Tuesday, July 30, 2013

My Favorite Summer Pizza

A couple of years ago I wrote a post about the simple, impromptu meals I made over the course of one week in late July.  The post consisted mostly of vegetable salads featuring typical mid-summer ingredients: corn, tomatoes, green beans and summer squash.  But I finished the post with a pizza.  

It is often the case that meals I make on the spur of the moment...with just the things I happen to have in the house...turn into favorites that I make over and over again.  That particular pizza turned out to be one of those things...although, I rarely make it the same way twice.  The  sheet of paper with my original notes is now covered with scribbles describing the many variations we have enjoyed since that original post.  When I decided to teach a class this July called "Paige's Summer Favorites"—even though I teach pizzas a lot—I had to include this particular recipe.  

To be honest, the recipe I taught is much more of a template than a true recipe.  Centered around the tomatoes I always have on hand in the summer, the "recipe" has just enough room for variation that we can eat it every week—as long as tomatoes are in season—and never get bored.  

In the original blog post, I made the pizza with red and yellow vine ripened tomatoes and broiled zucchini.  Soon after, I made it with halved cherry tomatoes and substituted broiled eggplant for the zucchini.  Occasionally—at the end of a week, when my produce drawer consists mostly of odds and ends—I make it with a combination of eggplant and zucchini.  Sometimes I make it with all yellow summer squash...or pattypan squash...  You get the idea.  Of course, the cheeses and herbs that I use are almost never the same.  

If you're thinking that this sounds like a lot of different recipes for pizza, you would be wrong.  This pizza follows the exact same formula every time.  I am posting the "recipe" at the end of the post so you can print it off and make your own comments and variations all over it, but the formula is as follows:

Start with a foundation of garlic oil.  Smash a clove of garlic—small or fat, depending on how much garlic you like—to a purée with a pinch of salt and whisk it into a tablespoon or so of olive oil.  Smear the garlic oil over the prepared crust and follow this with a scattering of hot pepper flakes—again, to taste.

Sometimes at this point, I like to add a scattering of herbs.  The herbs I choose for this layer are the substantial herbs...herbs classified as sub-shrubs in the gardening world because they have a woody structure and presence in the landscape.  These types of herbs stand up well to the intense heat of the pizza oven.  They include thyme, rosemary, winter savory, marjoram and oregano.  Sage is in this category too, but it isn't an herb I typically think to pair with eggplant and summer squash.  I particularly like thyme with summer squash and marjoram or oregano with eggplant.  The herbs may be chopped or not...as you prefer.  

The herbs and hot pepper flakes could also be stirred directly into the garlic oil.  But I like the more even coverage that results from scattering them over separately.  But you should do whatever is most convenient for you.  If you are a person who always has a certain favorite infused oil on hand, by all means feel free to use that oil on this pizza.  Although, I should mention, if you are making and keeping garlic oil, please remember to keep it in the refrigerator.  Garlic can harbor botulism spores.  Oil is an anaerobic environment—just where botulism spores are happy and like to grow.  When they grow they produce the toxins that cause illness.   Even under refrigeration, it is probably not safe to keep a raw garlic infused oil much longer than a week.  

Next, scatter on a layer of a nice melting cheese.  My favorites are Fontina and low-moisture Mozzarella.  But any flavorful cheese that melts well would be good.  Provolone or Monterey Jack are good choices.  And although I think of it as going better with winter vegetables, I have used Dubliner in a pinch.  A young Gouda, Gruyère or Jarlsberg would work well too.  Take a look in your cheese drawer.  If you like cheese, you will probably find something suitable.  This layer is important not only because it adds flavor, but when the cheese melts, it acts as a glue and helps keep the vegetables attached to the crust.

