Baking & DessertDinner

By Suzanne Lehrer | June 6, 2011

Photo: Suzanne Lehrer

Even if you’ve loved being in the kitchen all your life, chances are that you had very little love for that tiny thing with no natural light off the living room of your very first apartment. While cooking has always made me happy, I’ll admit that

my tiny thing with no natural light remained pretty much unused (save the frequent late-night snack) for my first year of living in the city. But I can vividly remember the meal that first changed my mind: the braised short ribs I made for my then boyfriend on New Years Eve. When I told my roommate what I had made (which, by the way, turned out deliciously), she was shocked that “that came out of there?” Needless to say, my kitchen and I have become good friends ever since.

If this feeling sounds familiar-or if you have yet to embrace your kitchen-Cara Eisenpress and Phoebe Lapine have got you covered. The self-styled “quarter-life cooks” founded their popular website Big Girls, Small Kitchen in 2008, devoted to helping young adults in the city navigate their way around their limiting kitchens to create by turns comforting, impressive, and innovative food, whether for an impromptu cocktail party or a night in by yourself.

I have turned to the Big Girls, Small Kitchen website countless times, and was very excited to pick up my copy of their newly published cookbook, In the Small Kitchen. Lapine and Eisenpress’s first cookbook includes over 100 recipes from their year of cooking in the “real world,” divided into such sections as “Cooking for One,” “Cocktail Parties,” and “One Year Closer to Thirty,” as well as personal essays that are so compelling and well-written I stayed up till 1:00am (well past this lady’s bedtime) the day I purchased the book reading through them all. Eager to try out some of the recipes, I decided to devote this week’s column to In the Small Kitchen. It was very difficult to choose only two recipes, but I settled on making two zucchini-heavy recipes for this week’s ingredient.

Although everyone thinks of this summer squash as a vegetable, it’s actually an “immature fruit,” that grows out a golden-colored flower (that makes for an incredible ingredient by itself). The common version of the zucchini we usually eat was cultivated in Italy, and has only started popping up in U.S. supermarkets in the past thirty years.

Zucchini Bread Recipe

From In the Small Kitchen

I love a loaf. Banana, marble, carrot, you name it. As a friend of mine put it recently, “Everyone is always all about banana bread. But let me tell you something: zucchini bread it where it’s at). After making this recipe, I have to agree. The bread came out incredibly moist, but not too dense, and had just the right amount of zucchini flavor without crossing too much into veggies-in-dessert territory (a place where no one wants to go). I recommend giving the walnuts a coarse chop for some serious crunch factor, and I guarantee this will be a big hit.

Photo: Suzanne Lehrer

Ratatouille For Two

From In the Small Kitchen

The “for two” is because this recipe resides in my favorite section of the book, “Dating & Food,” which includes such recipes as shrimp risotto with sweet peas and leeks for an at-home date night, and coconut banana pancakes for the morning after. Although this recipe would be pretty perfect to make for a date, seeing as I’ll just be making it for me, myself, and I, I’m renaming it, for now, “Ratatouille for one…person to eat many times.”

This recipe alone will inspire you to love your tiny kitchen and the food that comes out of it. While ratatouille can be a long process, Lapine and Eisenpress have condensed the recipe so that for very little money, and only about an hour of your time, you will end up with a result so homey and soul-warmingly delicious that even days later you will be helping yourself to seconds and thirds and being grateful that there was no date you had to share it with. In an effort to make mine more zucchini-y, I substituted the yellow squash below for 2 more small zucchini.

For Zucchini Bread
  • Unsalted butter, for the pan
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded zucchini
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup safflower oil or other neutral oil, or melted butter
  • 11/2 cup walnuts, chopped
For Ratatouille
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1 small orange or yellow bell pepper, diced
  • 1 small (1 lb) Italian eggplant, cut into 1-in. cubes
  • 1 small zucchini, quartered and cut into thin slices
  • 1 small yellow squash, quartered and cut into slices
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 plum tomatoes(1/2 lb), cored, seeded, and coarsely chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves

Directions

To Make Zucchini Bread:

Preheat the oven to 350º. Butter a loaf pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the flour, salt, cinnamon, baking powder, and baking soda. In a large mixing bowl, add the zucchini, eggs, both sugars, vanilla, and oil, and beat until thick. Fold in the dry ingredients and stir until just blended-don't over-beat! Stir in the walnuts. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for one hour, or until the loaf has risen and a knife or skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Run a knife or offset spatula along the edges and invert onto a rack or a plate. Peel off parchment paper and invert again. Eat warm or at room temperature.

To Make Ratatouille:

Coat a large lidded pot or a Dutch oven with the olive oil, and saute the onion and bell pepper over medium heat until soft and beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. Add the eggplant and saute for 5 minutes, until it is beginning to soften. Stir in the zucchini, yellow squash, and garlic, and saute for 5 minutes more. Mix in the tomatoes, bay leaf, salt, and red pepper flakes. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender and the tomato juices have concentrated, about 30 minutes. Discard the bay leaf and stir in the basil. Taste for seasoning, and serve hot, at room temperature, or cold.

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