Daily Dish

The inside scoop on food in Los Angeles

Category: Vegetables

Market Fresh: Zucchini

Buy zucchini that are 6 to 8 inches long, free of nicks and cuts, and that bristle slightly with little hairs
How complicated can zucchini be? After all, most people's biggest problem usually seems to be getting rid of it. Well, actually there are more than 100 varieties of zucchini grown today, ranging in color from gray-green to almost black and in shape from long and thin as a hot dog to bulbous.

Which to choose? It depends on how you're going to use them. Generally speaking, the more gray and bulbous a zucchini is, the firmer and milder the flesh will be. These are closer to what used to be called vegetable marrows, and they're great for cooking in soups. The darker and thinner zucchinis, closer to the Italian squash called cocozelle, are more tender but usually have richer flavor. You'll also find what farmers call "round" zucchini, varieties such as Tondo di Piacenza or Ronde de Nice. They're not really zucchini but what botanists call "summer pumpkins." Still, that's probably something that matters more to botanists than to cooks.

How to choose: Look for zucchini that are small to medium-sized (no longer than 6 to 8 inches). They should be firm and free of nicks and cuts. Really fresh zucchini will bristle with tiny hairs.

How to store: Keep zucchini tightly wrapped in the refrigerator.

How to prepare: Braised or "glazed" zucchini is terrific -- cut the squash into pieces and put them in a wide skillet with a little olive oil, some minced garlic and about 2 to 3 tablespoons of water. Cover the pan and cook over medium heat until the zucchini is tender (about 5 minutes). Remove the lid and crank the heat up to high to evaporate the moisture and stir gently to coat the zucchini with the reduced juices.

-- Russ Parsons

Photo: Squash. Credit: Richard Hartog / Los Angeles Times

Twitter #Weekendeats highlights: Summer produce galore

Summerproduce

This morning's #weekendeats chat on Twitter was especially colorful. Chat participants shared pictures and recipes for a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables used in salads, desserts, tarts and more. It seems everyone is in the mood to make and enjoy light, easy dishes for summer. Here is a look at some of the highlights:

Lemons were definitely a favorite this week. Daisy Thompson of the blog Daisy's world shared a recipe for lemon blueberry cheesecake cookies, which she notes are especially good with a glass of milk. Mary from the blog the Food Librarian shared a recipe for Meyer lemon muffins, there was a lemon cake from the blog Deliciously Directionless and Stephanie Arsenault from the blog Global Dish shared a berry lemon cobbler with cornmeal topping.

Tomatoes were also a weekend favorite with a mozzarella, tomato, olive oil and braised fennel sandwich from Sycamore Kitchen, shared by @RE_LvTravel, an heirloom and cherry tomato salad with peach-basil vinaigrette from Daisy Thompson of the blog Daisy's World and a pretty tomato mascapone tart from Samantha of the blog the Little Ferraro Kitchen.

The blog Wonderland Kitchen shared an entire feast of vegetables with ways to use your CSA vegetables, including recipes for creamed kohlrabi, cold tomato and cucumber salad, beets in a sweet thyme balsamic glaze, five-minute broccoli and backyard garden string beans. 

After the chat, we ask people to upload pictures of their #weekendeats to our What did you eat this weekend? photo gallery. We'll feature some of the photos here on Daily Dish, so be sure to check back for more #weekendeats and #foodporn throughout the week.

Hope to see everyone next Monday morning on Twitter! It's sure to be a drool-worthy good time.

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Photo, from left: Heirloom and cherry tomato salad with peach-basil vinaigrette and lemon blueberry cheesecake cookies. Credit: Daisy Thompson

The pleasures of cold vegetables

Image

I spent Sunday at the stove steaming vegetables. Why? Take a look at these two pictures.

I hadn't even realized until I started organizing my photos that two of the best dishes I ate on vacation were in essence, the same: the first at l'Arpège and the second at the restaurant at Albergo Posta on Lake Como. They look very different, but when you get right down to it, they're both nothing more than perfectly cooked vegetables dressed with a little sauce -- in the first, a sweet-sour combination from a three-star chef, in the second, nothing but good olive oil, lemon juice and coarse salt. (To tell you the truth, I couldn't tell you which one I preferred.)

It takes a little time to get everything prepped and then you want to make sure you cook all the vegetables separately, so you can get the precise degree of doneness you want. "Laker" potatoes from Weiser Family Farms took about 15-17 minutes, zucchini took about 5 (cook them whole, then quarter them). Besides that, I've got chard stems (leaves saved for something else), artichokes, fennel, carrots and cauliflower.