Next add a sparse layer of zucchini, eggplant or both.  These should be sliced into large-ish slabs and broiled or grilled.  Summer squash should be cut about 1/3-inch thick and eggplant which shrinks a bit more can be cut slightly thicker...maybe 1/2-inch or so.  Brush them with oil, season with salt and pepper and broil/grill until golden and tender, turning once.  If the eggplant is not cooked through when it is golden, stack the slices as you remove them from the pan/grill so they will continue to steam one another and cook as they cool. 

Next add a layer of sliced, fresh tomatoes.  Because the tomatoes are added to the pizza raw, they need some special treatment to encourage them to release their juices before they go into the oven.  If they were to release all of their liquid in the oven, the crust would be soggy and most likely undercooked.  I describe the usual way of ridding the tomatoes of their excess liquid in more detail in my post for a favorite summer tomato tart, but basically the tomatoes need to be sliced, spread on paper towels, salted and then blotted to remove the liquid the salt causes them to release. They don't need to sit long—maybe 10 to 20 minutes.  

If you are using cherry tomatoes, it isn't necessary to salt them.  Simply halve them and arrange them on top of the squash/eggplant layer cut side up.  When arranged this way, their skins act as a barrier, protecting the crust.  The juices which stay contained in the skins reduce and concentrate a bit, resulting in great little exclamation points of tomato flavor on the final pizza.  Sometimes I use a combination of vine ripes and cherry tomatoes.  

The final layer is more cheese.  In my original post, I simply used more of the melting cheese that I used on the bottom layer.  And this is a great way to finish the pizza.  But more and more I am changing this final layer of cheese to a softer cheese like ricotta or goat cheese.  For the ricotta, just blob small spoonfuls of the cheese over the tomatoes.  If using goat cheese, crumble it coarsely over all.  Additionally, I like to add a final layer of finely grated (use a microplaner) Parmesan or Pecorino.  When finely grated, these cheeses become transparent as they melt in the oven, adding an invisible layer of flavor.  I prefer Pecorino with its sharper, saltier presence.  

Recently, I made this pizza with yellow and pale green pattypan squash and all yellow and gold tomatoes.  The resulting pizza was a beautiful study in greens, yellows and golds.  The colors inspired me to scatter a few torn leaves of basil over the pizza as it came out of the oven.  Not only was it beautiful...but the flavor addition was great too.  I liked it so much I added it to the eggplant-red tomato version I made over the weekend.  Since there is always basil in my garden in July and August, I will probably never make this pizza again without adding this final garnish of fresh basil. 

And this is the beauty of this pizza.  It is amenable to all kinds of adjustments in the flavoring department.  Changing the cheeses, herbs, type of squash or eggplant and color and size of the tomatoes will give you astonishing variation.  But don't go too crazy.  One of the things that makes this pizza special is its simplicity...it's really all about the tomatoes....and one vegetable.  Adding onions....or olives or capers....or another vegetable like roasted red peppers....or meat....might be tasty...  But then you would have a totally different recipe.  

My Favorite Summer Pizza

a scant 1/2 lb. vine-ripened tomatoes...any color (or cherry tomatoes...or a mix of the two)
Salt & Pepper
1/2 lb. zucchini (or any summer squash)...or 3/4 lb. eggplant...or a combination of the two
Olive oil
1 ball of pizza dough (recipe below)
pinch of hot pepper flakes...to taste
herb of your choice—picked thyme, chopped/minced rosemary, winter savory, marjoram or oregano—to taste (optional)
3 oz. of a good melting cheese (Fontina, Provolone, low-moisture Mozzarella, Monterey Jack...etc.)
a generous 2 oz. ricotta or goat cheese or some more of your chosen melting cheese
1/4 c. (3/4 oz.) finely grated Pecorino or Parmesan
Several basil leaves, torn into bite-sized pieces (optional)

Core the vine-ripened tomatoes and slice 1/4-inch thick.  Spread the sliced tomatoes on paper towels and sprinkle with salt. After 10 to 20 minutes, blot up the water that has beaded on the surface of the tomatoes.  If using cherry tomatoes, simply cut them in half and set aside.  

