Simple Summer Lunch

It’s raining, the garden’s growing, and giant green zucchini keep appearing on my kitchen counter (Dad must be out early scouting the ready ones). Yesterday I turned one into the star of a light summer lunch; I think zucchini are great sautéed, and since they don’t have a strong flavor on their own, you can season them just about any way you love. Mexican and Tex-Mex flavors have always been a favorite and a go-to for me in the kitchen, so I dressed my Zucchini-Corn Salad Sauté with one of my favorite dressings I’ve recently come up with, a Spicy Southwest Cilantro-Lime Dressing . Had some bagels in the fridge, so I whipped up some spicy Chipotle-Almond Cream Cheese as a topper. Plated, the two made a nice little lunch! The zucchini salad would make a nice summery side for grilled meats as well.

Recipes for you to tweak and try:

Zucchini-Corn Salad Sauté

1 large zucchini, chopped
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
1 medium green bell pepper, chopped
½ a medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
bit of salt
bit of freshly ground black pepper

Sauté the vegetables in about 1 tbsp of vegetable oil on medium-high heat until everything is tender (10-15 minutes). With a slotted spoon, spoon the vegetables into a bowl, leaving the excess liquid in the pan (a lot of liquid cooks out of zucchini). Pour Spicy Southwest Cilantro-Lime Dressing (below) over the vegetables and serve warm.

Spicy Southwest Cilantro-Lime Dressing

¼ cup vegetable oil
1 tsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp lime juice
1 tsp cumin
¼ tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp chipotle chili powder
1/8 tsp salt
chopped fresh cilantro (about 1 tbsp)

Whisk all ingredients together until smooth, or blend in a food processor. Taste and adjust the cumin and chili powder as you like…I always sprinkle a bit more in. Bold flavors! (I’ve also used this dressing for green salads and pasta salads.)

Chipotle-Almond Cream Cheese

4 oz cream cheese
¼ cup chopped almonds (I used roasted salted almonds)
2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped (from a can of Chipotle Peppers in Adobo sauce) + 1 teaspoon of the Adobo sauce from the can
1/8 tsp lime juice

Grind all ingredients together in a food processor until smooth. Slather on toasted bagels, or use as a sandwich spread!

Summer’s here, and so is zucchini!

So this first day of summer with its long day-lit hours is the perfect day to set my new blog in motion!  The summer solstice is something of a holiday to me, the true commencement of my favorite season of sunshine, sweat, warm rains, and nights on anyone’s patio.  And of course, the time has finally come when I can walk out the back door to our family garden and pluck something colorful from the vines to make for dinner.  Fresh, organic, and planted by family hands.

One of my first loves of summer, newly ripe at my home, is zucchini.  My parents have always preferred the stronger flavor of yellow squash, which we’ll also have soon, but I love that green zucchini.  It’s versatile and lends itself to a variety of dishes and seasonings.  So yesterday when my mom asked “What will we have for dinner?”, I replied, “Something with zucchini,” and set about building a dish in my head to showcase that clean green veggie.

What I came up with:  Mint-Basil Pesto Zucchini and Chicken Lasagna.  It’s long, I know, but the name specifies the essentials of the dish.  Anyway, it’s a twist on tradtional lasagna using ingredients I had on hand at the time, and I must boast a bit, it was DELICIOUS!  My thinking was basically that if the mixture for each layer was yummy on its own, then the resulting lasagna must be tasty!  🙂  This time, it really worked!

For this recipe, I’m just going to share the ingredients and the process.  I most often cook intuitively, barely using measures, so if that works for you, I encourage you to take any ideas from this dish and create it at home!  (But don’t worry if you’re not a natural cook yet–in future recipes I’ll be more detailed!)

Mint-Basil Pesto Zucchini and Chicken Lasagna

Mint-Basil Pesto: mint leaves, basil leaves, olive oil, garlic cloves, almonds, salt (all ground together)

Zucchini layer:  Sauté chopped zucchini and onions with a bit of salt and pepper in olive oil until tender.  After cooking, stir the Mint-Basil Pesto into the zucchini and onions to coat the vegetables.

Cheese layer: Mix cream cheese, shredded Parmesan cheese, coarse ground black pepper, and cayenne pepper (to taste) together. Add a bit of heavy cream and whip mixture until it’s lighter and more akin to the texture of ricotta cheese.

Chicken layer: Mix shredded cooked chicken with tomato sauce* to coat (*I used some leftover pizza sauce I had made the day before, so it was seasoned with a lot of herbs), then stir in 8 or 9 chopped mint leaves.

Noodle layer: Cooked lasagna noodles

To assemble, spread a layer of the zucchini mixture in the bottom of a greased baking dish. Then put a layer of noodles atop the zucchini. Then spread a layer of cheese mixture. Then, a layer of chicken mixture. Repeat. When I made this, I ended up with the cheese mixture on the top, and before baking I put some Swiss cheese slices on top for a golden brown and gooey effect. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes, or until bubbly.

My family devoured this, and I was really pleased with the flavors! I think the mint is key here; it complimented the zucchini and tomato flavors so nicely!