Dinner Sunday night was an assortment served with aioli and cold rosé. Dinner Tuesday night might be the same combination but with olive oil and lemon juice, or maybe with an herbal mayonnaise. Who knows? When you've got a refrigerator full of great vegetables, the sky is the limit.

--Russ Parsons

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Photo credit: Kathy Parsons

Cookbook Watch: 'Ripe' by Cheryl Sternman Rule, Paulette Phlipot

RIPE_optCelery pretty much equals boring, right? It conjures up images of stringy diet food or rabbit fare, and it's not exactly photogenic. Or is it?

If you flip to page 173 of the new cookbook, "Ripe: A Fresh, Colorful Approach to Fruits and Vegetables," you'll find a stop-you-in-your-tracks photo of celery that might best be described as a lovely, flower-tipped bouquet. Accompanying that is a suggested dish that probably isn't on anyone's diet plan: a braised celery gratin rich with butter, wine and Gruyere.

That's mission accomplished for the cookbook's authors, food writer Cheryl Sternman Rule and food photographer Paulette Phlipot, who set out to reset the nation's mindset about fruits and vegetables.

This is not a cookbook aimed at foodies -- although foodies will certainly find much to enjoy in its pages. Instead, Rule and Phlipot envisioned their audience as the very people who wrinkle up their noses at the thought of eating anything green and blanch at the thought of a meat-free meal.

"If I were eating broccoli or string beans boiled until they were gray, I would hate them too," said Rule, a Silicon Valley food writer and author of the popular food blog 5 Second Rule. "When people tell me they hate vegetables I ask them: 'How are you cooking them?'"

More often than not, she's met with blank stares. That's because they're not cooking their own vegetables, and have no idea where to start.

Enter "Ripe."

Continue reading »

Vegetable love via Vilmorin, founded in 1743

"Album Vilmorin: The Vegetable Garden"

I can still picture the fat paperback on my bookshelf: “The Vegetable Garden” by Vilmorin-Andrieux (Ten Speed Press, 1981 and now out of print), originally published in the 19th century. I loved the detailed text and the old-fashioned illustrations commissioned by the French seed company founded by the French royal botanist in 1743. Vilmorin is still in business and today is the fourth-largest seed company in the world. In Paris you can find the seeds at Vilmorin-Andrieux on quai de la Mégisserie.

Somehow that Ten Speed Press book went missing when I moved a few years ago and I "Album Vilmorin: The Vegetable Garden" haven’t seen it since.

Cut to last week when I walked into the little Taschen store at the original Farmers Market and found that the German publisher has released "Album Vilmorin: The Vegetable Garden," a portfolio of 46 Vilmorin vegetable prints in glorious color, each 13-by-19 inches and suitable for framing. (A smaller bound copy is in the works.)

If you have a blank wall in your kitchen or dining room, look for some inexpensive black frames and cover the wall with the framed prints. Better than wallpaper, and no sticky mess doing it. Or, pick out your favorites, have them framed, and save the rest of the prints for gifts. 

Think of it that way, and the price becomes a sort of bargain.

Album Vilmorin: The Vegetable Garden (Taschen, $99.99), available at bookstores and at Taschen, Farmers Market, 6333 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles, (323) 931-1168; and at 354 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 274-4300.

"The Vegetable Garden" by Vilmorin-Andrieux is out of print, but it's possible to turn up used copies. I also just discovered it can be downloaded for free at Google Books, which has editions from both 1885 and 1905. Get it, if only to read the potato chapter.

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Illustrations from "Album Vilmorin: The Vegetable Garden." Credit: Taschen, Berlin

Susan Feniger's Street gets vegan-friendly

Streetsushi

Susan Feniger's Street launched a new menu today, with vegan and vegetarian dishes added to its globally inspired street food. More than 20 dishes on the new menu, executed by chef and co-owner Kajsa Alger, can be prepared sans meat.

The dinner menu is divided into seven categories, including Asian pub food, pizza, meatballs and fritters, veggie sides, Korean barbecue, salads and "classic street." Vegan-friendly dishes on the Asian pub menu include the mung bean pancake with scallion, kimchi and shiitake and the brown rice sushi roll made with umeboshi, apple and burdock.

Black bean burger at Susan Feniger's Street

A spicy black bean veggie burger (pictured above) with pea shoots, smashed avocado and tomato on toasted sourdough was added to the "classic street" portion of the menu. New veggie sides include the Roman broccoli and white beans with garlic, chile, olive oil and Pecorino and the coal-roasted Greek artichoke with wild oregano sauce.

