Za’atar zucchini salad with crusted halloumi

It’s summer! There are outdoor movies, bike parties, art festivals, birthday parties, anniversary parties, housewarming parties…

Heeey, I’m just over here rationalizing why I haven’t posted in a while.

But summer also has lots of awesome produce. And every summer, whether it’s a fluff piece in the local paper or friends in my Facebook feed, I always see people asking, what the hell can I do with all this zucchini? One that I’ve seen popping up recently is zucchini noodles topped with feta cheese, which is what got me thinking about this salad.

za'atar zucchini salad with crusted halloumiSo, what’s going on here?

Zucchini. You’ll want to use smaller ones if you can, because super huge zukes are not great for eating in salads like this — they get all weird and fluffy. And you’ll need to use a julienne peeler or a spiral slicer to get the “noodle” thing going on. (My mister when we sat down to dinner: “How did you make these vegetables like this?”) I use a crummy julienne peeler that I got for $1.99 in Japantown when I visited San Francisco, and it works fine.

Za’atar. Za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice mixture that you could make very easily to your preference. It seems like it’s one of those Italian grandmother tomato sauce situations, where every family has a different recipe. But generally it has some combination of sesame seeds, sumac, oregano, basil, thyme, savory, and salt. So you could be a rockstar and make up a little batch of za’atar… or you could be like me and use a jar of pre-packaged stuff that you impulse bought, while your partner pokes fun at you because the brand name is Urban Accents.

Preserved lemons. They are basically pickles made of Meyer lemons and salt. I probably should have made a post about when I made preserved lemons back when I made them last winter… but I didn’t. You can buy them in Middle Eastern markets, or in the ethnic aisles of some well-stocked grocery stores. My homemade ones were spiced with cinnamon sticks, cardamom, and peppercorns. Yum.

Halloumi. This cheese, much like feta, is salty and delicious. It doesn’t melt, so it’s perfect for browning in a skillet to warm it up and give it some crunch.

Za’atar Zucchini Salad with Crusted Halloumi

Serves 2 to 3 as a main, 4 to 6 as a side

3 small or 2 medium zucchinis (about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds)
1 small red onion
2 ounces halloumi
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 1/2 tsp finely chopped preserved lemon, peel and flesh (a little less than 1/8 of one lemon)
1/2 small garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons of za’atar, divided
2 cups arugula

Using a julienne peeler or a spiral cutter, make zucchini into long, thin, noodley shapes. Put in a large bowl and set aside.

Cut the tip off the red onion, then cut in half through the root and peel outer layers. Slice into thin half moons. Put in a small bowl and set aside.

Cut the halloumi cheese into small (about 1/2-inch) squares. Put in a small bowl and set aside.

In a measuring cup, mix olive oil, vinegar, preserved lemon, garlic, and 1 teaspoon of the za’atar. Pour a small amount over the halloumi and toss to coat. Do the same with the red onion. Then pour the rest over the zucchini, and add the additional za’atar. Toss to fully coat (I just use my hands).

Let zucchini marinate for 20 minutes.

While it is marinating, heat up a cast iron skillet over medium heat. When one piece sizzles, throw in the red onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 to 5 minutes until slightly softened and the taste mellows out a little bit. Remove from skillet and set aside to cool slightly.

After zucchini has marinated for 20 minutes, add arugula and cooled red onion and once again toss to combine.

Then go back to your cast iron skillet and turn it to medium heat. When a drop of water sizzles, dump in the halloumi cheese in a single layer. Let cook for 1 to 2 minutes until a brown crust forms, then use a metal spatula to scrape them up and flip to the un-browned sides. Don’t worry about getting every single piece perfect, but try to get some good brown crustiness on as much of the cheese as you can.

Remove from heat and distribute evenly over the top of the salad, then serve immediately.

Fig and onion pizza with quail eggs; adorable but odiferous

As you may know, I love putting eggs on top of things. One of the things I’ve been wanting to try is egg on pizza.

This is totally a thing! The lava-hot pizza comes out of the oven, an egg is cracked in the middle, and it cooks from the residual heat. Then you slice it up and everyone has some delightful drippy egg on their piece. Yum.

Yum, but, you know — drippy.

There has to be a better way, right? And after some pondering, I realized… quail eggs! Their diminutive size ensures that you get it in one bite. You still get the yolk explosion, just in your mouth instead of all over your plate. Not to mention, with them evenly dotted over the top you can ensure that there’s enough egg for everyone to be satisfied.

fig and onion pizza with quail eggs fig and onion pizza with quail eggs

For even more fun, I swapped out a tomato base for another idea that’s been bouncing around in my head for a while: a pizza sauce made out of caramelized onions.

fig and onion pizza with quail eggs

Not a date night pizza, I guess.

