It’s summertime and the varieties of produce at the farmers markets are beginning to dwindle. When I first moved to God’s Country 12 years ago, I had no clue what the summer sun could do to plants. Back then, I was still a chef at The Ritz-Carlton, rarely leaving the cozy confines of my kitchen.
I was under the false impression that
local farmers could grow any kind of produce year ’round because of the subtropical climate. After all, doesn’t most produce in the supermarket wear a grown-in-Florida sticker?
Boy, was I sheltered — a true rube to the realities of how harsh the solar heat and light are on beautiful little garden plots.
I learned the harsh truth soon enough. I’ll never forget the grim sight of shriveled-up tomato plants, brown pepper plants, dead parsley, and rotted, under-developed melons. What had been a promising bounty one week turned into a picture of post-apocalyptic devastation the next.
Since then, I’ve learned to plant early, have low expectations, and accept the reality that I’m a chef, not a farmer. Mercifully, I did get a fairly nice early crop of tomatoes and peppers this year, and most of my herbs are hanging in there.
The challenge with farmers markets is to utilize the limited varieties of produce in new and exciting ways — yes, Chef It Up! How many more times can you force-feed yourself sautéed zucchini? I’ll describe a typical shoemaker version: unevenly cooked, full of mushy, slimy seedpods, poorly chopped semi-burned garlic, and under-seasoned. Sickening!
Here’s a better way: Remove the seeds. You’ll be amazed how much easier it is to cook, how much better it tastes and how much better the resulting texture is.
Next, think about different cooking techniques. Try grilling thick zucchini slices on skewers with cherry tomatoes, braising them with other vegetables ratatouille-style or roasting them with herbs and mozzarella as a Tian. Cook them one of my favorite ways — pan-fried! The possibilities are truly endless and inspiring. I ran across a version using zucchini for a dessert, a dish called Zucchini Cobbler, in the recipe section of Fernandina Beach Market Place’s website. A special thanks to Elizabeth and Joe Lee, the folks responsible for our beautiful Fernandina Beach farmers market. Here’s another great recipe to Chef-up zucchini.
Chef Bill’s Zucchini Bacon Fritters
- 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 1/8 tsp. cayenne
- 4 medium zucchini, grated, without seeds
- 1/2 jalapeño, seeded and minced
- 2 tbsp. chives, sliced
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 3/4 cup milk
- 6 slices cooked bacon, diced
- Canola oil as needed
- Whisk together flour, baking powder, cayenne, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/8 tsp. pepper in a bowl.
- In another bowl, stir together zucchini, jalapeño, chives, and a pinch of salt. Add the egg, milk, and bacon to zucchini mixture and toss to coat the zucchini.
- Stir in flour mixture until incorporated.
- In a large sauce pan, heat canola oil to 325°F
- Fry small spoonfuls of battered zucchini in batches of about 10, turning occasionally, until golden-brown all over, 3 to 4 minutes per batch. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet and keep warm in oven. Return oil to 350°F between batches.
Until we cook again,
Contact Chef Bill Thompson, owner of Amelia Island Culinary Academy in Historic Fernandina Beach, with your recipes or questions at c[email protected], for inspiration to get you Cheffed Up!