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There has been a bit of a quiet countdown happening over here. On an almost daily basis, I’ve been reminding myself to make the most of these days, the end of summer, the end of my twenties. Stop. Take a few deep breaths. Be grateful. They’re going fast, these days.
Maybe you and I are alike in our efforts to savor these last weeks of summer. If so, I have something for you.
First, get yourself some summer squash, pick a few lemons from the neighbors tree (or the market), start up the grill and pour yourself a glass of wine, grab a beer, make your favorite cocktail – you get the picture. After a quick marinate in lemon, olive oil and minced garlic, grill up that gorgeous summer bounty and then throw it into a salad of Israeli couscous (not to be confused with traditional small grain couscous), feta and dill. Season with more lemon juice and zest, flaky salt and ground black pepper.
This little salad was born on a hot August evening in the mountains. I liked it so much that I had to make it again just a few weeks later. It’s bright. It’s savory. It’s summery. It’s one of my new favorites. It will be the perfect side dish for the end of summer shindig you’ll be attending this Labor Day weekend. It also makes a great mid-afternoon snack. Hold on to summer, grill everything in sight, dine outdoors, leave the windows open, pretend like it’s just beginning.
israeli couscous with grilled summer squash
2 cups dry Israeli couscous
8-10 small zucchini
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 lemons, zest and juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup dill, roughly chopped
4 ounces feta, crumbled
fresh ground pepper
Prepare your grill outdoors. Alternately, you can use a stove-top grill pan or roast zucchini in the oven for about 8 minutes at 425F.
Slice the zucchini in half lengthwise from stem to base. Place in a shallow casserole dish or baking pan. Sprinkle the zest of one lemon and minced garlic over the zucchini. Drizzle 3 tablespoons of olive oil and the juice of one lemon over the sliced zucchini. Season with salt and pepper. Toss until all zucchini is well coated. Set aside.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season generously with salt. Add the Israeli couscous and cook for 8 minutes, or until al dente. Drain the couscous and then spread on a baking sheet in a even layer to cool.
After the zucchini have been marinating for 15-20 minutes, place them on the grill cut-side down. Leave them on the grill until they have nice charred markings and are tender but not limp, about 7-10 minutes. Remove from grill and set aside to cool. When the zucchini is cool enough to handle, slice into 1-inch pieces.
Transfer the cooled couscous to a large mixing bowl. Toss with the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil, juice of half a lemon, remaining zest, salt and pepper. Add the feta, dill and sliced zucchini. Toss until all ingredients are well incorporated. Add more lemon juice or salt to taste. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
Don’t you love those weekends when you come home and feel totally recharged? The past two weekends have been that way. One weekend was filled with music and late nights and brunches and dancing followed by a weekend in the mountains involving long drives and junk food, bourbon and rowdiness and spoons. It was a perfect ending to a somewhat uneventful July.
The beginning of July is a blur. I can barely remember what I did or where I was. With the exception of the end, July was, for the most part, unmemorable. What I do remember about July is my squash blossom fixation.
I’d been thinking about fried squash blossoms since last summer, when Adrian and I had dinner at Bar Bambino one night after work. We started with the most incredible ricotta stuffed, battered and fried squash blossoms. They were awesome – hot, crispy, light. They were so awesome that I can barely remember what else we ate or drank that evening. They left quite an impression, so much so that they stayed on my mind for an entire year.
Last summer, I had a really hard time finding squash blossoms at the market. This year is a different story. They’re everywhere. The Ferry Building Farmer’s Market has a vendor that sells them by the carton. And I’ve also spotted them at Berkeley Bowl. They’re even in my own little container garden this year. I’m ecstatic. And I’ve been indulging.
When filled with mozzarella and battered and fried, the squash blossoms are like a smaller, lighter Italian version of the chile relleno. The combination of the warm melted cheese and the crispy outer coating is extremely satisfying. I especially like the addition of anchovy, which makes the filling really nice and flavorful. If you eat them immediately after frying with a sprinkle of salt and a squeeze of lemon, I promise you’ll be a happy camper.
crispy stuffed squash blossoms
adapted from Saveur
24 zucchini blossoms
3/4 pound mozzarella
12 anchovy fillets
1 cup flour
freshly ground black pepper
lemon wedges (for serving)
Carefully remove the stems and stamens from zucchini blossoms. Swirl the blossoms in cold water to wash. Shake off excess water and pat dry.
Coarsely chop mozzarella and anchovies, and combine in a mixing bowl. Carefully stuff each blossom with mixture and twist petals to retain stuffing.
Beat eggs in a small bowl. Pour 1 cup flour into a second shallow pan and season with salt and pepper. Heat 2-1/2 inches vegetable oil in a skillet over high heat until very hot, about 375°F if you have a candy thermometer.
Working in small batches, dredge each stuffed blossom in flour; dip into eggs, turning to coat well, then dredge in seasoned flour. Fry blossoms, turning frequently, until crisp, 3–5 minutes. Drain on paper towels, sprinkle with salt, and serve immediately with lemon wedges.