While the tomatoes sit, slice the zucchini on a long diagonal in 1/3-inch thick slices.  (If using eggplant, slice cross-wise into 1/2-inch thick rounds.)  Spread on a baking sheet, brush both sides with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Broil until tender and golden, turning once. If you have a grill, you can grill the vegetables instead of broiling them. Let cool.

Make some garlic oil by stirring the garlic in to a tablespoon of olive oil.  

Build the pizza: On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out into a 12-inch circle. Transfer the dough to a pizza pan, baking sheet or pizza peel that has been dusted with flour.  Working quickly, spread the garlic oil over the dough.  Scatter the hot pepper flakes over the oil, followed by the herbs, if using.  Scatter the melting cheese over the oiled dough.  Top with a layer of the zucchini (or eggplant) and then the blotted tomatoes. If using cherry tomatoes, arrange them cut side up over the vegetables.  Place random blobs of the ricotta over the tomatoes, or scatter crumbled goat cheese or more of the melting cheese over all.  Finish with a scattering of the Pecorino (or Parmesan).   

Bake the pizza: If using a pizza pan or baking sheet, place the pizza in the pan on a pre-heated pizza stone in a pre-heated 450° to 500° oven. Bake until the crust is golden brown on the bottom and the cheese is bubbling, about 12 to 15 minutes. To insure a crisp crust, slide the pizza off of the pan and onto the pizza stone as soon as the crust is set (after 4 or 5 minutes).

If using a peel, slide the pizza directly onto the preheated baking stone. Bake until the crust is golden brown on the bottom and the cheese is bubbling—about 8 to 12 minutes.

When the pizza is done, transfer to a cutting board, scatter the torn basil (if using) over all, cut into wedges and serve.

Printable Recipe

 Pizza Dough

1 cup warm water (100º-110º)
1 package (2 1/4 t.) active dry yeast
2 1/2 to 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 T. olive oil
1 t. salt

Place the water in a large bowl and add the yeast.  Let soften for a minute or two.  Add 1 ½ cups of the flour and whisk until smooth.  Add the oil, salt and another cup of the flour.  Stir with a wooden spoon to form a soft dough that holds its shape, adding more flour if necessary.  Sprinkle some of the remaining half cup of flour on a smooth surface.  Scrape the dough out of the bowl and sprinkle with a bit more flour.  Knead the dough, adding just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking, until the dough is smooth and springs back when pressed lightly with a finger—about 5 to 10 minutes.  Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.  Let the dough rise until it has doubled in size—about 1 hour.  Punch down the dough and turn it onto a lightly floured surface.  Divide the dough into two pieces and roll into balls.  Cover with a towel and let rest for 15 to 20 minutes.  The dough is now ready to be shaped, topped and cooked or frozen.  

Makes two balls of dough (for two 12- to 14-inch pizzas)—recipe may be halved for just one pizza.

Food Processor Method:  Place the water and yeast in a small bowl and let sit until the yeast has dissolved.  Place 2 3/4 cups of the flour and salt in the food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse to blend.  Add the oil and yeast/water mixture and pulse until the dough is homogenous.  Begin to run the mixture in long pulses until the dough is smooth and elastic—it shouldn't take more than a minute.  If the dough seems wet and sticky, add some of the remaining quarter cup of flour a tablespoon at a time, pulsing after each addition.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and give it a few kneads by hand.

Printable Recipe

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Kale Pesto...to blanch or not to blanch

Kale pesto appears to be the latest thing.  When I decided I wanted to make a batch with the kale I purchased at the market on Saturday, I took a look around the web to see how others were preparing it.  I was amazed to discover that many, many bloggers have posted recipes for kale pesto...  I thought there would be a lot of variations, but in reality there is very little variation from one recipe to another.  Kale pesto is by and large simply a kale variation of the classic pesto of basil, pine nuts, garlic, Pecorino/Parmesan and olive oil.  Most of the time walnuts are used instead of pine nuts...although I did see some versions that used pine nuts....or almonds...even pistachios.  Frequently lemon zest or juice or both are added to the finished pesto.  Occasionally I ran across a recipe that included hot pepper flakes and possibly the addition of another herb (like basil....or parsley), but in general, the recipes were about what I expected and what I (or any seasoned cook) would have made without the benefit of a recipe.    

