Tuesday, September 8, 2009
So Fresh, So Clean
One of the questions I'm most frequently asked is how I come up with so many recipes. Well, I'm not going to lie...it isn't always easy, especially since there are only a limited number of ingredients in the world and these days I've left much of what I need to use up to Mother Nature and my CSA. But in order to come up with fresh ideas on how to use the same old ingredients, I try to keep my brain stimulated as much as possible. I almost exclusively read food related books because that's what I most enjoy. I'm constantly looking for design and food styling inspiration, so I'm more often than not reading a food magazine. And one of my absolute favorite ways of finding inspiration is flipping through artist contact books and websites. While cookbooks are awesome and I wish I had more time to peruse them thoroughly, artist websites offer me a lot of inspiration. I don't need recipes to make meals, I need the inspiration to transform an old ingredient into something that's delicious and new (at least to me).
Between food stylists and photographers, there is no shortage of beautiful food porn out there. I could look at it for hours, but the truth is that a gorgeous shot of a roast chicken isn't making me a better or more creative cook. So instead I troll these sites in hopes of seeing something new, or better yet, something old used in a new and exciting way. Months ago for example, I saw a photograph of what looked to be a shaved zucchini dish. It may have been a sauté or a salad, the photo didn't specify. It was just a beautiful shot in a photographer's portfolio that made me want to make the dish. It looked so clean, light, and utterly refreshing. It stayed in my inspiration folder and taped on my wall until I finally had what I needed to make a similar dish. And so I finally got a few gorgeous zucchini and summer squash specimens that I could use to recreate my version of what I saw in the photograph.
After a somewhat failed dish, I determined that a sauté was most certainly not what I was looking for. So a raw zucchini salad it was, tossed simply with an olive oil and lemon vinaigrette, seasoned with lots of freshly ground black pepper, and topped with mint and long curls of shaved Parmesan. It had just the clean and simple flavor that I was looking for. The zucchini had a sweetness and crunch in its raw form that just doesn't come across once it's seen heat. The acid and fruitiness from the dressing matched it really well, and the mint added to the dish's freshness factor. The Parmesan rounded out the dish with a little saltiness and more earthy, full flavor. Overall it was very tasty, and just as beautiful as I'd hoped. Not all of my photo inspired dishes turn out this well, and in fact my first attempt at the salad was not nearly as successful as I'd hoped, which is why the recipe is a little fussier than I'd normally like. But it's well worth it, especially if you find yourself with a fridge full of zucchini like I have this summer. Here's what I finally came up with:
Raw Zucchini Salad With Parmesan
2 large or 3 small zucchini or summer squash
1 block/wedge Parmesan cheese (for shavings)
1 Tbsp thinly sliced mint
extra virgin olive oil
lemon juice (about 2 Tbsp)
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
freshly cracked black pepper
1. Cut the ends off zucchini or summer squash. Using a mandolin or a vegetable peeler, cut the zucchini into wide, thin ribbons (about 1/8 inch thick). Lay ribbons flat on paper towels until salad is ready to be assembled.
2. Meanwhile, combine lemon juice and dijon mustard in a bowl and slowly drizzle in extra virgin olive oil while whisking to combine. When the vinaigrette has come together, taste for salt and pepper and season to taste.
3. Using a vegetable peeler, make long parmesan shavings. Fill individual bowls with zucchini ribbons and parmesan shavings and drizzle generously with vinaigrette. Top each with mint and a pinch of both salt and freshly cracked pepper. Enjoy!