Sunday, July 12, 2015

Zucchini Mousseline...with Pan-Seared Halibut and Summer Vegetables...and with Ricotta in a Summer Spread

This coming week I'm teaching a class featuring ways to use corn and zucchini.  As I was considering what recipes to include in the class, I remembered a preparation that we made when I was at The American Restaurant called Zucchini Mousseline.  Made of nothing more than zucchini and olive oil, it was a favorite of mine—used (among other things) as part of a summer vegetarian plate featuring the ingredients of ratatouille and also as a garnish for a fish entrée.  For some reason I hadn't made it—or even thought of it—in years.  I decided a class would be the perfect time to resurrect this dish. 

Of course, the desire to recreate a recipe is not always matched by the ability to do so.  Unfortunately, as the years have passed, I have found that many things I made so often that I would have been able to make them in my sleep have slipped into vague memories.  Notes that passed for recipes at the time are never as complete as I would like.  I console myself with the knowledge that I am not alone in this...I have heard other long time professional cooks complain about the same thing.

In the case of the zucchini mousseline, recreating something similar to that long ago dish was not too much of a stretch.  My notes were better than I had hoped they would be.  Also, the small number of ingredients...and simplicity of the method...were in my favor.  I can't guarantee that the zucchini mousseline that I am presenting here is identical to the one we made at the restaurant...another line cook or chef might remember it in a slightly different way...but I think it is very close.  And happily, it is just as I remember it:  light, creamy, beautifully green and intensely flavored—just the thing to go with fish...or vegetables...or anything else you think might benefit from the presence of a fluffy mousse of zucchini....

The recipe as I have it written down from my restaurant days is as follows:  Wash, top and tail some zucchini.  

Cut into roughly 4-inch lengths (making it more manageable for standing on end).  Stand the lengths on end and slice sections of the skin off, taking as little of the white flesh as possible.  

Cut these slices of into quarter inch batonnets.  

Sweat in olive oil until tender.  

Place in the blender and purée, adding a little more olive oil if it's too dry.  Season with salt and pepper.

If you are wondering, the centers of the squash were simply discarded.  The reason for doing this is twofold.  First...and most importantly...for large zucchini, the seedy core is watery and coarsely grained.  Including it would make for a watery, thin purée (more of a sauce than a "mousse") with a coarser texture and a much less intense flavor.  (There is no added water used to cook the zucchini for the same reason.)  The second reason—and this is minor, in my opinion—is that the cores are white and including them will give a less deeply colored purée. 

I don't like to waste food, so tossing the cores bothers me a bit.  They could probably be grated and added to a zucchini baked good of some kind...but I don't think I would really want to do that since one of the things I like about zucchini breads and cakes is the pretty flecks of green.

Rather than waste so much product, I have specified in my recipe to seek out small squash (less than 200 grams each, if possible).  If you have very small squash (100 grams or less), you will find that the seed cavity is small, with relatively undeveloped seeds.  At this size too, the flesh is still finely grained and dense (which in addition to having less water, makes for a more velvety purée).  Using all of the squashincluding the interior—when they are this size makes good sense to me.  For squash weighing more than 100 grams I discard the cores...although for squash between 100 and 200 grams the cavity is not quite so developed and the waste will be small.  For large squash, you will just have to live with a larger amount of loss if you wish to maintain the integrity of the recipe and obtain a purée with nice body and a velvety texture. 

In my recipe, I specify that the cooked squash be puréed using an immersion blender.  At the restaurant we used a traditional blender, but it was a very powerful Vitamix blender.  When I tried to use my blender at home, it was impossible to get the squash to "move" in the blender without adding several tablespoons of water.  If you have a Vitamix...or something will not have the same difficulty.  I would not use a food processor...since it is more adept at mincing than puréeing, it will not produce satisfactory results.

