Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Monthly Archives: July 2012

Summer Squash Basics

When European explorers came to the America’s, squash was one of the 3 major foods the native Indians used, along with beans and corn. Europeans had never seen them before, so they thought they were melons. Squash seeds have been found in Archeological digs in Mexico that date back to between 9000 and 4000 B.C.  Columbus brought squash seeds back to Europe following his explorations in the Americas.

There are many varieties of summer squash, including zucchini, crookneck, sunburst, yellow and patty pan squash. Summer squash is picked in the summer before it has ripened, whereas a winter squash is picked when it is fully ripe. Summer squash is eaten cooked, grilled or raw. Even the skin is edible in summer squash.

Zucchini comes from the Italian Zucca that means squash. Though squashes didn’t originate in Italy, it is believed that the Italian name was adopted because the Italians are credited with developing this food. The zucchini as we know it wasn’t used in this form until the late 1800’s in Italy, probably near Milan, because many of the early varieties are named after nearby Italian cities.

Zucchini is simply an elongated, cylindrical, usually green variety of summer squash. There are three varieties of zucchini: Elite, Senator and Spineless Beauty. The Senator and Spineless Beauty are both hybrids and take less time to harvest, on average a week less than the Elite Zucchini.

Yellow squash belongs to the summer squash family along with the zucchini and scallop squash. Its pale yellow fruit is prized in a variety of dishes from stir-fries to roast vegetable recipes. It produces heavily throughout the summer months, with each plant turning out several squashes a week at the peak of production. Harvesting the yellow squash at its pinnacle of ripeness ensures it is tender yet flavorful, as overly ripe squash is tough and unappetizing.

Crookneck squash are typically yellow with bent or “crooked” necks. They are not as popular as zucchini and straightneck squash because they are not as easy to package and ship. Breakage can occur at the neck during harvest and transportation. Examples of crookneck squash include Destiny II, Dixie, Gentry, Medallion, Meigs, Prelude II and Supersett.

Straightneck squash are among the most popular varieties of squash because of the ease in harvesting and transportation, compared with crookneck squash. Examples of straightneck squash include Cougar, Enterprise, Fortune, Golddrop, Lemon Drop L, Liberator III, Lioness, Multipik, Monet, Seneca Prolific and Superpik. Straightneck squash can typically be harvested between 40 and 50 days after the first fruit appears. Most have a large bulb that tapers down toward a thin neck. The typical color of straightneck squash is yellow, but some are a light green.

When selecting patty pan squash at the market, look for squash that are regularly shaped, without bruises or nicks. Steer clear of any with discolored areas or moldy spots. If you’d like to steam or roast the patty pans whole, choose smaller squash, as they’ll cook more quickly and thoroughly. However you decide to prepare them, a pound of squash should serve nicely as a side dish for two or three people.

White Bush Scallop squash  is pale green in color. This tender squash, also referred to as Patty Pan squash, makes a delicious basis for stuffed squash. Similar to other summer squashes, White Bush Scallop squash is low in calories and contains potassium and vitamin A.  Mature squash is generally more nutrient-rich than when it’s immature. Because of its mild taste, a variety of fillings work well with scallop squash.

What to Look For: Look for summer squash that are firm and heavy for their size; the skin should be brightly colored and blemish-free. Because they are harvested earlier, smaller squash are more tender than larger ones and have thinner skins; choose squash that are less than eight inches long.

How to Store: Refrigerate in a plastic bag for up to four days; do not wash until ready to use.

Basil-Topped Grilled Summer Squash

4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 medium summer squash, (about 1 pound), sliced diagonally 1/4 inch thick
  • Olive oil cooking spray

Directions:

  1. Preheat grill to medium-high.
  2. Combine basil, pine nuts, oil, Parmesan, garlic, lemon juice and salt in a small bowl. 
  3. Coat both sides of squash slices with cooking spray.
  4. Grill the squash until browned and tender, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Serve topped with the pesto.

Tip: To toast pine nuts, place in a small dry skillet and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until fragrant and lightly browned, 2 to 4 minutes.

Zucchini Salad with Shaved Parmesan

Add minced fresh jalapeño, if you want more spice.

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 medium lemon
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 pounds small zucchini, cut into lengthwise slices about 1/2 inch thick
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
  • 1/3 cup thinly shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions:

  1. Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove the peel from lemon with a vegetable peeler, making sure not to include any white pith. (Reserve the lemon.) Cut the peel into thin slivers. Add to the boiling water and cook until soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool.
  2. Squeeze the juice from the lemon into a small bowl. Add oil, pepper and salt and whisk to combine. Set aside.
  3. Preheat grill to medium-high or place a grill pan over medium-high heat until hot.
  4. Oil the grill rack or a grill pan. Grill zucchini slices, turning once, until tender, 6 to 8 minutes.
  5. Arrange the zucchini on a platter and drizzle with the reserved lemon dressing. Serve sprinkled with almonds, cheese and the lemon peel.