But man, oh man, is it good.

The caramelized onion plays beautifully with the sweetness of fresh crushed thyme and fig jam, one of my favorite combinations. The bitterness of the arugula and the smoky, salty cheese balances it all out.

What I’m saying is, it’s good. Real good. And if you make the caramelized onions and pizza dough ahead of time, it’s quick.

You could even be horrible like me and use store-bought pizza dough. Nobody will complain, I promise.

Fig and Onion Pizza with Quail Eggs

Serves 2-4

1 ball pizza dough (use your favorite recipe or store bought)
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/4 heaping cup caramelized onions *
1 tablespoon fig jam
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
pinch hot smoked paprika
1 cup arugula
3.5 ounces smoked provolone cheese, shredded
2 ounces low-moisture mozzarella cheese, shredded
9 quail eggs
fresh cracked black pepper, to taste

With a fork, stir caramelized onions and jam together until fully combined. Sprinkle thyme leaves in onions, crushing them between your fingers as you do. Add a pinch of smoked paprika, and stir again to combine. Set aside.

Cut a piece of parchment paper the size of your pizza pan.

Preheat oven and your pizza pan according to the recipe for your dough — usually around 450 degrees.

Stretch or roll your dough balls to fit the pieces of parchment paper. I’ve found this pizza dough how-to to be helpful.

Brush olive oil on crust with a pastry brush. Then spread the caramelized onion mixture on top of the oiled dough with the back of a spoon. Sprinkle dough evenly with arugula, then top with both types of cheese.

Pick up the parchment papered pie and slide onto the preheated pan in the oven. Bake according to the directions for your dough recipe, minus 4 minutes.

Remove pizza from oven. Crack eggs evenly over the surface. Pop back into the oven to cook the rest of the way, until crust is golden and the egg whites are solid.

Grind coarsely cracked black pepper over the whole thing, then cut into slices and enjoy immediately.

** If you have a recipe you love for caramelizing onions, go ahead and use it. Otherwise, go ahead and do this. This recipe will make enough for the pizza… but since caramelized onions takes so long, just double/triple/quadruple it, please! My last batch was 9 pounds… (6 pounds lacto-veg, 3 pounds vegan). Freeze them in 1/2 cup portions so you can savor them at a moment’s notice.

Caramelized Onions
1/2 lb yellow onions (about 1 small to medium onion)
1 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch sugar

Thinly slice the onions in half moons. In a medium pot, heat oil and butter over low heat. Add sliced onions and toss to fully coat. Cover and leave for 15 minutes to soften.
Remove lid and raise the heat slightly. Add in salt and sugar, then cook and stir onions frequently for about 30 more minutes — you want them to be paper lunch bag brown, and for the texture to be gelatinous, almost like preserves or marmalade. These can be refrigerated or frozen for later use. If using immediately, set aside to cool. You’ll be left with approximately 1/4 cup of caramelized onions.

Arugula pesto capellini with over-easy eggs

Pasta with eggs is one of those dishes I make all the time. It takes no time at all to whip up on a week night, and you can do whatever you’re in the mood for or whatever you have on hand — pesto, tomato sauce, just plain oil and herbs. It’s always delicious. And then breaking that drippy egg over the top somehow makes it seem fancier, like you didn’t make this just because you had a long day at work and you’re starving.

Here’s one of my favorites!

arugula pesto capellini with over-easy eggs

Arugula Pesto Capellini with Over-Easy Eggs
Serves 4-6

1/2 cup olive oil, separated
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons pickled peppercorns, rinsed and smashed (optional)
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon salt
9-10 ounces arugula
4 jarred artichoke hearts
1 pound capellini pasta
4-6 eggs
Parmigiano-Reggiano, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Boil a large pot of water over high heat for your pasta.

Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a nonstick pan over medium-low heat until it easy coats the bottom. Add garlic, peppercorns, salt and dried herbs and stir to coat. Saute for about five minutes, stirring frequently, until it smells super fragrant and the garlic is soft. Don’t let it brown!

Turn the heat down to super low and add the arugula. Cover and let sit for a minute or two until it starts to wilt. Stir, replace the lid, then remove from heat and let sit for another minute until fully wilted. You may have to do this in a few batches, depending on how big your pan is.

Dump everything into the food processor and toss the artichoke hearts on top. Blend until everything is chopped and integrated. You may have to add the arugula in batches, but once it’s broken down it should all fit.

Add the remaining 1/4 olive oil and zizz it up again.

