"The only real stumbling block is the fear of failure. In cooking, you have got to have a what-the-hell attitude." ~ Julia Child

zucchini inspiration

by Julie Tilsner on June 4, 2008

in Green Goddess, Dinner, Vegetarian

Inspiration has been in short supply lately. This morning I found some, growing green in the dirt.

As part of a magazine assignment, I asked my friend Kelli, former caterer and all-around big idea gal, to be my “cooking” coach. She agreed to come over once a week and teach me some basics; some knife skills, some recipe ideas, some notion of what to keep in my pantry. She promised that when she was done with me I’d no longer open my refrigerator in despair, but would come to view it as a box full of potential meals. I choose to believe her, even though I really don’t.

This morning she called me early as planned. “You up for starting at the very beginning?” she asked. I was, I said. “Good. Then I’m taking you to the garden.”

As we drove across town to the community garden, Kelli told me that she liked to start in the place where food and inspiration meet. She wants to help me set up my own kitchen garden in the planter outside my living room window. When I told her that my gardening skills, like my cooking ability, were all talk and C-list action, she smiled. “When you walk among success, you become successful.”

Ah, grasshopper. Already I was in a better mood.

The 25-year-old community gardens are spread over several acres, tucked away in a corner bordered on one side by a park and on the other by the freeway. The spring bounty is just beginning to bust out, pumpkin and zucchini plants are creeping into the pathways, runner beans are starting the twirling climb up their trellises, tomato plants are getting frothy. Flowers bloom everywhere, despite the June gloom. If you tell yourself that the freeway din is actually the sound of a mighty river, it’s darn near paradise.

We walk the site and Kelli talks, explaining how to cook Swiss chard, how to make teas using lemon verbena and chamomile, how certain squash likes to be up off the ground. She asks every fellow gardener we meet what they feed their tomatoes, as she’s not happy with the development of her own. By the time we run into her friend Lesley, I am delirious with the smell of earth and the potential of produce. I am making noises about getting on the waiting list for a plot myself. My own bit of garden. So what if I find myself awash in bushels of zucchini come next summer.

As if reading my mind, Lesley offers up this recipe:

Cut a medium-sized zucchini, a medium-sized summer squash, or any other sort of squash you happen to have, into largish chunks.
Coat them with two tablespoons of olive oil.
Coat them with a bit of marinara or tomato sauce “anything you have left over from pasta night,” she says. Don’t put too much in, just a coating.
Mix in a cup or so of mozzarella cheese.
Add some pasta seasonings

Bake all this at 450 degrees for about 45 minutes. She swore by its deliciousness. Then she handed me a decent-sized zucchini just cut from her garden, along with a summer squash, and a funny looking white squash I don’t have the name for. “You want some basil too?” she asked, cutting me a bundle. Kelli nodded approvingly. “That will go great on top,” she says.

I came home with the aforementioned squash, fresh basil and dill, fresh broccoli, a handful of chard, a cup of blackberries and a head of cabbage the size of a bowling ball. Visions of my week’s menu tripped through my head: artichoke frittata, chard sauteed with garlic, blackberry tarts, maybe. Tonight, however, I aimed to make the zucchini bake.

I did, to shockingly good results, made even better with fresh shredded basil on top. It made the house smell like a home. The drama-tween ate an entire bowl (although a plate of soft vegetables is still too much to ask of the boy, cheesy or not). I was left feeling recharged, re-inspired. A focus was emerging for my long, boring summer. It’s the potential of abundance.

Can you taste it? Stay tuned.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Kelli Johnson June 5, 2008 at 10:00 am

I am thrilled with your success! Zucchini Bake is on the menu for me tonight…I used my blackberries in a crumble and it was devoured in minutes. I am going to look for alfalfa meal today for the tomatoes! I’ll keep you posted.


elfini (Dawn) June 5, 2008 at 10:07 am

Zucchini Bake sounds wonderful! I need someone to start chucking vegetables at my head while forcibly herding me towards the kitchen.


Sam's Mom June 5, 2008 at 12:04 pm

I’m going to try that zucchini bake next week. Hey did you take the picture too, it looks really good!!


Bad Home Cook June 5, 2008 at 2:32 pm

What do you think? Are you kidding? I pilfered it off the internets…
but do try it…it’s delicious! (and so easy even I can do it, apparently…)


"Mr. J" June 5, 2008 at 9:37 am

Maybe there is hope for you after-all!
Then again, maybe your childrens’ taste may be finally evolving too (slowly but surely).
BTW, that quote your friend gave is spectacular. “When you walk among success, you become successful.” You should post it to the fridge and in the car on the dash board and use it as your daily mantra!


Christy Whitney June 5, 2008 at 6:20 pm

Can’t wait to try the zucchini bake……but, I (sadly) have to go to the supermarket to BUY my zucchini! Maybe will try to fit the farmers market in this weekend!
Thanks for the yummy sounding recipe!


Bratsky June 6, 2008 at 10:29 am

For those of you that don’t have a garden, or don’t want to buy your produce from the grocery store, you may want to look into “Farm Shares” or purchasing a share of a local farm. They use the money to buy seeds and to work the land, and you get to have the joy of fresh produce all season long – and know you are helping your neighbors. =) Try looking up CSA or Community Supported Agriculture.
Will try the zucchini bake this weekend!!! It sounds delightful!


Julie R June 14, 2008 at 5:13 am

Try Seaosol for the tomato plants – or any seaweed-based plant food…


leslie June 15, 2008 at 6:24 am

oh my gosh! how cool that you made the zucchini bake! we have had it two more times since my first attempt and am now working on zucchini bread and cake recipes. (so far hit or miss) i am so glad you liked it! come by and get some more squash anytime, i think i planted too much. anyone with a 3 foot square of dirt could grow zucchini, i highly recommend it for your home garden. nice meeting you!


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