It’s not all that often that I come across a cookbook that speaks directly to me, so when my friend Marcia gave us this slim volume, I was a bit skeptical.
But Clotilde Dusoulier’s Chocolate and Zucchini is just such a book. It’s not just the recipes, based on straightforward combinations of a limited number of fresh local vegetables, nor the methods, which are generally simple (4 or 5 steps). It’s that Dusoulier also brings her passion for the story: What’s behind each ingredient, and each recipe, informs her, and our, appreciation of flavors and textures. If hers was a book about wine, I’d suggest she was describing terroir, the cherished French concept of the cumulative role that soil, air, and climate plays in the character of each wine (or in this case, each recipe) to give it a unique personality, and makes a Tarte Tatin a la Tomate much more than the sum of its parts (You might think that it’s simply pastry, tomatoes, and goat cheese). This is the soul of a good cookbook. Many are about the mechanics. Not so Chocolate and Zucchini. Here, the back story is just as important as following the directions (and, by the way, just as important to the fun).
It doesn’t hurt that the title of the book, which sets forth two ingredients as proxy for Dusoulier’s favorite culinary themes (zucchini for fresh, seasonal, local produce, and chocolate for indulgence) just happen to be favorites of mine also. And yes, she even brings them both together in her own version of Chocolate Zucchini Cake, a delightfully surprising combination (Here’s my version).
Here’s one dish out of Chocolate and Zucchini (Yes, the book serves up an engaging story that adds to its appreciation, but you’ll have to pick up your own copy for that terroir).
From Chocolate and Zucchini, by Clotilde Dusoulier
1 pat unsalted butter for greasing ramekins
2 tablespoons creme fraiche, or sour cream
1 ounce thinly sliced dry-cured ham, shredded in 1/2 inch strips
2 extra-fresh high-quality large eggs
6 cherry tomatoes, halved
fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon snipped fresh chives
1. Preheat the oven to 400F and grease two 6 ounce ramekins with butter. Drop a spoonful of cream in each ramekin and top with the ham. Break one egg into each ramekin without rupturing the yolks, top with the tomatoes, and season with salt and pepper.
2. Place the ramekins in a baking dish large enough to accommodate them and pour hot water in the dish halfway up the ramekins. Place the dish in the oven and bake for 15-18 minutes, depending on how runny you like your eggs.
3. Remove the dish from the oven and the ramekins from the dish (the ramekins will be hot). Sprinkle with chives and serve immediately, with crusty bread for dipping.
Variations: Apart from the egg and cream, all the ingredients can be changed based on what you have on hand: cooked bacon, chicken, or smoked tofu; mushrooms (fresh, or dried and rehydrated, leeks, or zucchini; and any herb or spice you like. You can add a spoonful of onion confit, a sliver of foie gras, or a bit of cheese (grated Comté, shavings of Parmesan, diced goat cheese).
Photo by Tod Dimmick