The current Cook the Books Club selection is A Cook's Tour, Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines . Some editions of the book carry the subtitle In Search of the Perfect Meal, which feels more appropriate as it is a theme that recurs in the memoir.
At times, Bourdain writes with deep sensitivity and shares insights in what he saw and experienced, like his observations of Vietnamese people or his homage to the many Mexican immigrants who work in restaurants in NYC. The book comes alive in those moments and made me wish it contained a lot more. He makes some references to his mental health, which of course now appear under a different light. What made this a hard book for me to read are his tirades (for example, against vegetarians and non-smokers) and descriptions of animals turned into food.
One theme Bourdain touches on several times, particularly when he describes his time in Vietnam, is the great flavor of dishes made with fresh ingredients and consumed immediately. Here we are in full agreement. My visits to farmers' markets are the most important inspiration in the kitchen. Summer produce is a rich source of ideas. A couple of weeks ago, I saw the first Tromboncino squash1 of the season and rushed to buy it. Much to my delight, some local farmers grow this type of squash. (In Italian tromboncino literally means small trombone, the musical instrument.)
Besides being eye-catching with its long, curvy shape, Tromboncino squash has a dense flesh and a delicate, pleasant flavor.2 Although it is harvested early and consumed as a summer squash, it is not a cultivar of Cucurbita pepo like zucchini and other summer squashes, but of Cucurbita moschata, like butternut squash. Like its famous relative, zucchetta has seeds only in the lower part of its body: the long neck is seedless (as you can see in the top photo).
The tomatoes in the photo are of a variety called Prairie fire. They have a subtle gold striping and deep red flesh. The dish can be made also with other types of tomatoes, like Early girl, which I used in an earlier rendition of the recipe.
- 3 tablespoons / 45 ml extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 1/2 pounds / 680 grams tromboncino squash
- 8 ounces / 225 grams tomatoes, like Prairie fire or Early girl or other meaty variety
- 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh leaves of winter savory or thyme or a mix of the two herbs
- 1/2 teaspoon Harissa spice mix, or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, or to taste
- Optional toppings, to be added when the dish is ready, just out of the oven: nutritional yeast (which keeps the dish vegan) or freshly grated cheese (like pecorino toscano)
Heat the oven to 375 F / 190 C.
Distribute half of the olive oil on the bottom of a 3 quart / 3 liter (13"x 9" x 2" / 33 x 23 x 5 cm) glass baking dish.
Wash the squash and cut it into slices (no more than 1/2 inch / 1.25 cm thick), then pile 2-3 slices and cut into 1/2 inch / 1.25 cm cubes, adjusting your cutting to accommodate the curves of the squash. Quarter the tomatoes lengthwise. If using elongated tomatoes, like Prairie fire, halve them crosswise. If using larger tomatoes, like Early girl, slice them.
Place all the vegetables (squash, tomatoes, garlic) in the baking dish, sprinkle with the herb(s) and harissa and drizzle the remaining olive oil on top, then stir to mix. Place the baking dish in the oven. After 20 minutes, take the baking dish out of the oven and stir the vegetables. After another 15-20 minutes, check a piece of zucchini and gauge whether the dish is done or needs a few more minutes.
When the vegetables are ready, take the baking dish out of the oven, sprinkle the sea salt and stir. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve out of the baking dish or transfer onto a serving dish and serve.
Serves 5 as a side dish.
This is a flavorful side dish that brings together two of my favorite vegetables. Eating it is celebrating the simple pleasures of life: fresh, locally grown produce prepared with care.
This is a favorite photo showing the first tromboncino squash I purchased this season in the company of other "family members."
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the zucchetta al forno con pomodori audio file [mp3].
[Depending on your set-up, the audio file will be played within the browser or by your mp3 player application. Please, contact me if you encounter any problems.]
FTC disclosure: I have received the table linen free of charge from the manufacturer (la FABBRICA del LINO). I have not and will not receive any monetary compensation for presenting it on my blog. The experience shared and the opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own.