Wednesday, August 22, 2012

In the stillness of July

I still don't quite remember how Jeff and I ended up at Eetcafé Koevoet (translation: Eat Cafe Crowbar) in Amsterdam, but I think it involved spelt flour, Idaho, a pack of 30 Yoshitomo Nara postcards, a dog biting a hole in my pants, and a free bottle of white wine.  The last two of those are directly related.  It felt like Link's AwakeningYou traded a pair of pants for Sauvignon Blanc!  Don't worry--they were Jeff's pants anyway.

We spent most of our time in Amsterdam biking to different places where we could drink beer, so perhaps the combination of exertion and consumption left my memory a little hazy.  The Italian food at Koevoet, however, was impossible to forget.  Jeff ordered a steak salad that was just perfect for a muggy night among the canals--lightly seared steak, sliced thin and tossed over arugula, accented with balsamic vinegar and parmesan.  Of course, it's easy to make steak delicious, but Koevoet impressively pulled off the same trick with an appetizer of zucchini salad.  Thin ribbons of zucchini, shavings of sharp cheese, walnuts, a few leaves, and a sprinkle of olive oil.  It was a strong start to a meal at a restaurant that we visited only because of its financial manager's overly excitable terrier.

In fact, the zucchini salad was so good that we decided to recreate it the following evening in Paris.  We, of course, ran into a few difficulties.  A crumbly French cheese stood in for parmesan.  Finding no sharp knives in our Airbnb apartment, our zucchini ribbons ended up more as zucchini planks.  Oh, and also, picture me running around a grocery store two minutes before closing, shouting "HUILE D'OLIVE?  HUILE D'OLIVE?" at anyone dressed in a suit.  I blame Paris Nord, surely the worst train station in any developed country.  Regardless, the dish still came together nicely, and set our itinerary for the next few days in Paris:  wake up, go do something, come home, take a nap, make a salad.  One-hundred-year-old Julia would have loved us.

And a salad of zucchini ribbons made another appearance at a vegetable-heavy Italian dinner I cooked for Amber and Skyler, two friends who drove 200 miles and hiked over Kearsarge Pass to bring Ian and me a bag filled with millet and Snickers, thereby greatly facilitating the last five days of our hike on the John Muir Trail.  Their unexpected addition of bourbon and skillet-fried brownies to our resupply package left me in such a state of euphoria that I composed the menu for a thank-you dinner in my journal the very next morning, and cooked it to the letter just about a week later. I did a lot of thinking about food on the trail. One morning I thought about different ice creams I could make for three hours.  One afternoon I listed every gin cocktail I could think of in my head.  Then, in the evening--oh, it's time for lentils again.

By now, maybe you're getting the picture that I'm a little obsessed with thin ribbons of zucchini these days.  In fact, I just made some for dinner tonight, as a raw counterpoint to a milk-braised torpedo onion and some wild rice.  But my most outstanding achievement in the field of zucchini ribbons has been this buttery succotash I served alongside a tomato tart last week.  Really, it was just a way to use up some white beans and corn I had leftover from making minestrone.  Born of necessity, reared in salted butter, finished with balsamic vinegar--regardless of its origins, it's something I'll be making again this summer.  Shining in my hair.


(serves 2-3)

about 2 cups cooked white beans, or a can of white beans, drained, thoroughly rinsed, and dried
an ear of corn
a shallot, minced
a zucchini
neutral oil (peanut, canola, vegetable, etc)
1 tbsp good salted butter
kosher salt
balsamic vinegar

Remove the kernels from the ear of corn.  People suggest a lot of ways to do this without getting corn all over your kitchen, but I just do it over a normal cutting board, slicing the kernels off slowly with a small knife.  I hold the corn at an angle and cut from the middle of the cob to the bottom, so the kernels don't have very far to fall.  Then I flip the cob over and cut off the other side.

Using a sturdy vegetable peeler, peel off thin ribbons from the zucchini.  Place the thin ribbons into a large bowl.  I took the scraps, minced them, and added the mincings to the shallots, but you don't have to be quite as frugal.

Heat 1-2 tbsp oil in a pan over medium-high heat until it's fluid but not smoking.  Add the white beans and fry, stirring occasionally, until they start to take on a little bit of color.  Add the corn and continue to  fry for another minute, stirring frequently so the corn doesn't burn.  Turn the heat down to low and add the minced shallots and butter.  Cook just until the shallot starts to soften and the butter lightly glazes the vegetables.

Add the hot vegetables to the bowl with the zucchini ribbons.  Toss the mixture together until the heat just starts to soften the zucchini.  Season with a few drops of balsamic vinegar and turn into a serving dish.

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