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Entertaining? 'Keep it simple'

Carmelized Zucchini and Onions

July 17, 2000
Web posted at: 11:31 a.m. EST (1531 GMT)

"Less is more" is a philosophy I heartily embrace when cooking today, but it was not always so. In the early days of my culinary career I thought nothing of making recipes which included two pages of ingredients. No dish was too complicated to undertake, no technique too difficult to try. I made pates and terrines, decorated them with intricate designs and finished them with a coat of aspic. I boned legs of lamb, then wrapped them in pastry before roasting them. French cassoulet, which called for three different meats and took three days to make, wasn't too much trouble.

Oh, how times have changed! I still love good food, but I (and most everyone I know) have much less time to devote to cooking today, so I am always on the lookout for simple dishes filled with robust taste.

Nowhere is food simpler yet more intensely flavored than in Provence, and on a recent visit there I realized again how uncomplicated yet delicious the dishes from this region of France are. I tasted eggplant, sometimes alone and on other occasions combined with onions, cooked in olive oil until velvety smooth and sweet. I loved the chickens roasted slowly on spits and seasoned with only a few herbs. Melons, perfectly ripe and juicy, were wonderful when paired just with thin slices of prosciutto.

The memories of such modest, unpretentious fare were in my mind when I was trying to decide what to take to a potluck supper last week. I had opted to bring a vegetable, and in the market I couldn't resist a bin of beautiful zucchini and bought several pounds. I also picked up a bag of onions. I kept looking for other ingredients to include but some inner voice kept repeating, "Keep it simple."

And when I got home, I did. I prepared my zucchini the way I remembered the wonderful Provencal eggplant was. I sliced onions and sauteed them in olive oil until lightly browned. Then I added strips of zucchini and cooked the vegetables together letting them brown slowly until caramelized. When done, the zucchini and onions were reduced in volume and were tender and soft with an incredible sweetness. I seasoned the vegetables with kosher salt and served them in a baking dish topped with golden, crispy bread crumbs sauteed in olive oil.

This unassuming preparation made an excellent garnish to grilled chicken and skewers of sweet red and yellow peppers at our communal dinner. There was also a plate of deviled eggs and black olives at the buffet table. A large bowl of fresh cherries and a cake made a fine dessert.

The caramelized zucchini and onions can be cooked a day ahead and actually improves in taste when the flavors have a chance to meld. You can reheat the dish in the oven or in a microwave and add the bread crumbs at serving time.

Carmelized Zucchini and Onions

  • 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 pounds onions (about 3 large onions)
  • 3 3/4 to 4 pounds zucchini, preferably small rather than large zucchini
  • 6 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more if needed
  • About 2 teaspoons kosher salt or to taste
  • 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs (made from good-quality white bread)

    Halve onions lengthwise and slice thinly.

    Cut off and discard ends from zucchini. Cut zucchini in half and cut each half into julienned stripsb about 1/2 inch thick.

    Place 3 tablespoons oil in each of 2 medium heavy skillets set over medium-high heat. (If you have 12- to 14-inch skillet, you can use that, but 2 medium skillets work better.) Heat until oil is hot. Add half of onions to each skillet and cook, stirring often, until onions are wilted and golden, about 10 minutes or longer.

    Divide zucchini strips between 2 skillets and cook and stir until vegetables are very tender, browned and reduced in volume by about half, 15 to 20 minutes. While cooking, vegetables should stick slightly to bottom of skillets so that they brown and caramelize. If they appear to be burning, add some extra olive oil. When done, season vegetables with salt.

    (Vegetables can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cool, then spread in medium-size, oven-to-table baking dish. Cover and refrigerate. Reheat dish, covered loosely in foil, in oven at 350 degrees until hot, 10 to 15 minutes or longer. Or, if using microwave-safe dish, cover with plastic wrap and reheat in microwave according to manufacturer's directions.)

    To prepare bread crumbs, heat remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil in small heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add bread crumbs and stir constantly until rich golden brown and crispy, 3 to 4 minutes. (Bread crumbs can be made several hours ahead. Keep, uncovered, at room temperature.)

    When ready to serve, sprinkle bread crumbs over warm zucchini and onions.

    Makes 6 servings.

    (Betty Rosbottom is a cooking school director and author of "American Favorites," Chapters.)

    (c) 2000, Betty Rosbottom. Distributed by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate.



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