Make Ahead: Prepare through Step 4, cover and refrigerate the zucchini, lemon peel and dressing for up to 1 day. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Tips: Use a vegetable peeler to shave thin curls or slivers off a block of hard cheese like Parmigiano-Reggiano. To oil a grill rack, oil a folded paper towel, hold it with tongs and rub it over the rack. (Do not use cooking spray on a hot grill.)

Tortellini & Zucchini Soup

Serve this soup with a slice of multigrain baguette and a spinach salad.
6 servings, about 1 1/2 cups each

Ingredients:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 large carrots, finely chopped
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 14-ounce cans vegetable broth
  • 2 medium zucchini, diced
  • 9 ounces (about 2 cups) fresh or frozen tortellini, whole wheat or spinach-cheese
  • 4 plum tomatoes, diced
  • 2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar

Directions:

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add carrots and onion; stir, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and just beginning to brown, 6 to 7 minutes. Stir in garlic and rosemary and cook, stirring often, until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Stir in broth and zucchini; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini is beginning to soften, about 3 minutes. Add tortellini and tomatoes and simmer until the tortellini are plump and the tomatoes are beginning to break down, 6 to 10 minutes. Stir vinegar into the hot soup just before serving.

Zucchini Tomato Frittata

Serves 8

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 3 medium zucchini, (1 1/2 pounds), cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (or 1 teaspoon dried)
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup egg substitute
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup shredded shredded reduced fat cheddar cheese
  • 3 medium (1 pound) vine ripe tomatoes, cored and thinly sliced crosswise

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat, warm oil. Add onion, zucchini, and thyme; cook, covered, stirring often, until tender but not browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Uncover, and cook until all the liquid in the pan evaporates. Season with salt and pepper; remove skillet from heat.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, milk, and cheese, salt, and pepper. Pour egg mixture over zucchini, gently lifting zucchini to allow eggs to coat bottom of pan. Arrange tomatoes in an overlapping pattern on top.
  3. Return skillet to medium-low heat, and cook until sides are set yet still slightly runny on top, 15 to 20 minutes. Place in oven, and cook until the center is cooked through when tested with a wooden skewer, and the tomatoes are browned, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven; gently slide a heatproof spatula around the edges and underneath to loosen from skillet. Serve immediately.

Zucchini Pasta with Ricotta

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
  • 2 pounds zucchini, thinly sliced lengthwise
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 1 pound linguine
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup ricotta

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 450. Brush two rimmed baking sheets with oil. Arrange zucchini in a single layer on sheets and brush tops with oil; season with salt and pepper. Roast zucchini until tender and lightly golden in parts, 25 to 30 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook linguine according to package instructions. Drain pasta and return to pot. Add oil, lemon zest, and zucchini and toss to combine. Serve pasta topped with ricotta.

Tomato, Bocconcini, and Zucchini Pie

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 finely chopped shallot, about 1/4 cup
  • 1 small zucchini, 7-8 ounces, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick half moons
  • 1 1/2 pounds cherry tomatoes, plus cherry tomatoes for garnish, if desired
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 ounces bocconcini (small mozzarella cheese balls)
  • 3 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
  • teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Whole Wheat Pastry, see recipe below
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 large egg yolk

Directions:

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add shallot; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add zucchini; cook, stirring occasionally, until light golden and liquid has been released, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl; set aside.
  2. Halve one-third of the tomatoes. Stir halved and whole tomatoes, cheeses, basil, lemon zest and flour into shallot-zucchini mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
  3. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to a 13-inch circle, about 1/4-inch thick and transfer to a baking sheet. Drizzle crust with remaining tablespoon oil.
  4. Spread with filling leaving a 3 inch border. Fold in sides of crust, slightly overlapping and over filling. Refrigerate until cold, about 20 minutes.
  5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Whisk milk and egg yolk in a small bowl. Brush crust with egg wash. Bake pie on a rimmed baking sheet until crust is golden brown and juices are bubbling, about 45 minutes.

Whole Wheat Pastry

Makes enough for 2 pies. Remember to roll this out thinly so that it doesn’t become too bready.

