The Hungover Gourmet


What to Do When the Veggies Explode

If you live anywhere in these United States you know that this week has been a blisteringly hot one. Folks in Dallas've had to deal with this 90 to 100° heat for well into two weeks now, and even the Northeast got boffoed with excessive heat and humidity for the better part of this whole week.

And thank god, 'cause I don't know what the local tv stations would've had to talk about. With the SEPTA strike over, the "Welcome America" celebration long forgotten, and Labor Day parades a good five weeks away, the record heat filled the ratings coffers for at least a few days.

Actually, knowing the local media the way I do -- we watched it 'round the clock during the excessively silly blizzards of 94 -- I'm sure they'll be able to stretch the coverage out into this weekend, when temps are supposed to fall back to a seasonable high 70s to mid 80s.

The Hungover Gourmet's Vegetable GardenMore than anything, these hot temps only mean one thing to me: man, would my garden be going great guns right now! Unfortunately, since we pulled up roots in the late spring and moved to a house with a kickass porch but no garden, I can only stop and think about my small, but beautiful veggie garden of years past.

Ah yes, squash, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, beans, lettuce...sigh. Luckily, we do have some nice farm markets in the vicinity, and New Jersey is a scant twenty minutes to our East. And no matter what anyone says, New Jersey veggies taste better than any I've ever had!

I got a nice surprise earlier this week when one of Mrs. Nitrate's co-workers sent home a few nice-sized Summer Squash (or Zucchini) for the crisper. I thought and thought until I came up with the following recipe, a sort of Quichy Zucchini Casserole that can be modified to fit whatever tasty summer veggies you have on hand.

The Hungover Gourmet's Zucchini CasseroleQuichy Zucchini Casserole

1 tbsp. olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 lb. baking potatoes, peeled and quartered
3 eggs, beaten
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Cayenne Pepper
1 1/2 to 2 lbs. zucchini, halved and cubed
8 oz. package of shredded sharp cheddar cheese
4 skinless boneless chicken breasts
8 oz. sour cream

Place cubed zucchini in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Place a paper towel on top and add weight on top to force water from zucchini. Let sit for 30 minutes. Force excess water from zucchini by hand. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350° and lightly grease a 10 x 8 baking dish with cooking spray. Heat olive oil in a saute pan and add onions, garlic, and carrots. Season with salt and pepper and cook over medium heat until onions are soft and carrots are slightly tender, about 20 minutes. Place potatoes in a large mixing bowl and add eggs, salt and pepper, and a dash of cayenne pepper. Stir to coat. Add reserved zucchini, onion mixture, and half of cheese packet. Mix ingredients together well and place in baking dish. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top and drizzle with olive oil.

Cover with tin foil and bake in the oven for 1 hour. Remove tin foil and turn on broiler. Broil until top of casserole is browned and bubbly.

While casserole is baking, season chicken breasts with salt and pepper and cook on grill or in stovetop grill pan, about five minutes each side. Set chicken breasts aside.

Place 1 chicken breast on each plate and mound a quarter of the casserole on top of the chicken. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream and freshly ground black pepper. Serve with a piece of crusty French bread and a nice brown ale, like Yards Special Ale from Philly.

VARIATION 1: You can also brown the chicken breasts lightly on both sides and place them in the bottom of the baking dish before adding the casserole mix. Follow directions from there.

VARIATION 2: We used what we had on hand to make this could mix and match, just as long as your substitutions have similar consistencies.

Makes 4 servings.

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