Friday, August 31, 2007

Training Meals, part 4: Salmon and Stuffed Zucchini

A short time ago, when we were out of charcoal, there were only two options for me when I stopped at the store: Kingsford Matchlight and Kingsford Charwood. The Matchlight was not a consideration for me. Supposedly, it's very easy to light this charcoal, but it's coated with lighter fluid, so your food may end up tasting like gas. Besides, we have a chimney, which solves problems with lighting your charcoal.

I bought the Charwood. According to Kinsford, it is "natural lump hardwood charcoal." It also mentions that Charwood burns hotter than regular charcoal, which really just means you get to eat faster. Okay, it also means you have to be careful if you need to cook slower, like having a hot side and a cool side (which my husband performed brilliantly on Sunday with pork loin chops). Anyhow, we love it. I especially like it for the effect it has on salmon.

I purchased some fresh Alaska sockeye salmon and, after the charcoal was ready, it took about 10 minutes for a large piece (about 2 lbs). A smaller piece or larger fire would result in a shorter cooking time, but this was just fine. I'd salted it and Mark threw some fresh thyme on top, then he grilled it skin side down with the lid on. The result was a very smoky salmon with a nice hardwood flavor to it. And the cold leftovers I had for lunch today were still full of that smoky taste. I highly recommend it.

As for the zucchini, well, that's another story. That comes from a suggestion Rick Bayless makes in his cookbook Mexican Kitchen. (My copy of that book is very well-used, by the way, to the point that the seam is completely falling apart. I wish it was available in spiral-bound!) I've kind of changed the sauce around (though the original is also very good), but the zucchini recipe is similar to what he has written. If you have the book, you'll see the original idea is listed after his Essential Simmered Tomato-Habanero Sauce. This is one of my favorite side dishes, and it's delicious and hearty enough to have by itself for a lunch. The corn is sweet and tender, the cheese is creamy, the zucchini tastes so fresh, and the tomatoes brighten up the whole dish. It's such a great combination. You'll probably have more sauce than you need for the zucchini, but it's great on rice, too. Here, then, is the recipe:

Stuffed Zucchini

2 T. olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 lbs. fresh, local tomatoes
1 15-oz. can tomato sauce
2-5 serrano chiles (depending on taste), sliced in half lengthwise
Kosher salt

3 medium-sized zucchini
2/3 of an 8-oz. block of cream cheese (or thereabouts),
3 ears corn
1/2 slice bread, blended into crumbs

For the sauce, heat a medium saucepan over medium high heat and cook the onion in the olive oil until tender, 5-10 minutes. Roughly chop the fresh tomatoes and add them to the onions. Cover and cook for one or two minutes, then smash them up with a potato masher. Add the tomato sauce and chiles (2 will be a pretty mild sauce), then simmer on medium-low, partially covered, for about 30 minutes. Taste for salt.

Preheat the oven to 400°. Cut the corn off the ears and combine with the cream cheese. Microwave on high for 1 minute, until well-combined, then add the bread crumbs and taste for salt. Slice the zucchini lengthwise and scrape out the centers to create a boat-like structure. Lay them in a baking dish and sprinkle with salt, then fill with cream cheese mixture. Bake for about half an hour, until the zucchini is fork tender.

Serve with a generous amount of the tomato sauce.

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