Creamy Zucchini Pesto

The summer garden in our climate yields bumper crops of zucchini, basil, tomatoes, peppers and cucumber. We eat everything tomato: Caprese and Greek salads, spaghetti with meatballs, pizza, pasta with marinara, BLTs. Jars of sauces and salsa are put away for the winter. Peppers are dried for paprika, or roasted and peeled and tucked into the freezer. Cucumbers are pickled or chopped and preserved as relish.

But zucchini, oh zucchini, what do we do with you? Despite vowing to plant less every year, we always seem to find ourselves overwhelmed when we take a little stroll out to the garden.

another zucchini that got away

Another giant zucchini

(“Where did that one come from? I swear it was not here yesterday!”)

How do zucchini grow so fast? And what the heck does one do with all these zucchini at one time?  2 cups of shredded zucchini in a loaf of zucchini bread will barely touch the windfall.


A typical daily harvest of zucchini from the summer garden

Then there is the basil. It wants to be cut, over and over again, so that it does not set flower and die. But every time we trim the tops of the basil, it responds by branching out and rewarding us with even more of the fragrant leaves that beg to be cut, again and again.pesto ingredients

Zucchini and Basil

(This could be the start of something good)

Necessity is the mother of invention when cooking from the summer garden, and in this case an invention that is more than the sum of its’ parts. Pesto made with only basil is so flavorful it can be overwhelming at times, but using less leads to a somewhat dry pasta dish. Shredded and sautéed zucchini can yield a rich concentrated pan of creamy zucchini deliciousness, but one that is admittedly mild in flavor.  Mixing the two together is a great way to make a creamy, flavorful sauce for pasta, while maximizing healthy veggie intake by including all of that zucchini in the dish. Don’t be shy about using some of your larger, less than perfect zucchini for this recipe.

This sauce can also be frozen to enjoy some of that bounty of zucchini and basil in the winter.

Here then is the recipe for:

Creamy Zucchini Pesto.

For the sautéed zucchini:

6 cups coarsely shredded zucchini

¼ cup finely chopped onion (optional)

1 Tablespoon olive oil

½ teaspoon salt

Put the shredded zucchini in a large strainer and sprinkle it with the salt, mixing the salt in well with your hands.  Now let the zucchini sit to drain, pressing it down every once in a-while to push out any liquid. Let it sit for ½ to 1 hour, if you have the time. If not, you can just let it sit for a few minutes. The longer it sits, the more liquid you will remove from the zucchini. It your zucchini is especially watery It can also be placed in a dish-towel, which is then twisted up and squeezed hard to remove liquid.

In a large frying pan, heat 1 Tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, if using it, and saute in the pan for a few minutes until soft. Now add the zucchini to the pan.

raw zucchini in pan-1

Cook the zucchini over a medium low heat, stirring every few minutes until it is very condensed and is starting to brown. This will take 20-30 minutes or so depending upon the size of your pan and the temperature. 6 cups will cook down to about 2 cups at this point.

cooked zucchini in pan-1

Sautéed shredded zucchini

(This also makes a great side dish sprinkled with a touch of parmesan cheese) 

Turn off the heat and let the zucchini cool while you prepare the pesto.

For the pesto:

2 ounces (about 1/3 cup) chopped or shredded parmesan cheese

2 large or 3 small cloves of peeled garlic

¼ cup toasted nuts or seeds (you can use almonds, pine nuts, walnuts, pumpkin or sunflower seeds. I used sunflower seeds).

3 cups basil leaves (removed from the stems, washed and spun dry)

3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil.

Put the garlic in a food processor. If the cheese is chopped in large pieces, add it to the food processor as well. If you are using shredded cheese, don’t add it yet. Pulse and scrape down with a spatula until finely chopped.

Adding nuts to the food processorAdd the nuts to the food processor and again process until finely chopped. I used roasted sunflower seeds in this batch.

Now add the basil leaves and process until finely ground. Gradually add the olive oil through the feed tube and continue to blend the mixture until it is a coarse paste, stirring down with the spatula several times. Add the zucchini puree to the food processor.Adding the shredded zucchini

Sautéed shredded zucchini being added to pesto mixture in the food processor.

Process the mixture until it makes a nice sauce.  If you are using grated cheese, now is the time to mix it in as well. (Consider your preferences when processing the sauce. If you like more texture, process for less time but if you like a very creamy smooth sauce, process longer).

completed pesto

The final zucchini pesto sauce

This makes enough sauce for 6 very generous servings (about 2 ounces of dry pasta per serving). Cook the pasta in boiling water until done and drain it. Reserve a bit of the hot pasta water to add to the sauce to heat it and loosen it. If you like your food very hot, you might also want to heat the sauce for a few minutes in the microwave or on the stove before adding the pasta to it. I put the sauce in a large glass bowl, big enough to hold all of the pasta and sauce, and add the hot pasta water to the sauce.(I use about 1/2 cup of the water or so, but it depends upon how cooked down the zucchini is). Then I heat it slightly in the microwave. Do not boil or overheat the sauce though!

Add the pasta to the sauce and mix it all together. Serve with a sprinkling of additional grated parmesan cheese if you like. I like to serve this dish with a side salad of fresh garden tomatoes dressed with a light olive oil vinaigrette.

the final pesto dish

Fettucine served with creamy zucchini basil pesto 

Nutrition Analysis per serving for sauce only (makes 6 servings):

180 calories, 8 grams carbohydrate, 7 grams protein, 15 grams fat, 3 grams saturated fat

© 2015. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

How to order Owari Satsuma Mandarins fresh from our California Farm

Here is Adrian beginning the mandarin harvest. A fully loaded tree can have over 300 pounds of fruit!

