Monday, July 21, 2014

My Zucchini Affair

An assembled zucchini tart, pesto and feta cheese
Zucchini Tart
When I was in college, I remember telling my stepmom that I wanted to go study abroad. I remember her cheekily telling me, "But you are already studying abroad." Eventually, she and my dad agreed to let me spend a summer at Sussex University in England. England was always the dream. It was the place people talked about in posh tones. When people talked about traveling when I was growing up in Lagos, London was synonymous with foreign travels. I always wanted to see London. When I finally started traveling, I ended up in America so London was still a dream.When I finally landed in the Queen's own country, I knew not a  soul there. I followed instructions sent by the university and made my way to Brighton from Gatwick airport.

Then the summer seemed to explode with all kinds of goodness. One of my favorite food memories ever was from volunteering on a community farm in Sussex. The first day we went to the farm, the guy coordinating activities on the farm did not think we would survive because we were all so squeamish. It was the first time I was seeing a compost pile. It was my first time seeing a compost toilet. Despite the 'ick' factor of that first trip, my friends and I made the visit to the farm a regular part of our Friday activities. We helped set up nets around the raspberry clusters. We helped dig ridges. We created paths. We did the things eager but unskilled farm hands could do. Over the summer, we were paid in fresh fruits and veggies. The pile of raspberries tugged of the trees. The cuttings of herbs that made me feel really grown up in the kitchen as I roasted a stuffed chicken breast.

On the day we were volunteering, the coordinator decided to throw up a 'do. The high of the party was a stuffed giant zucchini. Of course, people would tell you that giant zucchini are a flavorless hunk of water and stringy flesh. Maybe...but that totally did not count given the spectacle of cooking this zucchini. The zucchini was pierced and drizzled with olive oil before being wrapped in layers and layers of foil paper. Then we dug a hole and dropped it in there before covering it with sand. Then we built a fire over the pile. By the time the fire was spent, the zucchini had been baked to mush. It was perfectly hot to be enjoyed with other veggies from the farm. Of course, most of the flavor came not from the food but the flair of the cooking method. 

It was this grandiosity that made me fall in love with zucchini. Over this summer, I have found myself salivating again over zucchini on Instagram. So many zucchini tart pictures with the perfect blend of yellow and green circles on  a crispy and golden base. I had to have one. So I made one. My lazy self simply bought some phyllo dough from work and a couple of zucchinis. I already had my pesto at home as well as Feta cheese.

I always thought phyllo dough would be difficult to work with. However, I found it very forgiving of my naïveté. If there is some special technique for handling it, I guess I either got it or it does not matter much. I simply unrolled the phyllo dough from the manufacturer's box and removed the layers I wanted. I rolled it the remainder back for another's day cooking adventure. When the a layer tore while I was handling it, I simply just keep layering.

The most important part of making this tart for me was the salting of the zucchini. Zucchini has a lot of water content that I expected to make the tart really watery. To manage the water content, I sliced the zucchini into thin slices then seasoned with salt. I let the slices sit in the fridge for about 30 minutes before assembling. By time I was ready to use the zucchini, the slices had expressed a lot of fluid into the bowl. I simply drained this water before using. The tart kept out perfect in my opinion. It as crispy on the outside, the pesto maintained a nice consistency while the zucchini slices perfectly cooked but still retaining shape and texture. It was an exemplary meal.

The added bonus on this tart is that it hold well in the fridge. I reheated the leftover a couple of days later and I was surprised by how crisp the crust was. There was no sign of sogginess which was my big fear when I made and realized I could not not eat a whole tart in one sitting.

Zucchini Tart

2 Medium Size Tart sliced and salted
2 Tbsp Pesto
3 Tbsp Feta Cheese Crumbles
1 Tbsp of Olive Oil
4 Layers of Phyllo Dough

*For this tart, I use a personal size baking pan with measurement 6.5 by 8.5 inches. You can use something similarly small even if it is not the exact size as mine or maybe only use half the width of a regular pan.

1. Preheat oven to 375F
1. Brush or spray the baking pan with olive oil before laying the first layer of phyllo dough. I brushed each layer with oil before putting on another layer. This is optional. I then folded the dough in half. This was still overflowing from the pan. To make it fit, I folded in the dough to create slightly raised sides.
2. Spread the pesto in the centre of the dough evenly. Layer on the zucchini slices carefully. Make that the slices are evenly spread before sprinkling the feta crumbles over the tart.
3. Place assembled tart in the oven and bake for 25 minutes until the crust is golden and crispy. Enjoy!

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