For my class I will be serving the mousseline as an accompaniment to corn fritters.  We sampled it that way at home...and it was delicious.  Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures.  I did, however take pictures of a couple of the other ways that we enjoyed it. 

I mixed the leftovers of my first batch with some whole milk ricotta, garlic, lemon and thyme.  Topped with a few toasted walnuts...and a drizzle of olive made a delicious spread—which I enjoyed for lunch.  I'm confident it would also make a fine mezze or appetizer for your next summer dinner party.

Finally, remembering how delicious the mousseline was with fish at the restaurant, I served it for our dinner one evening with some pan-seared halibut and a medley of roasted corn, zucchini, olives and cherry tomatoes. And I have to say, it was very, very good.  Not only that, it was super simple to prepare.  And considering that almost everything can be prepared ahead, it is a perfect candidate for summer entertaining.  (Although I hope you won't wait for a party to make it!)

Once you have experienced zucchini mousseline, I predict you will come up with all kinds of ways to use it...  As I have in a spread...or with fish—or perhaps with lamb...or as a sauce for pasta.  It is surprisingly full flavored...nutty and rich...truly the essence of zucchini—and a delicious and elegant way to use up some of the bounty of this most prolific member of the summer vegetable garden. 

Zucchini Mousseline

1 lb. small to medium zucchini (preferably no bigger than 6 oz. each)
about 3 T. olive oil
Salt & pepper

If your zucchini are very small (weighing less than 3 1/2 oz. each), simply trim the ends, cut them in half lengthwise and slice them thinly (less than a quarter inch thick) cross-wise.  If they are larger (but hopefully, still smaller than 6 oz. each), trim the ends and cut them in half cross-wise.  Stand these segments of squash on end and slice the green and white flesh away from the seedy center.  Discard the "cores" and cut the trimmed strips thinly (less than a quarter inch thick) cross-wise. 

Slices of larger squash with cores removed next to
slices of small squash with cores intact.
In a wide sauté pan, warm a tablespoon or so of olive oil over medium heat.  Add the squash pieces along with a pinch of salt.  Toss/stir to coat the squash in the oil.  The squash should sizzle gently.  Cook (without allowing the squash to color) until it is tender...the white portion of the squash will become slightly translucent and tinged with green...about 12 to 15 minutes. 

Scrape the contents of the sauté pan into a tall narrow container just wide enough to accommodate an immersion blender.  Use your immersion blender to purée the zucchini.  If it doesn't want to purée smoothly, add  another tablespoon or two of olive oil...and maybe a tablespoon of water, but don't add a lot of water, you are creating a fluffy purée with enough body to mound on a spoon...too much water and you will create a sauce (see note).  Taste and correct the seasoning with salt & pepper.

Makes about 1 cup of mousseline

  • If you do not wish to discard the seedy cores, you may prepare your mousseline with them, just know that your purée will be thinner (the seedy cores are watery) and a much paler green color. 
  • If you are planning on thinning down the mousseline to a sauce consistency, you may cook the zucchini covered (as for a classic étuvée)—simply add the squash to the pan, toss to coat in the oil, cover and reduce the heat to very low. Covering the pan will conserve the water in the squash...making it easier to purée, and resulting in a thinner, less mousse-like consistency. 
  • If you wish to make the mousseline into a spread with ricotta cheese, you must cook the squash uncovered and discard the seedy cores. 
  • If you have a very powerful blender (like a Vitamix) you may purée the cooked zucchini in the blender. The food processor will yield inferior results, as it will not purée the squash to a fine enough consistency to create a mousse-like texture. 

Creamy Zucchini & Ricotta Spread

1 c. zucchini mousseline
3/4 c. whole milk ricotta (drained if wet)
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2 to 1 t. lemon juice
1/2 t. picked thyme, chopped
Salt & pepper, to taste
Olive oil
Toasted walnuts, coarsely broken

Place the first six ingredients in a bowl and stir until well blended.  Season to taste with salt & pepper...adding more lemon juice, if necessary.