While looking through all of these posts, I did discover what appears to be a great divide in the world of Kale pesto.   The split occurs between those who cook the kale and those who do not.  As I looked over the recipes I began to hone in on this difference...ultimately hoping that I could find a blogger who had addressed this issue head on and then explained their choice.  I never did come across such a post.  So while I was debating with myself: to blanch or not to blanch, it dawned on me that I could do both.....and report my findings here.

Two batches of Kale pesto--the quantities of all ingredients are identical.
 The batch on the left has been made with blanched kale...
the batch on the right with raw.

The good news is that both pestos were very good.  If I had eaten all of the pesto I made on the day I made them, the batch made with the raw kale would have won...no contest.  I do admit that when it first came out of the food processor, it was a bit chewier than I would like.  I had wondered if this might not be why most of the recipes I saw called for blanched kale.  But, after sitting for 10 or 15 minutes, it softened beautifully (just as whole raw kale leaves do in the presence of a vinaigrette).  Most importantly, the flavor of this batch was vibrant and strong—much more so than the batch made with the blanched kale.

If, on the other hand, I had waited to taste both batches until the next day, the batch made with the blanched kale would have won.  After sitting over night, the flavor of the cooked batch seemed to bloom, whereas the batch made with raw kale had lost some of its vibrancy (although, it was still very good).  Also, as one would expect the "cooked" batch held its rich, deep green color very well.

I had suspected when I made the two that the batch made with the blanched kale would be the better choice if I needed to make the pesto for longer storage (since the cooked kale will have a longer shelf life than the raw).  And this does seem to be the case.  If however you are planning on making and using your pesto right away, it is preferable to use raw kale.  Obviously the method you choose will depend on how and when you plan to use the pesto.     

I mentioned at the first that the nut used to make the pesto was one source of variation among the recipes I found.  I chose to use walnuts but when I was trying to decide which nut to use, I sampled some raw kale leaves not only with the walnuts, but also with some almonds and some pistachios.  Any of these would have been good.   In my informal sampling the bitterness of the walnuts provided depth to the taste of the kale, while the sweeter almonds and pistachios provided pleasant contrast.  I particularly liked the pistachios and will probably make my next batch with pistachios.  

Once you have made your kale pesto, just as with basil and arugula pesto, you will find all kinds of ways to use it.  On pasta, in soups, spread on a crostini or added to a sandwich....the list is long (as a quick google search will demonstrate).

So far, I have tried it tossed with green beans and cherry tomatoes and drizzled over poached new potatoes (to accompany pork).  I found that I especially liked it with the potatoes (no surprise there...kale is delicious with potatoes) and tomatoes.  For both of these uses, I let out the pesto (which I left quite "tight" when I made it) with a bit of the bean blanching and potato poaching liquid.  You could add more olive oil as well.

A spoonful or two of kale pesto "let out" with some green bean blanching water

For lunch today, I drizzled some (let out again with a bit of water and olive oil) over a platter of gnocchi tossed with roasted corn and poached zucchini.  This too was very good.   

Finally, for dinner this evening we had it on a pizza.  I made it in the style of an arugula pesto pizza I posted a couple of years ago, adding a layer of poached potatoes (8 oz. prepared as for Roasted Red Pepper and Potato Pizza) on top of the cheese.  As I expected, this was delicious too.    To make the pizza, scatter 3 oz. Fontina over the crust, followed by the potatoes, followed by 2 oz. of crumbled goat cheese. When the pizza comes out of the oven spread 50 grams of Kale pesto (thinned with a tablespoon of olive oil) over all.

