Vavasour, and not just because of the giant cock on the bottle. (It was a delightful find on the discount rack a few years ago, and I'm giving away a guarded family secret by telling you about it.) No, this stuff has an aroma and slight flavor of pepperoncini peppers, which maybe isn't something you want every day, but it's perfect for this dish, so go out and pick up a couple of magnums already. Here's the recipe:

1 box of bowties (or your favorite casserole pasta)
olive oil
1 lb. turkey sausage (or else, you know, good sausage)
1-2 large onions, chopped
2 smallish fennel bulbs, cored and chopped
maybe 1.5 teaspoons salt
maybe a little red pepper (if you have turkey sausage, it might need even more help)
about 4 cloves garlic, minced
2-4 cups chopped zucchini
1-2 tablespoons flour
1/2 - 1 c. chicken stock (you really just want a little sauce to coat the pasta here)
about 1 c. crumbled feta cheese
about 3/4 c. sliced pepperoncinis
freshly ground black pepper
1 c. grated cheddar cheese.

Preheat the oven to 400 °F. Cook the pasta in boiling water and drain.

Heat some oil in a large skillet or pot. Remove the sausages from their casings (if that's what you got), and add them to the skillet with the onion and fennel and some salt, crumbling them as they brown. As the vegetables get soft and the meat gets cooked, add the garlic and cook for another minute, then add the zucchini and saute until it's as soft as you prefer. Mix in the flour, adding a little more oil if necessary. (The zucchini will evolve a lot of water, and I try to let it mostly evaporate off, but I can't say I've ever had a problem mixing in the flour at this point.) Whisk in the broth and simmer a minute to thicken. Then toss in pasta, feta, and pepperoncini.

Add it all to a large baking dish and top with the cheddar cheese. Bake for about 20 minutes.

What, you say you still have a monster ton of summer squash left over? Well, pickles are pretty funny too (especially gherkins!), a natural, zesty enterprise if you will, and so let's go with that.

Here's a recipe for pickled squash, I think based on a magazine article at some point or other, and it originally had green beans in there too, so add that if it floats your boat. I find it's good for about a once-a-year thing, and you can make a few pint jars and leave it in your refrigerator for awhile, serve them alongside some grilled shrimp or something, and drink heavily with whatever's on hand. Or better yet, pass them off on your friends, who will be delighted to add to their own reluctant stockpile of squash (but these aren't preserved pickles, and must be stored cold, so don't kill anyone). I think this recipe makes about 2 pint jars.

2 c. rice vinegar
2/3 c. sugar
1 tsp. salt
Several green or yellow squash, cut into spears
1-2 thinly sliced shallots
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
black peppercorns
small handful of cilantro sprigs
about 1/2 in. ginger root, julienned

Stuff the squash spears, shallots, and whole herbs and spices passionately into a couple pint jars. Combine vinegar, sugar, and salt in a saucepan and heat until the solids dissolve. Pour the hot, wet vinegar into the jars and cover. Refrigerate for 8 hours, turning (on) occasionally.


Claude Scales said...

I had a turkey hot dog for lunch. It tasted OK until my wife told me it was turkey. Actually, it tasted OK after that, but I still want my Hebrew Nats. She wants to convert me because the doctor said my troglodytes are high, or something like that.

I thought your recipe looked intriguing, so I started to read it to my wife. She was interested until I got to the fennel. One of her aversions (though not mine).

Isn't innuendo the Italian word for Sodomy?

Keifus said...

I threw the fennel in there because this CSA keeps throwing us curveballs (I was thinking, hey, it's in sausage anyway), but I am a fennel fan, and I think the turkeywurst is super bland. (My wife doesn't like the texture of regular sausage.) I'd argue that it doesn't really come out on it's own here.

Should I mention that my dad tells that joke a lot? (He calls it an Italian suppository.)

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