Serve mounded in a bowl, or dolloped onto individual plates, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with walnuts.  Serve crisp toasts or pita chips.

Printable Version

Pan-Seared Halibut with Zucchini Mousseline
& a Summer Medley of Corn, Zucchini, Tomatoes and Olives

1 1/3 c. diced zucchini (1/4- to 1/3-inch dice)
1 T. olive oil, plus more for drizzling and frying the halibut
1 1/3 c. roasted corn kernels (see note)—warm or at room temperature
1 c. cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/3 c. kalamata olives, pitted and halved
1 recipe zucchini mousseline
4 5 oz. portions halibut (skinless)
Salt & Pepper, to taste
1/2 to 1 T. lemon juice, plus more for drizzling

In a skillet large enough to hold the zucchini in a snug single layer, heat a tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the zucchini, a generous pinch of salt and enough water to come half way up the sides of the zucchini.  Cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini is barely tender and the water has evaporated, about 5 minutes; add a bit more water if the zucchini starts to brown.  Transfer to a plate to cool...or, if using right away, simply set the pan aside off of the heat.

About 15 minutes before you are ready to serve, place the zucchini, corn, cherry tomatoes and olives in a large bowl.  If necessary, warm the zucchini mousseline in a small saucepan over low heat, or warm briefly in the microwave.

Heat a large—preferably non-stick (cast iron or French steel is best)—sauté pan over moderately high to high heat.  While the pan is heating, season the fish with salt and pepper.  Add enough olive oil to coat the pan.  The pan is ready when a wisp of smoke is visible rising from the oil.  Carefully add the fish to the pan, service side down (this is the side that was next to the bones..and the side that will face the diner when the fish is served), gently sliding the pan back and forth as you add each piece to make sure the fish has a film of oil underneath.  (If the fish doesn't move when you slide the pan back and forth, just leave it alone, tilting the pan occasionally to allow the oil to seep underneath the the surface seals, the fish will release itself from the pan.)  Let the fish cook undisturbed, regulating the heat to maintain and active sizzle, until it is golden brown—anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes.  Carefully flip the fish over and continue to cook on the other side until the fish is cooked to your liking.  Because halibut is a very lean fish, I like it to be a bit underdone, with a thin line of translucence in the center...but you should cook it as you prefer.  If the fish is very thick, you may need to transfer the pan to a 375° to 400° oven to allow it to finish cooking.  Total cooking time (from the time the Halibut hits the sauté pan) will be about 7 or 8 minutes per inch of thickness.  Carefully transfer the fish to a plate and drizzle with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Drizzle a half tablespoon of lemon juice over the vegetables, season with salt and pepper and toss to combine.  If necessary, drizzle with olive oil to moisten.  Taste and correct the seasoning with lemon juice, salt & pepper.

To serve, spread a small round of the mousseline in the center of each plate.   

Top with a couple of spoonfuls of the vegetables, 

then the fish 

and finally another couple of spoonfuls of the vegetables, allowing the vegetables to fall naturally around the plate.

Serve right away.  Serves 4.

Note: To roast corn, place the corn (in the husk) in a preheated 375­° oven.  Roast for 20 minutes.  Remove from the oven and remove the husks as soon as you are able to handle the corn.  Cool and cut the kernels away from the cob.  A large ear of corn will produce about 1 cup of kernels.  I like to roast several ears at a time—then I have it on hand for a quick lunch salad with tomatoes and avocado...or to add to a quick pasta for dinner.

Printable Version


Katrina said...

That looks SO good. My perfect meal. Halibut is my favorite fish. Love that cut on the zucchini as is, but the mousseline sounds delicious.

Jessica said...

Very sweet! nice post. I appritiate your write up. Could you please tell me which blender you use for doing that? I was found a best hand blender on your blog but sad I have not got it. kindly mention me a best vitamix blender for make apple juice.