By now your water should be boiling, so add your pasta and stir according to the package directions. I love capellini for this dish because it usually cooks up in about 2-4 minutes. However, you could also substitute spaghetti or linguine — anything long and fairly thin works well.

Reserve about 1/2 cup of pasta water, then drain pasta and add back to your pot. Use pasta water to thin pesto as desired. Give it a taste, and add more salt if desired — but remember you’ll be topping it with salty, delicious cheese. Pour almost all of your pesto into the pasta and toss with tongs until fully coated.

Back to the nonstick pan! Add a touch more oil if needed, and heat again over medium heat. Once it’s hothothot, crack an egg for each person. You may have to do this in a few batches. Once the whites start to cook and get a little structure, turn the heat down to very low and continue to cook until whites are mostly opaque. Gently flip eggs and cook briefly, just about 20 seconds or so until the whites are set, then transfer to a plate. Don’t break the yolks!

If you have a sous chef available, have them serve up little nests of your coated pasta onto plates while you’re cooking the eggs. Then you can plop your over-easy eggs right on top of the pasta.

Drizzle each egg with some of your reserved pesto. Serve with a hunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano and a microplane so everyone can cheese it up to their heart’s content. Dig your fork into your egg yolk and let it seep all over your pasta. Sigh contentedly.

Marinated squash and fig summer salad and my dirty little secret

I love to cook.

You would hope so, wouldn’t you? Since I’m documenting my recipes on the internet and all.

But here’s my dirty little secret:

I buy a lunch almost every day at work.

I currently work right across the street from a Whole Foods, and their salad bar, hot bar, deli, and other prepared foods are just too convenient.

I’m one of those people who snoozes the alarm eight times and sleeps until the very last minute before scrambling to get out of the house in the morning. So I’m pretty much incapable of bringing a lunch unless it has been prepared and packaged the night before. Sometimes this happens. But more often, I forget about this crucial task and instead spend my evening working on a project, watching Doctor Who, or harassing Smells McGee.

I rationalize my lunch habit to myself by saying that it makes me eat healthier; I try to stick to the salad bar (“though that doesn’t always happen,” say my pants). I tell myself that I like variety, and if I were to buy and prep all that fresh produce that I like to load up on my salad, it’d go bad before I used it all. I tell myself that it’s really not that expensive, because at least I’m not loading up my salad with a pound of chicken breast.

These excuses have been enough for me so far. I mean, I’m still eating lunch from Whole Foods pretty much every day. But in just over a month, I am being forcibly relocated from my beautiful downtown office across the street from Whole Foods (not to mention walkable to three sushi joints, the vegetarian sandwich shop/juice bar, the tea house, the pizza place, and occasionally the cupcake truck). I’m being relocated to…

An office park in the middle of the ‘burbs. With nothing you can get to on foot. WHYYYYY??

I guess I’ll have to start bringing my lunch more often. Maybe I’ll even bring this salad, which was loosely inspired by a dish on the Whole Foods salad bar. Obviously you should be taking advantage of the summertime nectar of the gods, fresh figs, if you can get them — if you’re not so lucky, just use dried ones.

marinated squash and fig summer salad

Marinated Squash and Fig Summer Salad
Serves 4 as a main dish

1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated
1 heaping teaspoon fig jam
1 heaping tablespoon fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste (I like a lot)
1 medium yellow squash
1 medium zucchini
5 ounces baby spinach
5 ounces arugula
1/2 cup slivered almonds
6-12 (depending on variety) fresh figs, quartered
shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano to garnish

Stir olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, cheese, jam, salt and pepper into a storage container. Make sure the jam is fully dissolved. Remove the thyme leaves from the woody stalks, and crush slightly between your fingers before adding to the marinade.

Chop the ends off your zucchini and yellow squash, then cut lengthwise. Slice thin half moons (I like using the food processor slicing disc for this). Add to the marinade. Stir and shake to make sure all the slices are coated. Let marinate in the fridge for at least two hours, as long as overnight if you can plan that far ahead.

Mix spinach and arugula in a big bowl until integrated. Dump the marinated squash, almonds, and quartered figs on top, and toss to combine. I used Black Mission figs, which are pretty petite. If you’re using a larger variety of fig, you can use fewer and may want to dice them into eighths. Add more of the marinade as needed to fully dress the salad. Top off with some generous shavings of a good Parmigiano-Reggiano.

If you want to save leftovers to bring for lunch instead of buying your lunch out yet again: I would recommend preparing just as much as you are going to eat for the first meal. Then toss everything except the greens in a jar, and keep the greens separate to mix when you’re ready to eat.