So far, the pizza has been my favorite way to use the kale pesto.  But I've only scratched the surface.  I guess it's a good thing one bunch of kale makes such a nice generous quantity of pesto.

Kale Pesto

1 bunch of kale (I used Red Russian...but any kale should work), center ribs removed and rinsed in several changes of water (about 5 oz. trimmed weight)
2 oz. (1/2 c.) lightly toasted walnuts (or pistachios...or almonds...or pine nuts)
1 clove of garlic, peeled and smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt
2/3 c. extra virgin olive oil (more if you like)
1/2 c. (1 1/2 oz.) finely grated Parmesan and/or Pecorino (I like to use half and half)
1/2 t. kosher salt, or to taste
zest of a large lemon (optional)

Ingredients for 2 half batches. 
The blanched kale is on the left, the raw on the right.

If making the pesto with raw kale, chop the leaves medium fine.  (You will have about 4 cups packed chopped kale)  If making the pesto with cooked kale, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.  Add the kale and cook until just tender.  Transfer the cooked kale to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process and set the bright green color.  Squeeze out as much of the water as you can and chop medium fine.

Place the kale, walnuts and garlic in the food processor and process until the ingredients are very finely and evenly chopped (stop the food processor a couple of times to scrape down the sides) to a coarse purée.

With the food processor running, add the oil in a thin stream. Scrape down the sides; add the cheese and pulse to combine. Add salt to taste and lemon zest if using.   Taste and correct the seasoning.  The recipe makes about 1 1/2 cups of tight pesto.  For most uses you will want to thin it slightly with water (plain or pasta/vegetable cooking water) or more olive oil.  

Printable Recipe

Friday, July 19, 2013

Crispy Red Snapper & a Cool Orzo Salad with Summer Vegetables for a Hot Summer Day

