Chicken with Plums, Zucchini with Almonds

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A few times now I’ve mentioned the technique of searing a chicken breast–skin-on, bone-in–in a skillet with hot olive oil, skin-side down, flipping it over when golden brown, finishing it in the oven, removing it from the pan and making a sauce with the brown bits on the bottom, something to deglaze those brown bits, and a little butter. See: lemon juice and butter, tangerine juice and butter, etc. There’s another technique, though, that I learned from Melissa Clark in writing my cookbook that works very well in this same chicken scenario, even though she taught it to me with duck. That technique is similar to the previous technique only it involves fruit.

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Summer’s End Pasta with Tomatoes, Zucchini and Dill

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What you are looking at, in the above picture, is the best thing I can imagine eating right now. Mario Batali once said on one of his shows that the best time to eat corn and tomatoes isn’t August, it’s September. My trips, recently, to the farmer’s market confirm this: the tomatoes couldn’t look plumper or more colorful. And so it was, last week, that I bought a few red ones, a few yellow heirlooms, some zucchini and a bunch of herbs–basil and dill–and came home to make a pasta dinner that had my eyes rolling back in my head, it was so terrific: an edible “last hurrah” for summer.

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A Ratatouille Recipe

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It’s been more than a month since I made the ratatouille you see in the above photo. I made it for a dinner party where there was lamb (a leg of lamb, actually) and, as many will tell you, ratatouille goes well with lamb. When I wrote my last book, the final chapter “Feast” featured a leg of lamb paired with a ratatouille just like you see above. In fact, it was the exact same recipe as the one you see above, a recipe from Gourmet magazine that now lives on Epicurious.

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Zucchini with Almonds

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What’s that expression about teachers learning from their students? Is there an expression like that? There really should be.

You may recall that for my cookbook I have an intern named Tyla working with me. Tyla herself has a food blog called “Learning To Live Without A Microwave” and on her blog last week I saw an excellent recipe for “Zucchini Saute with Toasted Almonds.” Now Tyla got the recipe from my friend Deb of Smitten Kitchen who titled the post “My Favorite Side Dish”; Deb, in turn, got it from The Red Cat restaurant. (Another game of recipe telephone.) But the point is that I discovered it from Tyla and it’s such a killer recipe it’s time you discovered it from me; it takes just a few minutes and it’s a “wow-er.”

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Gina DePalma’s Zucchini Olive Oil Cake

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You say “chocolate cake,” and the masses come; you say “olive oil zucchini cake” and there’s a bit of a silence. “Ummm,” a timid voice emerges a few seconds later. “What kind of cake did you say?”

It’s olive oil zucchini cake, timid-voiced person! Or, rather, zucchini olive oil cake. It comes from Babbo pastry chef Gina DePalma’s book “Dolce Italiano” and one bite will make a convert out of you. It’s moist, it’s got terrific fall spices (cinnamon? check. ginger? you got it. nutmeg? who’s your daddy?) and there’s a “lemon crunch” glaze on top that’ll make you pucker your lips in delight. Craig’s friend Alena was dubious at first, but after one bite she declared “this is AMAZING” and asked for a second piece. The defense rests.

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A Piece of

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Finally made Clotilde’s signature cake. Can you see the zucchini? You can’t? That’s because it sort of melts as it cooks. That’s important to note because when I first shredded the zucchini, using the food processor, it came out in long strands. I was worried there’d be long strands of zucchini in the finished product so I put in the blade and chopped them all up. But Clotilde assures me that, “size doesn’t matter. The zucchini blends into the texture of the cake, so they can be short or long, whatever’s easiest with the tools you have.”

This is a perfect dessert to make right now with zucchini still so abundant. You can trick yourself into thinking it’s healthy too and justify the giant piece that you cut for yourself, like the piece you see above. Just more proof that Chocolate & Zucchini is a book worth having.

Clotilde’s Carpaccio

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I’ve been sleeping with Clotilde. Since Craig’s left for Seattle to shoot his first feature (I’ll be there in a week to join him for two weeks), I had no choice but to find a substitute. And that substitute is everyone’s favorite Parisian food blogger. Well. Ok. Not her. Her cookbook. I’ve been reading it in bed and when I wake up the next morning it’s right there next to me smiling “hello.” Is it weird that I talk to it at breakfast? Help it to the bathroom? Take it out to lunch? That’s the normal way to treat a cookbook, right?

Well can I help it if I’m smitten? The book is adorable and smart and filled with good ideas, just like its creator. And even though I’ve had the book for a few weeks, I’ve found it very difficult to choose a first recipe to try from it: they all look so good. The mustard chicken is the one that makes my lips smack the loudest, but I think it’s too hot for mustard chicken. Plus I made chicken last night for dinner. And it’s called “Chocolate & Zucchini,” shouldn’t I make something with zucchini in it?

The picture you see above, then, was my solution. I was at the farmer’s market today and saw, for the first time this season, piles of gorgeous, bright green zucchini. I chose two large ones (even though Clotilde says to choose three small ones–I didn’t have the book with me, I had taken it to the park where it wanted some private time) and brought them home and proceeded to make her “Carpaccio De Courgette Au Vinaigre De Framboise.” Only I didn’t use Vinaigre De Framboise (raspberry vinegar): I had Balsamic. But that was ok: Clotilde mentions Balsamic as a variation.

This recipe is so simple you can just memorize it. You slice the zucchini very thin (I need better knife skills, as you can tell by that photo), put them in a circular pattern on the plate, scatter goat cheese over the top (I bought fresh chevre at the farmer’s market too). Then you make a vinagirette with olive oil and the vinegar, though I just drizzled the olive oil over the top, along with a few drops of the Balsamic. I spinkled on some nice sea salt and a few grindings of pepper and did as Clotilde commanded: covered it with plastic and let it sit, at room temperature, for ten minutes.

Ten minutes later, I sat down and consumed this strange and delightful dish. It’s hard to explain why it’s so good: maybe because the zucchini is so good right now, and this dish highlights its vegetal brightness? Or is it the way the cheese gives it body and the oil a slickness and the vinegar a zippy punch? I don’t know, but I loved it. Along with some fresh bread, this was my dinner. And I was happy.

Only the book hasn’t come home yet. Maybe I shouldn’t have left it at the park? Who will I sleep with tonight? Any takers?