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Photos, from top: Brown rice sushi, spicy black bean burger. Credit: Street

L.A. artist Alyson Iwamoto's ceramics inspired by farmers market

Radish vase, radish cup and pomegranate vase
Los Angeles ceramic artist Alyson Iwamoto's latest works are inspired by farmers market produce such as winter squash, pomegranates, summer melons and Asian radishes. She creates these vessels with traditional Asian glazes by making plaster molds around a fruit or vegetable and casting them in porcelain. 

Iwamoto's beautiful ceramic representations of fruits and vegetables found in Southern California are available for purchase at the Japanese American National Museum, the Craft and Folk Art Museum and the Pasadena Museum of California Art. Her works, which include a pomegranate vase ($50) and radish cup ($30), will also be on display and for sale at this year's Unique LA event on Dec. 3-4.

Alysoniwamoto.com.

Summer melon bowls

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Upper photo: Radish vase, radish cup and pomegranate vase.

Lower photo: Summer melon bowls. Credit: Alysoniwamoto.com

Joe Miller of Joe's teaches fifth-graders how to cook

The We Garden project is expanding with a cooking class
While finishing her master gardener course, Venice resident Nora Dvosin spotted a 60-by-40-foot prospect plot for planting at a local elementary school and immediately started planning a co-gardening project. In partnership with landscape artist and master gardener Nancy Griffin, principal Betty Coleman and Westminster Avenue Elementary School students, Dvosin's project, called We Garden, has since expanded to more than a quarter-acre.

Students plant, tend to and harvest through the garden project and now, with the help of Joe Miller of Joe's Restaurant (which last month celebrated its 20th anniversary), students engage in a once-a-month cooking class in which they're introduced to ingredients and cooking techniques.

The next class is Friday at 11 a.m. In addition to Westminster Avenue Elementary's fifth-graders, Dvosin says the public is welcome too.

1010 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, (310) 392-3041.

Joe Miller of Joe's Restaurant coducts the We Garden cooking class
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Upper photo: The We Garden plot. Credit: Andrea Torng

Lower photo: Joe Miller of Joe's Restaurant. Credit: Andrea Torng

Ottolenghi eggplant, oh yeah

Eggplant

OK, I confess. I have a serious cook crush on for Yotam Ottolenghi. I tested a bunch of spring recipes from the British chef's new cookbook "Plenty" this year, but was intrigued by his affection for the eggplant. He's got half a dozen or so recipes for the vegetable.

Back then, any eggplant I could find would have been soft and flabby and imported probably thousands of miles. But Sunday, with eggplant at its absolute peak at the local farmers markets, I finally got around to trying this eggplant in buttermilk sauce. And it was great. This guy can do no wrong (well, at least until the next recipe I try).

This dish couldn't be easier to make: Essentially, you cut long eggplants in half lengthwise, then cut a crosshatch into the flesh and brush it with as much olive oil as it will hold. Bake at 400 degrees until it's tender all the way through (recipe in the book says 200 degrees, but they forgot to convert from Celsius), then cool. Just before serving, whisk together equal amounts of Greek yogurt and buttermilk, with a smashed garlic clove and a little olive oil. Spoon this over the eggplant, then sprinkle on some za'atar (I used good dried oregano instead) and pomegranate seeds. Amazing.

Here's a YouTube version of it by Ottolenghi himself.

 

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Outstanding in the Field comes to town in November

Outstanding 600

Outstanding in the Field -- a mobile supper club, if you will -- is finishing up its 2011 farm-to-table tour with a two-day stop in Hollywood. The big red-and-white bus tours the nation from coast to coast once a year, setting up table at diverse locations like ranches, sea caves, mountaintops and even urban landscapes; in this case, community garden Wattles Farm (just a couple blocks off Hollywood Boulevard).

Outstanding2 600

Wattles Farm master gardeners Toby Leaman, who is also president of the Wattles Farm board of directors, and Reed Poverny will host the events Nov. 2 and 3.

The event on Nov. 3, featuring chef Jamie Lauren of Vodvil LA, is sold out, but there's still availability for the dinner on Nov. 2; Outstanding will be announcing the guest chef for Wednesday's event shortly.

Tickets are $220 per person and include a reception with wine and passed appetizers, a tour of the farm and a dinner using local ingredients. Outstandinginthefield.com.

Outstanding5 600

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Daily Dish is written by Times staff writers.