Today's post is a bit of a departure for me...at least in the sense that it includes fish.  I can probably count on one hand the number of times I have posted a recipe that included fish.  (The pasta part will come as no surprise to regular readers.)  As it happens, I really like fish.  I just don't cook it that often.  It's expensive.  And, it requires a trip to the store the day you plan to serve it....which requires thinking about dinner before late afternoon.  Yesterday, I was thinking about dinner before late afternoon.  I was in fact thinking about it early in the morning....mostly because we are nearing the end of the week and my produce supply from Saturday's market is at the "odds and ends" point.  At this stage dinner requires a bit more thought than earlier in the week when the variety...and the quantities...of produce are abundant.  As I thought about dinner, I was also thinking about the fact that it was going to be an excessively hot day.  This made me think about fish...which I find to be appealing during the hotter months of summer.  It pairs well with the light and fresh fare of summer (salads in particular) and is the perfect thing at the end of a hot day when the last thing you want or need is something that is rich and heavy.  So, early in the day I settled on fish accompanied by a cool orzo salad (perfect for using up those odds and ends).  
Before I talk about the pasta salad, I should probably say a little bit about the fish.  There are really only two important things to say about fish:  Buy fresh fish...and don't overcook it.  It doesn't matter how well you know how to cook fish, if your raw materials are inferior, your final dish will not be so great.  And it is of course possible to ruin really nice fresh fish by overcooking it.  Fish is delicate.  Its short little muscle fibers dry out quickly.  Take it off the heat before you think it's done.    
The number one way to tell if fish is fresh is smell—the freshest fish will be fairly odorless (or smell of the ocean).  If whole fish are available to you, the skin and bones should be firmly attached to the flesh, the flesh firm to the touch, the eyes plump and bright with dark pupils (they become cloudy as the fish decays), the gills red and moist (not brown and sticky).  Likewise, filets should be shiny (not dry), firm and free of blood spots (a sign of rough handling).  Finally, the muscle fibers (flakes) should be tightly connected, not gaping.  Store your fish in the coldest spot in your refrigerator and if possible, cook it the day you purchase it.
To keep from overcooking your nice fresh fish, you will need to engage your senses.  To test for doneness, prod it a bit with your finger.  It should feel springy.  It should not fall apart into flakes without quite a bit of encouragement.  If you insert a metal skewer into the flesh, it should feel warm (not hot) to the touch.   If you have to, insert a knife into the thickest part of the filet...the flesh should still be slightly translucent in the very center.  It will continue to cook from residual heat after you have removed it from the heat source.  The "fisherman's rule of thumb" is to cook it for 10 minutes per inch of thickness.  I would start checking it at 8 minutes (if your filet is an inch thick...proportionately sooner for thinner filets).  
When I finally went to the market yesterday, I was hoping to purchase snapper.  The salad I wanted to make would be fine with salmon (or some other medium-textured, flaky fish)...but for some reason I was in the mood for snapper.  I love it pan-fried until its skin is golden and crisp and I love its mild, flaky, moist flesh.  As luck would have it, they had whole fresh snapper.  I purchased a 1 1/4 lb (gutted) fish that produced two 4 1/2 to 5 oz. filets...perfect.  I let them scale the fish for me, but chose to filet it myself.  You could of course have them filet it for you.  When you get it home, use a sharp knife to cut three or four shallow slashes through the skin on a slight diagonal.  This will help prevent the flesh from curling as it cooks.
To pan fry the fish I like to use a cast-iron or French steel sauté pan...but if you don't have either of these, a non-stick pan will do.  Choose a pan that is large enough to hold all the filets you are cooking without crowding.  You may need to cook the fish in batches or use two pans.  Get the pan nice and hot over moderately high  to high heat.  Dry the fish filets with a paper towel if they seem wet and season on both sides with salt & pepper.  Add a thin film of oil to the pan.  It should shimmer and disperse quickly.  A thin wisp of smoke should just begin to form.  Add the filets to the pan service side down (the "service side" is the side that will face the diner).  For a fish to be served with the skin on, this is the skin side.  For a fish to be served without the skin, this is the side that was cut away from the backbone and ribs (the skinned-side is not very attractive without the skin attached).  If the skin is on, you will need to press down lightly on the filet
to prevent it from curling (you are basically forcing the entire surface to be in contact with the pan).  As the fish cooks, regulate the heat to maintain a brisk, active sizzle.  If the pan looks dry, add a bit more oil.  After about three minutes, give the pan a gentle shake...the fish should be beginning to release itself from the pan.  Using a thin, flexible, slotted metal spatula, take a peek under the fish to check to make sure the skin is beautifully golden and crispy.  If it is, carefully turn the fish over and continue to cook to the desired doneness. 
The salad I served with my snapper is one I have adapted slightly from Frank Stitt's cookbook Bottega Favorita.  I think this is an exceptional orzo salad.  Whereas most pasta salads made with orzo tend to be flavorless and bland, this one is loaded with lively summer flavors.  This is due in part to the fact that the orzo isn't rinsed after it has been cooked.  Most recipes for orzo salad direct you to rinse the cooked pasta...which really waters down the flavor of the final dish.  The orzo seems to hang on to the water which then dilutes the flavor of the salad...much in the way a vinaigrette is diluted when added to a bowl of insufficiently dried salad greens.  
You might think that not rinsing the orzo (which stops the cooking process) would result in a dish of overcooked, glue-y pasta.  But this doesn't have to be the case.  If you cook the pasta until it is just barely done....and then toss it with a small amount of olive oil (so it won't stick to itself)...and then spread it out a bit so it will cool more rapidly...you will end up with a pasta salad with perfectly cooked orzo  For the amount of pasta in this recipe (1 1/2 cups), cooling is easily accomplished in a wide bowl.  Simply toss the orzo with a little olive oil and spread it out a bit in the bowl (rather than leaving it in a big mound in the center of the bowl).  If you don't have a wide bowl...or are making a larger amount...spread the orzo on a sheet pan to cool after you have tossed it with some olive oil.  
The other benefit of not rinsing the pasta has to do with the fact that pasta tends to continue to absorb whatever liquid it is sitting in.  If the noodles have been rinsed, they absorb unsalted water...making the pasta bland.  If they have not been rinsed and are then allowed to sit in a delicious dressing, they will absorb the flavors of the dressing.
Stitt's original recipe used a simple vinaigrette to dress the salad.  I have bumped up the flavor even more by dressing the pasta (and vegetables) with a salsa verde of basil, mint and parsley.  Salsa verde is delicious on fish, and since I like to serve this salad with fish, amending the salad in this way seemed like a no brainer.  I like to make extra salsa verde so that I will have some left to drizzle over the fish itself (you may need to add a little bit more oil to the "extra" amount to give it more of a "drizzling" consistency).  If you have any leftover, I guarantee it won't go to waste.  It is wonderful spooned over sliced tomatoes....roasted root vegetables....grilled steak or lamb...or anything that would be good with olive oil, fresh herbs, lemon zest, garlic and capers.
Mint, Italian Parsley and Basil..

