Sunday, April 22, 2012

Gussy Up Zucchini with This Easy Spring-Through-Summer Cocktail Party Recipe

Silken firm tofu is the secret ingredient in these vegetarian hors d’oeuvres.
Have you ever opened the crisper in your fridge looking for something in particular but finding something unexpected, something you can’t quite make out because it has shriveled to the point of unearthliness? That just happened to us. The unidentified lying object? Zucchini, and a small one at that. We had every good intention of using it—we even discussed how cute it was at the grocery store—but as we unpacked, we unceremoniously relegated it to the nether reaches of the bottom drawer. Forgotten, until now.

We’d like to tell you that we transformed this limp courgette into something magical, but alas, we did not. It ended up in the garbage. We haaaate throwing away food. As penance, we decided to buy more of these green, mildly flavored squashes with the sole purpose of creating a cocktail party hors d’oeuvre so good, we would never ever allow another zucchini to transmogrify in the crisper.

And that we did. Our goal was to create something relatively healthy, keeping it 100% vegetarian. The warm weather teased us with the prospects of an early summer, so we had summer on the brain when concocting this recipe. Rifling through the fridge, we came across a box of firm silken tofu and various cheeses, and some leftover basil and mint we had used for another dish. Steve’s culinary lightbulb went off and he said, “Let’s grill the zucchini and make a stuffing.” Bingo. Grilling really is the best way to prepare zucchini if your main goal is to accentuate the squash’s inherently subtle flavors. (Next time you want to create a side dish to burgers, just slather some olive oil onto 1/8-inch thick slices (sliced the long way) of zucchini and grill both sides over low heat, flipping only when subtle grill marks have formed. Add some salt and pepper. Devour.)

The Gin Stevie Cocktail
After playing around with the ratios of these items and adding some toasted pine nuts, we decided that these stuffed grilled zucchini bites would be the perfect one-bite party-food accompaniments to a fizzy gin drink. (The herbal, floral flavors in gin pair so well with a variety of spring and summer vegetables.) We had some leftover watermelon–sake ice cubes from the Gin Stevies we made in the fall, so we decided Gin Stevies it would be. And how serendipitous that we had basil and mint leftover too, not only for the stuffed grilled zucchini bites, but for the Gin Stevies as well.

The pairing was blissful. Perfect, really. The way the watermelon in the drink intermingled with the Romano and provolone cheeses in the zucchini bites reminded us why we do this. Who can resist a really good cocktail–party food pairing? And as the weather continues to get warmer, you can serve these zucchini bites al fresco, with perhaps a Tom Collins, a French 75, a Brandy Old-Fashioned, or a Langdon’s Folly, made with pomegranate juice, or even a Clear, a vodka–gin combo fizzy drink with elder flower liqueur and subtle hints of ginger and celery. Enjoy zucchini as you’re meant to enjoy it. Grilled, full of flavor, and with a cocktail companion.

Grilling your zucchini will create dozens of new, bold flavors
Stuffed Grilled Zucchini Bites
(created by Cocktail Buzz)

Ingredients
3 small zucchini (about 6 inches long and 1–1/2 inches thick)
3/4 package silken firm tofu (9–10 ounces)
1/8 cup grated pecorino Romano
1/4 cup grated provolone
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4–1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
juice of half lemon (reserve other half for drizzling)
1/4 cup pine nuts
small handful basil leaves (18 large leaves)
sugar (optional)
tiny mint leaves (optional)

Method
Heat grill over medium heat. Wash zucchini and set aside. Meanwhile, toast pine nuts on medium-low heat in a saute or fry pan until fragrant and slightly browned. Mix with remainder of ingredients (except sugar and mint leaves, if using) in a food processor until completely incorporated, but not overly smooth. You want to see bits of basil leaf in the stuffing. If you are mixing by hand, make sure to chop the basil leaves and pine nuts into small pieces first.

Cut zucchini into 1/3-inch thick pieces. Hollow out center with a tablespoon, leaving flesh on the bottom so the mixture will sit in it without going all the way through. Place pieces on grill, hollowed side down, and grill for 5 to 7 minutes, until grill marks form. Sprinkle bottoms with sugar if you are using (this creates a more blistered look and gives the zucchini a slightly more caramelized flavor and texture). Flip the pieces and grill for another 5 to 7 minutes.

Remove from heat when grill marks have formed and the zucchini flesh and the outer green skin has softened. Add dollops of the stuffing to each piece. Top with a squeeze of lemon juice and a tiny mint leaf (if using).

Variations
  • The stuffing can also be served with raw zucchini, thinly sliced.
  • Feel free to use yellow zucchini, also known as summer squash.
Craving a Tom Collins to accompany your stuffed grilled zucchini bites? 
photos © Steve Schul and Paul Zablocki, Cocktail Buzz

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