If you read last week’s post, you’ll know that the travel bug has been gnawing at me lately. This week, I’ve been able to send him back into hibernation (for the time being) with a visit to family in Napa, California.
My only regret in traveling this time of year is that I have to leave my vegetable garden behind. Right now my garden is practically a jungle of vines and leaves reaching in all directions. Baby vegetables of all varieties nestle in their bowers and I eagerly await the day I can pick them and incorporate them into my own cooking. The zucchini, summer squash and green beans are maturing almost faster than I can pick and eat them.
One of my favorite ways to prepare fresh summer zucchini is on the grill. Sometimes I’ll just serve grilled squash as a side to whatever I’m making, sometimes I’ll throw slices of grilled zucchini on a quick summer tartine (a grilled, open-faced sandwich — one of my favorite summer dishes). But for a hearty meal, I like to stuff the zucchini with whatever I might have on hand and serve it as the star of the show.
For this dish, I’ve taken the traditional flavors of an Italian caprese salad — tomato, mozzarella, and basil — and combined them with nutty farro for a vegetarian stuffing that is full of delicious flavor yet is also filling.
I like to slice the zucchini in half length-wise and grill them for about 2 minutes cut-side down to cook and soften the interior. This allows me to easily scoop out the interior of the zucchini. I prefer to use my melon-baller for this, it gets the job done quickly and easily.
I then stuff the zucchini with my caprese farro mixture, top it with a bit of shredded parmesan cheese, and place it on the top rack of my grill for about 5 minutes with the lid down. The cheese melts, the tomato releases its warm juices, and the resulting flavor combination is divine. It’s the perfect quick fix for meatless Monday.
But as much as I love cooking from my garden, I do enjoy traveling. And I love Napa. It’s a quaint, cute small town that bustles with the constant ebb and flow of tourists. The wine is, of course, world-renowned, but some of the best chefs in the world also head here to set up shop. Being a foodie, I enjoy sampling these restaurants for inspiration and ideas for my own creations.
I visit Napa every other month, not for vacation purposes but to give my uncle a regular break from caring for my 93-year old grandmother who has dementia. We have two regular activities when I visit: shopping for whatever necessities she has on her list and taking her in for a pedicure. My Nana tires quickly, so I keep each of these activities brief, stretch them out over two days, and couple each with lunch. Which is a great way to satisfy my desire to sample the various area restaurants.
My pick for our first outing on Thursday was Chef Todd Humphries’ Kitchen Door. I had to have the banh mi sandwich with sweet potato fries that all the yelpers were raving about, and it didn’t disappoint. It was sweet, tart, crunchy and savory — absolutely delicious! In fact, on Saturday night, after a long day celebrating my cousin’s bar mitzvah in Oakland, I found myself back at Kitchen Door with a girlfriend visiting from Sacramento. Our wonderful waiter, Cory, indulged us as we chatted nonstop for 4 hours and worked our way through 2 carafes of a chilled albarino, an Asian inspired chilled vegetable and rice noodle salad, and the most amazing chanterelle pizza I’ve had.
On Friday, after pedicures and manicures, I took Nana out just past Yountville to Chef Cindy Pawclyn’s Mustards Grill. What I love about this restaurant is that they have their own massive garden, accessible for wandering, that supplies the restaurant. The result is exceedingly fresh dishes that rotate regularly depending on what’s in season.
I splurged on this outing – or I should say Nana indulged me – and I ordered the rather overpriced seafood tostada. On this particular day, it was a tender swordfish steak on top of a crispy corn tortilla, topped with a tart jicama slaw and greens, and surrounded by mildly spicy black beans and dusted with crumbly cheese. It was absolutely delicious.
Of course, I can’t wait to get back home and continue my kitchen experiments from my own garden.
- Serves: 2
- Serving size: Makes 2 servings of 2 "boats" each
- Calories: 197.8
- Fat: 7.7
- Saturated fat: 3.6
- Polyunsaturated fat: 0.4
- Carbohydrates: 20.7
- Sugar: 0.3
- Sodium: 383.6
- Fiber: 2.3
- Protein: 12.0
- Cholesterol: 12.2
- 2 large baby zucchini, halved lengthwise
- 1 tsp olive oil
- ¼ cup dry farro, cooked according to package directions, drained and rinsed
- ¼ cup (1 oz.) shredded reduced fat mozzarella cheese
- 1 medium tomato, diced
- ½ cup loosely packed basil leaves, chopped
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
- pinch of coarse sea salt
- dash of freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ cup (1 oz.) shredded parmesan cheese
- Preheat your grill and spray the cooking grate with nonstick spray.
- Brush the cut-side of the zucchini with the olive oil.
- Grill the zucchini cut-side down for about 2 minutes or until the interior is tender.
- Remove the zucchini from the grill and scoop the interior out with a knife, spoon, or (my favorite) melon-baller.
- Mix together the farro, mozzarella, tomato, basil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper. Use the stuffing to fill the hollows in the zucchini. (Don't be afraid to overfill as the mixture will cook down slightly.)
- Sprinkle the parmesan cheese over the tops of the stuffed zucchini.
- Place the zucchini boats on the top rack of the grill -- away from the direct flame -- and cook with the lid closed for 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the stuffing is warmed through. Serve immediately.
For more preparation tips, check out my video demonstration of this recipe.