Summer’s trinity of vegetables: corn, tomatoes, and zucchini
This is the time of year I live for. The corn is sweet and fresh and plentiful, the tomatoes are ripe and hang heavy on the vine, and the zucchini is so abundant it threatens to overtake your garden.
They are the foods of summer, the best that nature has to offer, and they all are in season at the same time. If they are not in your garden, the tables at farmers’ markets and grocery stores will soon be laden with them.
Lima beans are coming into their own now, too, but I have never been as fond of lima beans. So I looked for something to do with just corn, tomatoes, and zucchini or other summer squash.
No succotash. Succotash has lima beans.
Corn, tomatoes, and zucchini make a classic flavor combination, with a rounded taste that is bright (from the corn) but earthy (from the zucchini). The three vegetables go so well together that they form a single identifiable flavor. Call it Cotozu.
But don’t call them vegetables, as I just did. Technically, tomatoes and zucchini are both fruit, and corn is a grain. But they are cooked and eaten and treated like vegetables, so vegetables it is. At least informally.
Corn, tomatoes, and zucchini — cotozu — could form the base for any number of dishes. You could lay a piece of grilled chicken on top of it and serve it with rice, or do the same with spicy sausage. With eggplant, you could put an American spin on ratatouille. You could cook it down and use it as a topping for pasta, particularly if you have used onions or garlic.
I decided to make it in ways that especially highlight the cotozu flavor, starting out with that topping for pasta: shells with summer squash, corn, beans, and tomato.
For such light and summery ingredients, this makes a surprisingly hearty dish. The beans (I used pinto beans) add protein, so it is suitable for a delicious vegetarian main course. Basil — a recurring theme with some of these dishes — and Parmesan cheese at the end provide a delightfully sunny flourish.
And it all comes together in an unexpectedly short time. In fact, the longest part of making it is the preparation. Once you have diced the zucchini, minced the garlic, grated the tomatoes, sliced the kernels from an ear of corn, and cut the basil leaves into slivers, the rest of the cooking is a breeze. Actually, you can do all of the prep work while preparing the water for the pasta shells, and you can cook the other ingredients in almost the time it takes to boil the shells.
When you combine the same three primary ingredients into a relish, the resulting taste is dramatically different.
This time, the tomatoes, corn, and zucchini pick up sweet and sour notes from rice wine vinegar mixed with brown sugar and a little salt. To this base is added olive oil that has been richly perfumed with garlic, ginger, mustard seeds, black pepper, and cumin. Those spices add an exotic touch of heat that is emphasized with as much or as little minced fresh jalapeño as you like.
The flavor is remarkably refreshing and fun; it can be served as a counterpoint to any grilled meat or any sort of seafood. It would also go well with the earthy taste of beans, or even hard-boiled eggs. Or you could try it as a salsa, a little something different to serve with tortilla chips.
Because this relish is essentially uncooked, its colors remain bright and vibrant. So you can make it even more appealing to the eye by using a variety of different colored heirloom tomatoes and by mixing yellow summer squash in with the zucchini.
Somewhat more effort is needed to make corn, tomato, and summer squash soup, but as is often the case, the effort is worth it. The soup is almost ridiculously healthy and low in calories (only one tablespoon of olive oil for about 12 servings), and with all of the amazing ingredients of the summer it is guaranteed to taste great.
It is all the ingredients, in fact, that take the effort to prepare. Cooking the soup itself is a snap.
The recipe requires roasting a mild pepper — you could use peppers out of a can, but where’s the fun in that? Then you have tomatoes to peel, zucchini to chop, and kernels of corn to slice off the cob. You also have to chop an onion, garlic, and an entire cup of basil. A lot of knife work goes into this soup, but once you taste it you will forget all about the effort.
The most elegant use for tomatoes, corn, and zucchini that we found is the enticing (but misnamed) squash and tomato pie, which isn’t a pie at all. It is more of a casserole — it doesn’t have a crust — consisting of layers of zucchini and summer squash, corn cooked with red onions, tomatoes, and Fontina cheese, all topped with a mixture of seasoned bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese.
It makes for a beautiful presentation, and of course the aroma that fills your house as it bakes is marvelous.
But it’s the taste that matters most. So, how does it taste?
In a word: sublime.
Contact Daniel Neman at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6155.
Shells with Summer Squash, Corn, Beans, and Tomato
Begin heating a large pot of water for the pasta.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a wide, heavy skillet. Add the summer squash. Cook, stirring, until the squash begins to color, 3-5 minutes. Season with salt, and add the garlic. Stir until fragrant, just a few seconds, and add the tomatoes and a pinch of sugar. Cook, stirring often, until the tomatoes have cooked down and smell fragrant, 5-8 minutes. Stir in the corn, beans, and bean broth or water, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Turn the heat to medium-low and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the basil, and keep warm.
When the water comes to a boil, salt generously and add the pasta. Boil, following the timing directions on the package but checking a minute before the indicated time. When the pasta is cooked al dente, remove ½ cup of the cooking water, then drain the pasta and toss with the vegetables and beans. If the vegetable and bean mixture seems dry, moisten with pasta water to taste. Add the cheese, toss again, and serve.
Yield: 4 servings; Source: The New York Times
Heirloom Tomato, Corn, and Squash Relish
In a small saucepan, boil the vinegar, sugar, and salt until dissolved. Pour into a large bowl.
In a sauté pan, heat the oil over medium heat, add the garlic, ginger, mustard seeds, black pepper, and cumin. Stir frequently and remove from the heat after about a minute.
Slowly whisk the oil into the vinegar mixture. Blanch the sweet corn in boiling water for 1 minute. Run it under cold water or place it in an ice bath to cool. Cut the kernels off the cob and add it to the bowl. Add the tomatoes, squash, onion, and jalapeño and gently stir. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
Yield: 4 cups; Source: A Crafty Lass, adapted from Food & Wine
Corn, Tomato, and Summer Squash Soup
In a large deep pot, heat oil. Add garlic and onion and sauté until softened. Add stock or water, tomatoes, corn, and chile and simmer for 15 minutes. Add zucchini and basil and simmer for 5 minutes longer. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot, passing sour cream, yogurt and herbs for garnish.
Yield: About 12 servings; Source: FreshFarm Markets
Squash and Tomato Pie
Preheat oven to 375º.
Cut tomatoes and squash into slices about a finger-width thick. Remove tops and bottoms of onion; cut each onion in half, lay each half on its side and cut into ¼-inch-thick strips.
Cook squash over medium-high heat with a little olive oil until caramelized on both sides. Remove from the pan and set aside. In the same pan, sauté onions and garlic until golden brown, then add corn kernels and cook for another 3-5 minutes; add fresh basil.
In a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, layer the ingredients, beginning with the squash, next a layer of tomatoes and sprinkling of salt and pepper, followed by a layer of the corn and onion mixture, and finally a layer of Fontina cheese. If you have summer squash left, repeat once more beginning with the squash. Otherwise, begin another layer with the tomatoes. Drizzle olive oil over the mixture and a little more salt and pepper.
In a bowl, mix bread crumbs and Parmigiano-Reggiano together until well mixed. Sprinkle this mixture over the top of the vegetables and place dish in the oven on the center rack. Bake for about 45 minutes; crust should be golden brown.
Remove from oven and let stand 10 to 15 minutes before serving or refrigerate and chill overnight for a great addition to a picnic.
Yield: 12 servings; Source: Adapted from Nugget Markets