Editor’s note: Cook Like a Chef is a feature designed to help you master cooking techniques that will give your homemade meals professional style and carefully crafted flavor. Each month, a chef instructor from Cascade Culinary Institute at Central Oregon Community College will walk us through a skill or recipe. See more Cook Like a Chef videos at bendbulletin.com/chef.
Late summer brings a vast quantity of local zucchini into our lives. It’s everywhere — from our home gardens to the farmers markets and in grocery stores. Of course it’s available all year long, but the fresh zucchini explosion is truly upon us in August and September.
While many people resort to baking multiple loaves of zucchini bread to use up the bounty, or sautéing many zucchini disks with onions and tomatoes, others simply give up and drop bags full of homegrown, baseball bat-sized squash at friends’ front doors (and then run).
But don’t despair or resort to habit this year. There’s a beautiful way to celebrate the humble cucumber-shaped squash with the dark green skin.
Today, we’ll find out what a chef does when zucchini is abundant. Let’s bake a lovely Zucchini Tart with the help of Chef Thor Erickson, an instructor at Cascade Culinary Institute.
“I’m not opposed to zucchini bread, but I imagine most of us are tired of it. This Zucchini Tart is striking, and it’s a great way to use up all those squash. It takes a bit of time to put the tart together, but it’s worth it because the result is, ‘Whoa! Look at that!’” Erickson said.
Pick small- to medium-sized zucchini for this tart. If you want to try making it with very large zucchini, just be sure to peel them and remove the seeds.
“When zucchinis get too big, the seeds get bigger and there’s more water in the flesh, so you want to use small- to medium-size zucchini for this tart,” Erickson said.
“We all hate the neighbor who comes over with the zucchini as big as your arm that takes up the whole counter, while you’re trying to figure out what to do with it. You can use a big zucchini (for this recipe), but younger vegetables are going to be more tender in terms of texture, and more delicate in terms of flavor,” Erickson said.
Rinse the zucchini with cold water, cut off the stem end and feel free to mix up green zucchini with the yellow variety. Cut the zucchini in thin lengthwise strips using a vegetable peeler or a mandolin slicer.
This recipe is not complicated. You’ll spread a flavorful, cheesy filling on the bottom of your pie pastry (see recipe below) and then roll strips of zucchini to make a flowerlike pattern, starting at the center of the pie pan, on top of the filling.
“The pastry crust is the hardest part. You can use store-bought pesto, or make a pesto. You could make an arugula pesto. That’s the beauty of this tart. You can vary the flavors,” Erickson said.
This tart can be served hot, or at room temperature.
“I almost like it better at room temperature, as it cools off a bit. Like any food, if you leave it alone for a while, an hour later it’ll taste better. Let it cool to room temperature and serve it with a salad,” Erickson said.
Now that’s a late summer lunch or dinner that a chef would make — something beautiful, simple and scrumptious — and now you can cook like a chef and make it at home, too.
— Reporter: ahighberger@ mac.com