Martha Stewart was begging me, again. “Please, Chef Boy Ari,” she begged. Martha was holding a zucchini and begging me to tell her what to do with it. Believe me, I was tempted. Then, all of the sudden, there was Michael Jordan, standing next to Martha, all of six-foot, seven inches of him, shiny bald head and all. Mike had a shopping cart full of zucchinis, some as large as golf club bags. “Chef Boy Ari,” he sobbed, “my zucchini plant won’t quit. I’ve made zucchini bread. I’ve made stir-fry. I’ve sliced it into soup, I’ve baked, marinaded, grilled, and broiled it. I’ve made zucchini coins with crumbled feta, zucchini fritters, zucchini scalopini a marsala...but they just keep coming. You gotta help me, Chef Boy Ari.” At this point, I did not wake up. Instead, I did a Michael Jackson spin move, pointed my finger toward the sky, and said “Step aside, my friends, I’ve been doing this, for years. Huah!”
Since it is still summertime, I decided to start them off with “chilled summer in a bowl,” a recipe that begs for the patio on a lazy evening. Slice some zucchinis super thin. And don’t let them tell you otherwise: Size does matter. Smaller zucchinis are preferable, although large ones will work. Sprinkle the thin rounds with salt, and let sit 1/2 hour. Towel try. Put the slices in a bowl, and pour on some really good XXX-tra virgin olive oil (lately, I’ve been going with Castellare di Ugnana, available at Le Petite Outre). Add fresh ground pepper, lemon, and salt if necessary. Then stir in some grated parmesan or Romano cheese. Viola! Summer in a bowl.
It’s worth dwelling a moment on the salting of the zucchini. This draws moisture out, and with it, that almost bitter “raw zucchini flavor” that some of us find distasteful. Salting is a good pre-cooking conditioner for other zucchini applications too, such as before grilling, or anything, really.
The first time I learned about the salting trick was at Armando’s Pizza, back in the Old Country. Until my dying day, I will forever be a sucker for Armando’s eggplant parmesan subs. One day I asked Armando’s wife, Mama Mia, how they cook their eggplant so perfectly. Here is what she said: Well, a firstya takda eggplant anda slica theena. Thena salta litta bitta. Thena brusha holive hoil, ana putta breada crumbsa. Baka slowa. Capiche? Wow. Since then, my independent research has proven that salt is indeed God’s gift to eggplant. Have you ever made that eggplant dish and wish you had cooked it a little longer? Ya shoulda salta.
One day Quaker Lady told me about the chocolate zucchini cake her grandmother used to make. I guess the expression on my face telegraphed my interest, because she gave me the recipe. Little did she know that behind my glazed, thousand-mile stare, I was calculating what effect the addition of some special cr`eme would have on that cake. Of course, I speak of mayonnaise.
Remembering the recipe on the Best Foods label for chocolate mayonnaise cake, I stalked Albertson’s with notebook in hand, looking to espionage that recipe so I could combine it with Quaker Lady’s, and create chocolate zucchini mayonnaise cake! Alas, the Best Foods label had changed, and the recipe for chocolate mayonnaise cake has been replaced with the original potato salad. In vain, I cruised other supermarkets, hoping to stumble across an old jar of Best Foods. (Not unlikely, considering the shelf life of that EDTA-enhanced factory product is more than 12 lifetimes—in mosquito years). The highlight of my failed search was Osco, where I discovered not Best Foods, but Hellmann’s, the Best Foods of the East! You aren’t supposed to be able to get this stuff west of the Rockies! Wow. And for a hopeful moment I wondered if the Hellmann’s jar had my cake recipe, but when my trembling hands turned the jar around, my eager eyes were rewarded yet again with the original potato salad. Nonetheless, I bought a jar of Hellmann’s, for posterity. And get this: It tastes slightly different than Best Foods! A little more tang.
Standing there in Osco with my jar of Hellmann’s in one hand, and Quaker Lady’s recipe in the other, I had my epiphany. I looked at her recipe to confirm: 2 cups flour; 1 t. baking soda; 1 t. baking powder; 1 t. nutmeg; 1/2 t. salt; 1/4 cup cocoa; 1 t. vanilla; 1-2 cups sugar; 3/4 cup buttermilk; 2 cups shredded zucchini; 1/2 cup oil; 3 eggs.
Yessss! I realized that in a blender, the oil and eggs in that recipe could easily become special cr`eme. Wow. The mayonnaise was present all along—as Intrinsic Special Cr`eme, rather than Manifested Special Cr`eme. My head still spins with the profound implications.
Everywhere I look, I see Intrinsic Special Cr`eme.
As for the cake: Mix the ingredients together in that order, and bake in an oiled, 9x13 pan for 30 minutes at 350 (mixing the eggs and oil into mayo is optional). Frost appropriately. Martha and Mike, eat yer hearts out.
E-mail Chef Boy Ari: Flash@misssoulanews.com