Ingredients:

  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature, beaten
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup unbleached flour 
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
Directions:
Dissolve the yeast in the water, add the sugar, and allow to sit until the mixture is creamy, about five minutes in large bowl of mixer. Beat in the egg and the olive oil using the paddle attachment. Combine the flours and salt, and stir into the yeast mixture.
Switch to the dough hook and knead the dough until it comes away from the sides of the bowl. Knead for a few more times, just until the dough is smooth-do not overwork it.
Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover the dough tightly with plastic wrap, and allow to rise in a draft-free spot until doubled in size, about one hour.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, gently knead a couple of times, and cut into two equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball without kneading it. Cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap, and let rest for five minutes. Then roll out into thin rounds, as directed in the recipe above.
If not using the second piece of dough right away, freeze the dough for another time.

Rosemary Chicken and Summer Squash Brochettes

Serves: 2.  Can be doubled.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped (1 teaspoons dried)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon lemon peel, grated
  • 2 skinless boneless chicken breasts halves (cut into 6 pieces)
  • 3 small patty pan squash or yellow squash, cut in large dice
  • 1/2 red bell pepper,cut in large dice
  • 1/2 small red onion, cut in large dice
  • 4 metal skewers

Directions:

  1. Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Whisk first 5 ingredients in medium bowl.
  2. Add chicken, onion, red bell pepper and squash; toss. Let stand 10 minutes; toss occasionally
  3. Alternate 3 chicken pieces with vegetable pieces on each skewer.
  4. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
  5. Grill until chicken is cooked through and vegetables are just tender, turning often, about 10 minutes.

You can enjoy foods at a picnic and still walk away with your shorts buttoned. It just means making the right choices—and no, you don’t have to limit yourself to corn on the cob and watermelon. Just skip (most of) the worst choices; the best ones are often just as satisfying.

Choose: Veggies with hummus. Fill up on vegetables first. You can have a full cup of sugar snap peas for 60 calories (0 grams of fat). Add 2 tablespoons of hummus (50 calories, 3 grams of fat) and you have a fiber-rich snack for just a little more than 100 calories.

Choose: A hot dog is a lower calorie meat choice. Enjoy one on a roll with your favorite toppings (with lower-cal toppings like mustard, relish or just a little ketchup) and you’ll come out around 300 calories, 17 g fat.

Choose: Coleslaw can satisfy a craving for something creamy for far fewer calories (83, with 3 grams of fat per cup). Low-cal cabbage is also a rich source of isothiocyanates, compounds that amp up the body’s natural detoxifying enzymes.

Choose: A frozen fruit bar (100 calories, 0 grams of fat) or even a scoop of vanilla ice cream: 140 calories, about 5 grams of fat.

Choose: Light beer.  A 12-ounce bottle generally has a little less than 100 calories. Or go for the best choice of all: zero-calorie flavored seltzer or water.

How To Plan a Healthy Picnic:

Take Advantage of Seasonal Fruits & Vegetables

The more colorful produce you add to your menu, the healthier the meal.  Choose brightly colored summer fruit such as peaches, berries, cherries and watermelon.  Bring some simply grilled vegetables (use a low-fat salad dressing for a marinade) such as corn, zucchini, Portobello mushrooms and red peppers.

Crunchy Appetizers & Low Fat Dips

Pack your cooler with a variety of crisp, raw veggies like cucumbers, carrots, celery, asparagus tips, cherry tomatoes and radishes. Take along a nutritious dip such as hummus, salsa, fat-free bean dip, or low-fat yogurt with herbs and spices.

Take a Second Look at Salads

Potato salad, pasta salad, tuna or egg salad… although they carry the word salad in their name, it does not mean they are calorie controlled, or heart healthy choices! Instead of mayonnaise, use dressings made with less oil and more vinegar to save lots of calories.  Using salad dressings that contain acidic ingredients such as vinegar or citrus instead of mayonnaise not only cuts fat but helps keep foods safer at room temperature.  When making salads use whole grain pasta; try a brown rice salad or whole-wheat couscous salad. Combine cherry tomatoes with green beans and whole-grain pasta and add a little pesto for a nutritious salad that travels well.  Your best bet – use lots of salad greens, cooked beans and raw veggies to make a true salad that will fill you up with fiber without the extra calories.

Add Some Whole-Grains to Add Some Fiber

Breads, rolls, and starchy salads can pile on lots of calories. So always check the food labels to make sure you are making reduced calorie choices when selecting your starches.  In addition, make them whole grain for added nutritional value, as whole grains have additional nutrients and fiber.

Main Dishes can be Healthy & Light (and not necessarily fried)

Skip the fried chicken, and make a variety of wrap sandwiches.  They’re easy, portable, and fun for the whole family.  Start with whole grain wraps and fill them with healthy stuffings such as grilled vegetables, lean cold cuts (turkey, ham, roast beef or chicken with low-fat cheese), grilled chicken, hummus and cucumbers.  Be sure to add lettuce, tomato and other veggies to your wraps for added fiber.  And use mustard, low-fat mayo, or other light condiments to save calories.

