A few years back, I was browsing Facebook when I came across a post from a friend, Sarah, asking for folks to help crowdfund her friend’s cookbook. Curious, I checked it out. The only thing I remember of the Kickstarter campaign at this point was the author saying he’d always hoped to have his own cook book, and now he just needed help making that dream a reality. I’ve always been a big believer in the importance of following a dream. As a child of the 80s, I sat through a seemingly endless number of motivational assemblies wherein die-hard hippie folk band/yo-yo illusionists would sing Puff the Magic Dragon and remind us that we “can be whatever [we] want to be.” With all that tie-died positivity behind me, believing in following a dream is almost obligatory.
At the point at which I saw my friend’s friend’s (you with me?) Kickstarter campaign, that conviction had never been greater. I had just battled through a gut churning period of self-examination, of reevaluating my own lifelong dream of being a working actor, a goal I had cherished since I was three years old. Now, at 30-something, with my heart no longer in it, I found myself asking, “What next?” If I wasn’t an actor, what was I? I had no idea. Fortunately, I had Food by my side to help blunt the edges of my existential quandary, and in time I came to realize that Food itself was what was next. Drawing on my entertainment background and my inherent swottiness, I forged a new cooking-centric dream and started chasing it hard, reveling in the fresh sense of purpose and vitality it gave me.
This was the head and heart space I was in when Sarah asked the Facebook collective to help her friend (and future boyfriend, it would turn out) to publish his cookbook. Something about it stirred a sense of camaraderie within me, and I was moved to assist. I donated enough to get a signed copy of that book because hello, new cookbook, and I’m so very glad I did. It turns out that the author was Chef Nathan Lyon of “A Lyon in the Kitchen” and several other cooking shows. His book , “Great Food Starts Fresh,” went on be included in The Washington Post’s “Top Cookbooks” list, and Nathan himself has since been nominated for an Emmy. If that’s not inspiration to continue following one’s dreams, I don’t know what is!
When I decided to embark on this cookbook challenge of mine, I knew, of course, that I had to include Nathan’s book, and when I saw that said book contained a recipe calling for zucchini, it felt like fate. I had helped to fund a tiny piece of his book, and now he would help me to use up an eentsy fraction of what has become the bane of this gardener’s green-thumbed existence.
Seriously, if zucchini were more structurally sound, I probably could have built a summer home out of my haul.
Nathan’s book is broken down into seasons, which is a huge help for those of us who are trying to eat local ingredients when they naturally occur, rather than supporting the shipment of hothouse veg from all over the globe. I say “trying”. I do far better than I used to, but I’m still working on changing my environmentally unfriendly ways.
The book even includes a fifth “season”, Chocolate! (I am SO going to have to try my hand at his pots de créme recipe one of these days. Yuh-um!)
For now, though, we cook from “Summer”, and Chef Lyon’s recipe for:
Summer Squash Salad with Lemon, Capers,
and Pecorino Romano Cheese
Yield: 6 servings
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
*ahem* I’ll just get a new lemon.
1 medium shallot, peeled and finely diced (3 tablespoons)
3 small zucchini (or one honking monster, seeded)
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, not pre-grated, for serving
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley
2. Using a mandoline or your vegetable peeler, carefully slice the zucchini lengthwise into 1/16-ince thick slices lengthwise. The slices will resemble wide pasta noodles. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Place the zucchini in a medium bowl.
5. Lastly, using a vegetable peeler, top with some shavings of cheese and some of the parsley.
The verdict? This was a lovely way to eliminate yet another of my zucchs. The salad is tangy and fresh, and very light, with the pecorino romano adding a welcome touch of warmth and body. While it would make a fantastic starter, as it is designated in the book, my friend and I ate it as a whole meal, and we were very happy.
I’ll definitely let you guys know when I dive into “Chocolate”!
Images from “Great Food Starts Fresh” are copyright Nathan Lyon ©2011 All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.