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Zucchini Fans

Every Saturday since we've been living in Portland, we grab our shopping bags and walk down the tree-lined streets to the park blocks for the farmer's market. It's a bustling, vibrant affair, tables piled high with gorgeous produce and every stripe of person milling about more or less intentionally--a living cornucopia.

I love farmer's markets (and I like talking about them) because they are the source of much of my inspiration when it comes to food. I almost never go to the market with something specific in mind, preferring to see first what looks best and go from there. Many of us make the mistake of "needing" a recipe before we go shopping. Really, for everyday cooking, it should be the other way around. Find the best looking produce and proceed.

This kind of cooking is more gratifying in many ways because it relies upon your intuition, experience, and knowledge of food and cooking. The more you cook, the stronger these faculties will be, and before you know it you'll be cooking meals without ever looking at a book.

Last weekend, among the mountains of greens and piles of cherries, I found some baby zucchini. My mind instantly flew to a dish my mother used to make. One which, even during our pickier childhood days, we all loved--her zucchini fans.

The concept is simple--slice zucchini lengthwise, but leaving the stem end intact so the slices stay together. Fan out the slices, lay the zucchini flat, and top them with a cheesy mixture before baking. Not only do they look fanciful, but they taste incredible.

Because I don't have my mother's recipe, the memory was the kernel from which I made this dish. And I did stray somewhat from the memory itself--for instance, I know my mother used larger zucchini--probably about 6 to 8 inches long--and frankly, I have no idea whether she put bread or cracker crumbs in her topping. It just seemed like a good idea. But the result of this hodgepodge of memory and circumstance was delicious.

For the topping, I highly recommend using cracker crumbs. I don't normally call for processed ingredients in my recipes, but here it really adds something nice. Use "butter" crackers if you can. If you can't bring yourself to use crackers, try panko instead. You really need big, crunchy crumbs to make the topping stand out. I used Romano for the cheese because I love its big, assertive flavor, but I don't see why another dry-ish, flavorful cheese wouldn't work.

Other articles you might enjoy: Summer Squash Casserole, Ode To the Squash, Butternut Squash Ravioli with Brown Butter

Zucchini Fans
Serves 3 to 4

Note: You don't have to use baby zucchini for this. I would, however, choose small-ish squashes. If your zucchini are a little bigger, reduce the oven temperature to 400˚F and bake for slightly longer, until the zucchini are tender.

Preheat the oven to 425˚F. Wash and dry:
           12 ounces baby or small zucchini
Cut lengthwise slices in the zucchini, being careful not to cut through the stem end, but leaving it intact so the slices stay together. Gently fan the slices out--some of the slices will tear a bit at the stem end. This is okay. Lay the fanned zucchini in a greased baking dish or baking sheet.
Combine in a bowl:
           3/4 cup butter cracker crumbs or panko
            1/4 cup grated Romano
            1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
            1/4 teaspoon black pepper
            1/4 teaspoon salt
            Zest of 1 lemon
Divide the cracker crumb mixture evenly over the zucchinis. Scatter over top:
           2 tablespoons butter, cut into small cubes
Bake for 15 minutes or until tender.


Lisa Wright's picture

These look delicious! Can't wait to try them with our garden fresh zucchini. Thanks for sharing the picture.
meg's picture

Thanks, Lisa! Hope you like them as much as we did!

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