Summer’s Bounty

EUGENIA UHL

This is the time of year when gardens and markets are overflowing with peppers, zucchini and summer squash. These are wonderful vegetables, to be sure, but sometimes it’s difficult knowing how to use so many of them. You can always make zucchini bread, but how much zucchini bread can a person eat?

Fortunately, these vegetables are extremely versatile. For starters, they are well-suited to the grill. And because we do so much grilling in the summer, it’s a simple matter to add some squash and peppers to the menu. Just halve zucchini and summer squash lengthwise, brush them with olive oil, and grill on both sides. Season with coarse salt, freshly ground pepper and some fresh herbs, and they may be the most popular part of the menu. You can treat bell peppers the same way, or you can grill them whole until they blister; pop them in a paper bag to steam; and, when cool, peel off their skins and remove stems and seeds. With smaller varieties, such as banana peppers and cayennes, slit them lengthwise to remove seeds, and grill them with stems attached.

Zucchini and summer squash can also be pan-grilled in a cast-iron skillet with a small amount of olive oil or brushed with oil and run under the broiler until browned. Peppers and squash can be fried or cooked with other vegetables in a ragout or stew. For instance, the French dish ratatouille combines onions, zucchini, peppers, eggplant
and tomatoes in a delicious mélange of flavors. Ratatouille and other summer vegetable preparations can be served
either cold or hot. Personally, I prefer them cold or at room temperature in hot weather.

The practice of stuffing vegetables is popular in Louisiana, as it is in many cultures, and offers countless possibilities.

In addition to peppers, zucchini and summer squash, eggplants and mirlitons are popular vessels for stuffings. But many other vegetables can be used in the same way. Potatoes, tomatoes, onions, grape leaves and squash blossoms, for example, lend themselves to this treatment. A platter of various stuffed vegetables is a visual and gustatory treat, a wonderful celebration of summer’s bounty. Stuffings can be as interesting and varied as the vegetables themselves. Meat and rice, sausage, seafood, or rice-and- herb combinations offer the opportunity for extensive experimentation with different seasonings and flavors.

 

Peppers Stuffed With Shrimp and Crabmeat

Use a mixture of different peppers — red, green, yellow, orange — for a beautiful presentation.

6 medium bell peppers
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 pound small shrimp, peeled
1 pound backfin or lump crabmeat
1 cup bread crumbs
4 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons chopped parsley
4 tablespoons chopped green onion tops
Creole seasoning to taste
1 cup chicken stock or broth

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Halve the peppers lengthwise, cut away the stems and ribs, and remove the seeds.

Oil one or more large baking dishes. In a nonreactive skillet, cook the onions in olive oil until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the shrimp, and cook, stirring, until they color, about 2 minutes. Off heat, add the crabmeat and bread crumbs, and toss gently to combine. Add the parsley and onion tops, and season with lemon juice and Creole seasoning.  Mound the stuffing into the pepper halves, and place them in a baking dish. Pour chicken stock or broth in the baking dish, and bake in the preheated oven until the stuffing is lightly browned, about 30 minutes. Then cover the dish loosely with aluminum foil, and bake until peppers are tender, about 30 minutes. Serves 4 to 6.

Ragout of Peppers, Onions, Garlic and Smoked Paprika

This is a nice accompaniment to grilled meat or poultry.
It also makes a tasty filling for an omelet or scrambled
with eggs. If you like, you can add some fresh hot peppers to the mix.

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
6 large cloves garlic, sliced
4 bell peppers, mixed colors
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a large skillet on medium heat, cook the onions and garlic in olive oil, stirring occasionally, until the garlic begins to color, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, halve the peppers lengthwise, cut away the stems and ribs, and discard the seeds. Slice the peppers into long, thin strips. Add the peppers to the pan; stir to combine; reduce heat to medium-low; and cook until the peppers soften, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Season with paprika, salt and pepper. Serves 4 to 6.

Summer Squash Stuffed With Pecans and Parmesan

If desired, zucchini can be substituted for or used in combination with the summer squash.

4 small summer squash (about 1 pound)
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Large pinch ground nutmeg
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and butter a baking dish. Trim the ends of the squash, and halve them lengthwise. Using a teaspoon, scoop out the pulp. Chop the pulp, and cook it with the onion in butter until it’s softened, about 5 minutes. Off heat, add the pecans and Parmesan, and stir to combine. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Fill the squash with the stuffing, and bake in the preheated oven until the stuffing is browned, about 20 minutes. Then cover the dish loosely with foil, and bake until the squash is tender, about 15 minutes. Serves 4.

Pan-Grilled Zucchini

If you have large zucchini, cut them lengthwise into several thick slices. This recipe is also good with summer squash or with a combination of the two. For a variation, brown a few whole garlic cloves along with the squash.

1 tablespoon olive oil, plus additional, if needed
4 small zucchini (about 1 pound)
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh or dried whole leaf thyme

Trim the ends of the zucchini, and halve them lengthwise. In a large cast-iron skillet on medium heat, cook the zucchini in olive oil, cut side down, until nicely browned, about 3 to 5 minutes. Turn the  zucchini, and cook on the other side until browned, about 3 to 5 minutes, adding additional oil if needed. Transfer them to a platter, and season with coarse salt, freshly ground pepper and thyme. Serves 4.

Zucchini Stuffed With Italian Sausage

You can substitute other types of sausage, but zucchini has a special affinity for Italian sausage and tomato sauce. If desired, serve with rice or orzo, a rice-shaped pasta.

4 small zucchini (about 1 pound)
1/2 pound Italian sausage
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup tomato sauce
Freshly grated Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and oil a baking dish. Trim the ends of the zucchini, and halve them lengthwise. Using a teaspoon, scoop out the pulp. Chop the pulp. Remove the sausages from the casings. Heat olive oil in a skillet; add the sausage and zucchini pulp; and cook on medium heat, stirring frequently, until the sausage browns, about 10 minutes. Pour the tomato sauce in the baking dish. Add the zucchini, and fill with the sausage stuffing. Cover the dish with aluminum foil, and bake it in the preheated oven until the zucchini is cooked through, about 30 minutes. Serve the zucchini with some of the tomato sauce, and sprinkle with Parmesan. Serves 4. n
 

Categories: Dining Features

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