People who know me would tell you that it's hard to tell which I like more: gardening or cooking. I'd say it depends on which I'm doing at the moment. Anyway, French cooking and French gardening go hand in hand. For me, cooking is an on-going adventure. Join me here on my culinary explorations, where I share with you both my old favorites as well as new inspirations. It's my fondest wish that these recipes serve as a springboard for your own new creations.
07/01/2009 Turkish-style stuffed zucchini with tomato-pomegranate sauce and okra garnish (Courgettes farcies à la turque à la sauce tomate-grenade et aux gombos) Clay pot
For 4 servings: 1 T. olive oil 2 shallots, chopped 1 scant tsp. Paula Wolfert's Dagestani spice mixture (see below) 1 lb. ground lamb neck or other slightly fatty piece Sea salt and freshly ground pepper 8 medium zucchini (about 4"long) from your garden if possible
2 T. olive oil 1 medium onion, chopped 2 cloves garlic, minced 3 lbs. luscious ripe tomatoes (Coeur de Boeuf if possible) peeled, seeded, and diced 3 T. pomegranate molasses 1-2 t. (to taste) Turkish or Aleppo red pepper flakes (Turkish are hotter) 2 tsp. sugar Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
10 small okra, cut diagonally into 1/2" slices and fried in a bit of olive oil until just tender 3 T. chopped parsley and 2 T. chopped tarragon 3 T. pine nuts, lightly toasted in a dry skillet
P.W.'s Dagestani spice mix:
1/2 tsp. ground coriander seeds 1/2 t. ground cumin 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper 1/2 tsp. ground caraway or black cumin seed 1/2 tsp. crrumbled dried oregano Pinch each of ground cloves, cinnamon, cardamon, saffron or dried marigold petals
Heat the 1 T. olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Saute the shallot with the spice mixture and bit of salt until translucent, add the ground lamb, breaking it up with a wooden spatula and cooking until just a tiny bit of pink remains. Season with salt and pepper, set aside.
Using a Lebanese vegetable reaming tool, hollow out the zucchinis to 1/3" of their skin. Discard the innards. (This tool is available from Middle Eastern kitchen supplies and works miraculously.)
Make the sauce. Heat the olive oil in a clay poêlon and saute the onion over medium heat 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring 2 more minutes. Add the tomatoes and some salt, sugar, the red pepper flakes, and the pomegranate molasses. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have "melted" into a luxurious sauce. Correct the seasoning with black pepper and more salt if necessary.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Stuff the zucchinis with the meat mixture, using your finger to pack them from both ends. You can pack them firmly; they won't burst. Arrange them in the sauce still cooking on the stove. Cook for 5 minutes, uncovered, then turn them and cook 3 minutes more. Place the poêlon in the oven and bake until the zucchini are very tender and the sauce somewhat reduced. Spoon some of the sauce over the zucchini midway through. Total baking time should be around 45 minutes. (You can cover the dish with foil and hold in a turned-off oven with no ill effects for at least half an hour.)
To serve, sprinkle with the okra, the fresh herbs, and the pine nuts. Bring to the table with a rice pilaf flavored with shallot, threads of lemon rind and dried currants. Mix a bit of chopped parsley into the pilaf with a fork before serving.
Note: I hope my friend Paula Wolfert doesn't read this recipe, which she will consider bastardized. I don't care for the heavy hand of allspice in many eastern Mediterranean meat fillings. I prefer the exotic Dagestani mix to theTurkish spice mixes Paula so lovingly details. This recipe is nonetheless absolutely delicious., with a tantalizing balance of sweet, tangy, and spicy heat. It was inspired by the first big vegetable harvest from the potager in Provence, which included a handful of baby okra...and many zucchini.