I have always made this salad with just the other additions used in the original recipe—corn, black olives, red onion and cherry tomatoes.  But this time when I made it I added some diced cooked zucchini.  Zucchini is a perfect flavor match for all of these ingredients, plus I wanted to try Tom Colicchio's method for cooking zucchini that I had just read about in the August issue of Food &Wine.  
I think zucchini can be difficult to cook.  When boiled it becomes soggy and over-cooked in a flash.  Off the top of my head, I can only think of one thing I make where I boil the zucchini.  In general when I cook zucchini I prefer to sauté, roast, grill or broil.  All of these methods add nice flavor via caramelization.  Additionally, none of these methods introduce water—which encourages sogginess and a watered down flavor.  
Colicchio's method uses water...but just the tiniest amount...producing (he says) the "essence of zucchini".  I don't know why I never thought to treat zucchini this way—I'm a big fan of cooking vegetables in a minimal amount of water that is then encouraged to evaporate during the cooking process.  Almost always the result is tender vegetables with concentrated vegetable flavor.  Which, as it turns out, is just what I wanted for this pasta salad.  (But I can't wait to try this method in other dishes...Colicchio's simple side dish of zucchini published in Food & Wine looks delicious, too.)
The zucchini ready to cook...with just a small amount of water, a splash of olive oil and a pinch of salt.
The cooked zucchini....spread out to cool

