I can never really get bored with cooking zucchini and other summer squash when they’re fresh, firm and in season. I generally grab a couple bright, cheerful varieties any given time I’m at the farmers’ market all summer, but this often leaves me with a surplus of squashes that aren’t so terribly awesome-looking later in the week. But a few age spots on the outsides doesn’t mean they’re any more austere; I went ahead and baked these ones, in a simple pastry crust with crushed almonds worked into the dough.
I was turned onto the comforting combination of almonds and zucchini by my friend Lukas Volger, who demonstrated a zucchini and almond veggie burger at Pig Island‘s Vegetopolis stand last weekend. Lukas is the author of Veggie Burgers Every Whichway, and Vegetarian Entrees That Won’t Leave You Hungry, and in the latter book, he introduced his wonderful recipe for the zucchini-almond patty. I’ve never seen such a line of pork festival-goers drool over these mini veggie patties as Lukas doled them out to the crowd that day. Of course, why would anyone have ever seen that? This was precisely the experiment in question — to see if people at Pig Island would be glad to check out vegetarian food, and thanks to the efforts of Lukas and Chitra, who made a delicious South Indian-spiced batch of pole beans from her CSA share, I believe it was answered affirmatively. Success!
crushed to crumbs after a run in the food processor
I was tempted to shred up my summer squash like Lukas had done for his burgers and pile it into my pastry. But I figured the rustic look of the hand tart I was going for begged a simpler treatment of the squash. So I merely sliced up the squash, tossed the pieces in olive oil, salt and pepper, before rumpling the edges of my rolled-out dough over this filling. I was also using an avocado squash, which is a luxuriously dense and creamy-fleshed variety with a shape and hue that very much lives up to its name. It tastes phenomenal, too, so definitely look out for these ones from a specialty farm with lots of heirloom varieties the next time you’re at the market. My god, they’re good.
Of course, you can always use yellow squash, zucchini, or a combination of vegetables that fare well when roasted to create a savory tart with. I added a good sprinkle of salt to the buttery, almond-speckled pastry dough before cutting it to coarse crumbs and rolling it out flat and filling the center. This is essentially the same method I would use to make a hand tart with fresh fruit — no tart pans required. And the hand-held structure of the finished thing was also very appealing. I chomped through this whole thing just as soon as I finished taking its photos.
Afterward, I thought maybe a dollop of creme fraiche would work nicely to garnish the tart, before adding some fresh shards of basil (or chives?). Or, perhaps a poached egg to make it even more filling, and certainly brunch-worthy (with a side baby green salad?). So, you can serve these up as appetizers at your next party, thanks to their cute and finger food-friendly size, or think about enlarging them and adding said accoutrements and more to treat yourself to a rich and satisfying vegetarian meal.
Savory Summer Squash Tart with Almond Crust
(makes about 4 miniature)
for the crust:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup crushed, unsalted almonds (crush to fine crumbs using a food processor, blender, or just mortar and pestle)
1 stick unsalted butter, cut to small cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt
about 2 tablespoons cold water
for the filling:
2 medium-sized summer squashes, sliced thinly to roughly 1/8″ slices
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
pinch of salt and pepper
fresh herbs for garnish (such as basil, thyme, or chives)
Combine the flour, crushed almonds and salt in a large bowl. Cut in the cold butter using a pastry cutter (or your fingers) until coarse crumbs of butter are no larger than a pea. (Alternately, drop in butter chunks to the flour mixture in a food processor as you pulse until just cut in.) Drizzle in a tablespoon of cold water a little at a time until the crumbs just come together enough to form a ball. Discontinue adding water when that happens. Form four small balls of dough and cover them with plastic wrap and let chill for 10-15 minutes. (Note: do not over-work the dough, or else the pastry will be less tender and flaky.)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Toss the sliced squash pieces with the olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.
Roll out each ball of dough into thin rounds on a sheet of parchment or waxed paper. Transfer the rounds to an ungreased cookie sheet. Arrange the squash filling in the centers of each one, creating a spiral with the squash slices to evenly spread them out. Leave about an inch around the edges of each crust. Using a butter knife to help lift up the the dough, fold the edges over the filling. It’s okay if some parts break off a little, you can always pat them back together and seal edges a bit.
Bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until the crust’s edges are golden and toasty-smelling. Let cool for 5 minutes. Drizzle the tops with extra (good) olive oil if desired and top each with a garnish of fresh herbs to serve.
(for 4 servings)
2 summer squashes (at $2.50/lb): $2.00
1/2 cup almonds: $5.00
1 cup flour: $0.30
1 stick butter: $1.25
salt, pepper, olive oil: $0.25
snips of fresh basil from houseplant: $0.10
Six brownie points: Almonds don’t just add an irresistibly hearty, nutty, toasty flavor and texture to this pastry crust; they’re one of the healthiest nuts you can find. Lower in fats than most (like peanuts or pecans), almonds provide lots of protein, Vitamin E and other phytonutrients, and are linked to lowering cholesterol and preventing cancer. As for fresh summer squash, these summer gourds are rich in Vitamin C and potassium, and actually account for a good dose of protein as well. Of course, we went and added lots of butter to enrich these superfoods with and bind them together in a delectable crust.
Six maple leaves: Just a couple good summer squash are all you need, and these can ben found in a thousand shapes and colors at farmers market while the summer’s harvest season lasts. These are the only places I’ve been able to find avocado squash, an heirloom variety. Combined with dry goods like nuts and flour and some good pastured butter, it’s a simple and seasonal dish.