Lighten Up the Grill

Buy 93% lean ground beef for burgers (ground turkey breast and veggie burgers are great options too).  Choose from a variety of reduced fat, nitrate-free or turkey hot dogs. Top off your selections with low-fat cheese.  You can also grill skinless chicken breasts, pork tenderloin, or any type of fish for a light and nutritious meal. You will save lots of calories with these heart healthier choices.

Better Beverages

Beat the heat with plenty of ice water, sparkling water, unsweetened iced tea, and an assortment of low-calorie beverages.   Save your calories for the food, and rely on calorie free drinks to hydrate you and quench that summer thirst.  You can mix seltzer with a splash of cranberry juice or any fruit juice for just a touch of flavor without too many calories.

Sweet Indulgences

A colorful fruit platter or fruit salad is sure to satisfy even the most discerning sweet tooth. Don’t forget watermelon. If you must have cake. cookies, brownies, or cupcakes, keep the portions small.  

Here are some ideas for your next picnic menu.

Lemon-Garlic Marinated Shrimp  

12 servings

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 1/4 pounds cooked shrimp

Directions:

Place garlic and oil in a small skillet and cook over medium heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add lemon juice, parsley, salt and pepper. Toss with shrimp in a large bowl. Chill until ready to serve.  Transport in a container with an ice pack.

Lighter and Leaner Pimento Cheese                                                                                                                     

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup finely grated Cheddar
  • 1/2 cup finely grated low-fat mozzarella
  • 2/3 cup plain nonfat Greek-style yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 green pepper, finely chopped
  • 1/2 red pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 6 celery ribs, cut into 4-inch pieces
  • Garnish: paprika

Directions:

In a medium bowl, add the Cheddar, mozzarella, yogurt, chives, salt and pepper, green and red peppers and jalapeno. Stir well to combine. Spread 1 tablespoon cheese mixture into each celery rib. Garnish with paprika.
Note: Store remaining pimiento cheese mixture in an airtight container in refrigerator up to 1 week.

Garden Fresh Tortellini Salad

8-10 Servings                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound fresh or frozen spinach tortellini
  • 1 pound fresh or frozen cheese tortellini
  • 1 head broccoli (1 pound), broken into florets and tender stems sliced
  • 1 pound carrots, peeled and cut diagonally into ¼-inch slices
  • 3 leeks (white part and 2 inches green), well rinsed, dried, and cut into thin julienne
  • 1 large sweet red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into julienne
  • 1 large sweet yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into julienne
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Finely grated zest of 1 orange
  • 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Dressing:

  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil 
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper

Directions

1. Cook the tortellini in boiling salted water according to package instructions. Remove from boiling water with a large strainer. Drain thoroughly and place in a large mixing bowl.

2. Keep water boiling and add the broccoli florets, stems, and carrots.  Cook just until tender. Remove vegetables with a large strainer. Drain and combine with the tortellini.

3. Blanch the julienned leeks 1 minute in the boiling water; drain. Add the leeks, red and yellow peppers, and fresh basil to the bowl with the pasta and vegetables; toss to combine.

4.Combine the dressing ingredients and add the thyme, orange zest, and salt and pepper.

5. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to coat thoroughly. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Serve slightly chilled.

Sweet Potato Muffins

12 muffins

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into cubes
  • 1 1/2 cups King Arthur whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat a 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray.
2. Add the sweet potato chunks to a pot of boiling water and boil for about 15 minutes. Drain and puree in a blender or food processor or mash well with a fork.
3. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.
4. In another bowl, whisk together the egg, applesauce, sugar, canola oil, and vanilla. Add in the mashed sweet potato and mix again. Add to the flour mixture and mix until just combined.
5. Pour the batter evenly into the prepared muffin cups. Bake for about 15 to 17 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the muffin comes out clean.
6. Remove the muffins from the oven. Let the muffins cool in the pan for 5 minutes and then turn out onto a cooling rack.

Watermelon Squares in Campari                                                                                                                                     

Campari is a bitter, red, aperitif from Italy. It compliments the sweet taste of the watermelon.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

One 5- to 6-pound watermelon, halved lengthwise
1/2 cup Campari (or any Aperitifs of choice)

Directions:

  1. Using a very sharp knife, slice the rind from the bottom of each watermelon half. The halves will now lay flat on a cutting board.
  2. Working from top to bottom, trim the rind from the watermelon flesh in 4 cuts, creating 2 large squares. Cut each square in half to make 4 smaller squares. Cut the squares vertically into thirds. Rotate counterclockwise and repeat the cut. Rotate once more counterclockwise and cut into thirds again.
  3. Serve in large paper cups with 2 tablespoons of Campari drizzled over the top


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