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Cooking with figs, zucchini and more

This week at the farmer’s market, we noticed an abundance of zucchini. There were also figs and eggplants. Here are some delicious ways to prepare some of the things you will find at the market.

Zucchini & summer squash

When I lived in Iowa, the only time people would lock their cars was during zucchini season. It was a defense mechanism because if you left your car unlocked, people would sneak zucchini into it. Things don’t seem to be that extreme here, but the markets are certainly brimming with all different kinds of summer squash right now.

One of the very different kinds of summer squash I encountered recently is called trombetta squash. It is shaped like a trombone, with a long curling neck. The farmer, Corrie Leisen, said that the flavor resembled an artichoke, so I was sold. And he was right.

I cut it into batons resembling short fat French fries, sprayed them with a spritz of olive oil and added salt and pepper and quick-roasted them. Delicious, and I knew I found a winner when my husband asked for more of a vegetable.

What if you cannot find trombetta? To make zucchini that even your zucchini-hating friends will like, follow Julia Child’s method for shredded or grated zucchini. It has a fancy French name, but it is very simple to make. Shred the zucchini, toss it with some salt (one teaspoon for each pound of squash) and let it sit in a colander or strainer to drain for at least four minutes or up to about an hour.

Squeeze it to remove the excess moisture just before cooking. It can be sautéed in butter and finished with cream, or in olive oil, with the addition of garlic. You can add other green vegetables to it like spinach. I guarantee if you serve this no one will even know it is zucchini, and it will be enjoyed by all. The bonus is it is a vegetable dish that you can prepare in advance and heat up at the last minute, making meal timing a breeze.

Don’t forget to remove the seeds if they are very large and tough, in the case of a zucchini that grew too big. Speaking of big, at least once a zucchini season I like to take a really big one, scoop out the seeds and discard them, and then remove and reserve some of the flesh.

Brush the shell with some olive oil, and bake the zucchini boat in a hot oven for about 20 minutes. Chop and sauté the flesh you removed, along with an onion and some garlic. Then add some ground beef or ground lamb, sauté until brown, add some tomatoes (fresh or canned) and a dash or two of cinnamon, salt and pepper. Cook for about 20 minutes and then put it back into the baked shell. Top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, and bake at 350 degrees until bubbly, about 30 minutes. Serve hot or room temperature.

Some other zucchini ideas include cutting zucchini or yellow summer squash into planks as an elongated oval about one-third-inch thick. Brush with olive oil, salt and pepper. Grill or pan-fry in a non-stick frying pan until golden brown.

Arrange in a single layer on a pretty serving plate or platter. Sprinkle with any good quality vinegar that you have on hand such as balsamic, seasoned rice vinegar, or red wine vinegar cut with half red wine, or some of that great “Sonomic” vinegar from Sonoma Port Works. Sprinkle with chopped fresh mint. Serve at room temperature.

Of course, you can cut it with a spiralizer into “zoodles” which are great with a nice sauce that you would usually serve on pasta. I like my Paderno spiralizer that I picked up at I Leoni in downtown Petaluma.

Figs and fig leaves

Figs are in season, and they are lovely. I adore them split and grilled, on a salad, or as a side dish. They are most delicious when you make a creamy squash soup, and flavor that soup with a fig leaf for about 20 minutes or so. If you have never cooked with fig leaves, you are in for a treat.

They impart an ethereal flavor that is like a mix of coconut, vanilla and walnuts. If you serve the fig leaf-flavored soup with some grilled fig halves in the bowl, you will have a truly delightful and different dish.

I have also used fig leaves to make baked rice. Line a heavy casserole dish with the fig leaves, and then cook the rice in it. One way is to cook it in a mixture of milk and egg yolks, and top it with some slivers of butter. Email me at julilederhaus@gmail.com if you want the whole recipe.

Another use for fig leaves is to smoke them in your smoker. The dried smoked leaves can be crumbled and used to impart these wonderful complex flavors into a number of dishes. Most recently, I used them to make some amazing smoked fig leaf shortbread cookies.

Eggplant

I think this is one of those vegetables that folks either love or hate. While I love it, I don’t see myself doing much converting in this department.

However, I recently came upon an idea for making eggplant “bacon” so I tried it. It’s true that nothing is really bacon except bacon, but the strips came out very interesting in taste and texture. I can see them as part of a vegetable sandwich, perhaps a tomato, lettuce and avocado sandwich with a few strips of eggplant “bacon.”

I modified a recipe I found online and used real maple syrup instead of water and brown sugar. Let me know if you try it, and what you think.

(Juli Lederhaus is the former general manager of the Petaluma Hotel. Email Juli at julilederhaus@gmail.com.)