You can serve this salad right away, but I think it gets better as it sits since the orzo continues to absorb the flavors.  As Frank Stitt suggests, it would be ideal for a buffet.  It was the perfect choice for our dinner last night since I had no idea when my dinner companion was going to be home.  I was able to make the salad, push it to the side while I did other things and then cook the fish when we were ready to eat.  This, coupled with the fact that the recipe makes a massive quantity of salad, would also make it a great dish to make on a night when you are expecting out of town guests.  There is no worry that the food will suffer if the travelers are delayed.  The leftovers too, are great to have on hand....making a nice lunch...maybe topped with some crumbled feta....and followed by some fruit—or cookies—for dessert.
Pan-Seared Snapper with a Salad of Orzo,
Sweet Corn, Cherry Tomatoes and Fresh Herbs
3 T. chopped fresh basil
3 T. chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
2 T. chopped fresh mint
6 T. olive oil
zest of 1 lemon
1 heaped T. capers, rinsed, drained and chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt
1/2 t. kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 large or 3 medium ears of corn (in the husk)
3 small or 2 medium zucchini (about 10 oz. total), ends trimmed and cut into a 1/3-inch dice (you should have 2 cups)
1 1/2 c. orzo pasta (about 9 oz.)
1 1/2 c. cherry tomatoes, washed, stemmed and quartered
1/3 c. pitted Kalamata olives, coarsely chopped
2 T. red wine vinegar (to taste)
Olive oil, as needed
6 4- to 6-oz. snapper filets, skin-on, scaled and scored three or four times
Make a salsa verde (Italian green sauce) with the first 8 ingredients:  Chop the herbs, immediately submerging them in the olive oil and then adding the lemon zest, capers, garlic, salt and pepper.  Set aside to allow the flavors to blend.  (This sauce will be used to dress the orzo.  If you like, prepare double the amount.  The extra sauce can be used to drizzle over the fish.  Salsa verde is a classic accompaniment to fish.)
Place the corn directly onto the oven rack of a preheated 375° to 400° oven.  Roast for 20 minutes.  As soon as the corn is cool enough to handle, remove the husks and silks (the corn continues to cook as long as it is enclosed in the hot husk).  Cut the kernels away from the cob.  Use the backside of the knife to scrape the cobs in order to get all of the corn.  You should have about 2 cups corn and scrapings.
While the corn roasts, place the zucchini in a wide sauté pan that is large enough to hold the zucchini in a tight single layer.  Add enough water to come about 1/2 way up the sides of the zucchini (1/4 cup?)  and drizzle in some olive oil (1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons).  Season with salt and place the pan over moderately high heat.  Briskly simmer the squash, tossing or gently stirring occasionally until just tender (it should not be mushy!), all of the water has evaporated and the squash is beginning to sizzle in the oil—about 5 minutes.  If the squash begins to color before it is done, add a drizzle of water and continue to cook.  Scrape the squash onto a baking sheet and let cool.  
In a large saucepan of generously salted water boil the orzo until al dente—about 5 to 7 minutes.  Drain and transfer to a large, wide bowl.  Toss with a splash of olive oil.  Let cool, stirring occasionally (if you prefer, you may transfer it to a baking sheet to cool—return it to the bowl before proceeding with the recipe).
When the orzo is no longer hot, stir in the corn, salsa verde, zucchini, tomatoes, olives, vinegar and salt & pepper to taste.  If you like, drizzle in more olive oil. 

Set aside while you cook the fish.  The orzo salad can be made ahead (earlier in the day, for example).  If making more than an hour ahead, refrigerate. It is in fact better when the flavors have some time to blend and be absorbed by the orzo.  Taste again before serving and correct the flavor balance as necessary with salt, pepper, vinegar, and olive oil.
Cook the fish: Heat a cast-iron skillet or heavy sauté pan (non-stick is a good idea) over medium high heat—the pan should be just large enough to hold the fish.  If the pan is not large enough o cook all of the fish at once, either use two pans, or cook the fish in batches.  While the pan heats, dry the filets with paper towels and season both sides with salt and pepper.  Add enough oil to the pan to coat the bottom—when the pan is hot enough, the oil will slide easily across the pan—a wisp or two of smoke should be just barely forming.  If the oil smokes profusely, the pan is too hot.  Add the filets to the pan, skin-side down.  The fish will want to curl up, so press down lightly with a spatula to force all of the skin into contact with the pan.  Cook until the skin is golden brown and crisped—about 3 minutes.  Carefully turn and cook the other side until just done...a knife inserted in the thickest part of the filet should reveal a pearly opaqueness...another 2 to 4 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish.  (If you choose a fish that is very thick, you may need to transfer it the pan to a 375° to 400º oven to finish the cooking.)  
To serve, place a large spoonful of the orzo salad on each plate and top with the fish (placed crispy, skin-side up).  Garnish with a sprig of basil or parsley, if you like.  If you have made extra sauce, drizzle some of the sauce over the fish.  Serves 6 generously.
·        Any medium textured, flaky fish may be substituted for the snapper in this recipe...barramundi, salmon, bass, etc.  You could also substitute skinless filets of cod, halibut or grouper.
·        In my original version of this recipe, I did not include the zucchini.  I also added about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of finely diced and rinsed red onion.  You may add neither or both...as you prefer.

(Recipe adapted from Bottega Favorita by Frank Stitt)

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