Would you believe that our efforts to grow zucchini were once again thwarted this summer? Isn’t it supposed to be perhaps the easiest thing in the world to grow, producing so much of the vegetable that people beg their neighbors to take some off their hands? That’s what I’ve heard, at least, though two summers in a row now we’ve ended up with little more than an pot with pathetically withered stalks. To be fair, last summer our zucchini plant got off to a great start, growing massive leaves and thick stalks. It looked to be a bountiful summer and we were looking forward to enjoying stuffed squash blossoms all summer, not to mention succotash, summer squash gratin, and of course, ratatouille. But it wasn’t meant to be- some sort of strange fungal blight hit the zucchini plant hard, leaving its leaves spotty and the zucchini strangely misshapen and shriveled. Ah well.
We figured this year would be a new start. We scoured the giant zucchini pot lest there be any traces of the fungus and then planted seeds with the highest of hopes. And when those first giant leaves sprouted, everything seemed to be going according to plan. Until the tomato worms hit. Or at least that’s what we think the little caterpillar-like vermin were. They literally ate every shred of every leaf off of the plant overnight one evening, so that when we went out to water the next day it was totally denuded. Our swiss chard, peppers, mint, and basil were similarly ravaged, though strangely our tomatoes were left untouched. All of which is a long-winded way of saying that my grand plans for summer cooking have been turned topsy-turvy.
The zucchini and basil that went into this stir-fry (which I bookmarked on Cookthink to make an entire year ago!) were most decidedly of the grocery store variety. It was a little different than most stir-fries in that it was pretty dry- it had subtle, but distinct flavors of lime, basil, and lemongrass, with a little hot kick, but it wasn’t saucy the way that I tend to like my stir-fries. I’d recommend just eating it on its own and enjoying the unusual flavor combination as a light summer dish rather than bothering to put it over rice. And for those of you wondering what to do with your profligate zucchini plants, think of the rest of us as you enjoy your veggies.
Spicy tofu and zucchini with lemongrass, lime and basil (serves 4 with rice)
10 ounces extra-firm tofu, cubed
3 small zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch half-rounds
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 habanero or jalapeno chile, seeded and thinly sliced
1 4-inch piece lemongrass, minced
1 medium shallot or spring onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons fish sauce
juice of 1/2 lime
8-10 basil leaves, thinly sliced
1. Cut the tofu into bite-size cubes. Cut the zucchini in half lengthwise, then slice the halves crosswise into 1/4-inch half-rounds. Prep the remaining ingredients.
2. Heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet over high heat. When it’s almost smoking, add the tofu and zucchini. Shake the pan briefly, then leave the tofu and zucchini alone to brown well, at least 1-2 minutes.
3. Add the chile pepper, lemongrass and shallot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini is soft, 3-4 more minutes.
4. Add the chicken broth, fish sauce and lime juice and cook until the broth thickens, 1-2 more minutes. Stir in the basil.