Our Satsuma mandarin harvest usually begins around the first of December (if the weather cooperates!). We sell bags of mandarins and gift boxes at our farm. When we are well into the season the satsumas can stack up around here.

flats of mandarins waiting to be boxed croppedFor more information about our satsuma mandarin business go to our website:

Caper sauce with lemon

Last week I showed you that beautiful piece of fried fish that I had a few weeks ago at Chez Panisse. It was served with a tangy caper sauce, which you can see on the side of the plate there.

I had a nice piece of that black cod (otherwise known as sablefish) that I planned to try oven frying using the recipe I posted last week. I had never tried oven frying black cod before, but since finding out it is a powerhouse of omega-3 fats and sustainably harvested I have been trying to eat it more often. Since that caper sauce was a nice accompaniment to fried fish, why not try to create a lower fat Mediterranean Diet version to go with our unfried fried fish? The recipe that follows below is my quick little caper sauce that is quite a delicious condiment for fish and is whipped up in no time.

Put 2 Tablespoons of nonfat Greek yogurt in a bowl. Add 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard and 1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice (I used our lovely Meyer lemons which are in season now). Whip that up until smooth with a small hand whisk. Whisk in 1 1/2 Tablespoons of very good, very flavorful California Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Finally blend in 1 Tablespoon of drained capers. Serve over the fish or on the side to add as you please.

Oven fried black cod with caper sauce with lemon, brown and wild rice, and sauteed Bloomsdale spinach.

© 2015. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

Oven fried fish

Who doesn’t loves fried fish? I am a dietitian and seldom eat fried foods, but even I succumb to a piece of fried fish once in awhile. My last indulgence was just
last week. Admittedly it was a beautiful piece of California rock cod, moderate in size,
and served with lovely vegetables and a caper sauce at my favorite restaurant, the Café at Chez Panisse in Berkeley.

Fried fish from Chez Panisse Cafe: definitely not your standard “fish and chips”.

In general I avoid fried foods in restaurants because they are often cooked in
questionable oil in the deep fat fryer. Many restaurants use hydrogenated oils which
contain trans fats in them, others use oils with a high amount of saturated fat such as palm oil. Saturated oils last longer in the fryer before going rancid, which is why they tend to be preferred by restaurants. But saturated oils can raise cholesterol levels, and traditional Mediterranean diets are low in saturated fat, so it is healthier to avoid them when possible. Given the conscientiousness of all the foods served at Chez Panisse, I seriously doubt they are using unhealthy oils in the fish, so I let myself indulge.

One can fry fish at home using healthy oil such as olive oil, grapeseed oil or canola oil
but it makes such a mess and uses so much oil I don’t bother. Once in awhile
though, I like a piece of crispy fish and this is how I make it.

Start with some pieces of fresh sustainably harvested fish. For example, Pacific cod was
used here. This is the short list of ingredients:

Fish ingredients:

24 ounces (1 ½ pounds) fresh cod, rockfish
2 cups cornflake crumbs (you can either buy these already made, or prepare them from
cornflakes. I used organic corn flakes. Put the cornflakes into a ziplock bag and roll over them with a rolling pin until they are crushed, or grind them in the food processor)
1 ½ cups nonfat or lowfat milk
¼ cup organic mayonnaise
California Extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Rub 2 dark nonstick baking sheets (at least 9 by 13 inches in size ) generously with olive
oil or line them with parchment paper and then put rub oil on the paper.

Cut the cod into medium sized pieces. Here I cut it into pieces of about 5-6 by 2-3 inches. Put the pieces of cod in a bowl with the milk to soak for several minutes while you mix
up the coating ingredients.

Put the crushed cornflake crumbs in a container large enough to hold the individual
pieces of fish. Add pepper but do not add salt. Most cornflake crumbs are already amazingly high in sodium.  Put the mayonnaise in another bowl. Remove the cod from the milk, draining it, and stir it in the bowl with the mayonnaise until all pieces are coated evenly with mayonnaise.

One by one remove the pieces of cod and coat them evenly on all sides with the cornflake
crumbs. Then lay them out on the baking sheet. They should not touch each other.

Bake the cod pieces for about 20 to 25 minutes or until they are well browned and crispy.

This can be served with a variety of flavorful sauces based on seasonal produce. For
example you could use the red pepper aioli recipe on this site. You can also use this fish as a filling for fish tacos. I served it with the Fuyu persimmon salsa and this is what it looked like.

Oven fried fish with fuyu persimmon salsa

© 2015. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

The Easiest Home-made Olives Ever

It has been “olive week” here at Burgeson Family Farm.  We made olive oil, which was a 2 day process, and we have been finishing up some batches of home cured olives.

I am going ahead with the post even though I am not crazy about the photos. Starting a blog before you know anything about photography can get you into trouble and that is where I am right about now. Nevertheless, we are getting to the end of olive season here in California and if I do not post this now it will be a full year before olives are around again. So here we go…please excuse the photos…

Olives grow everywhere in California. I am not sure what the history is on that, maybe in the past more people made home-made olives, or maybe they were planted because they are such beautiful trees. But In the fall, olives become somewhat of a nuisance as the olives fall off the tree and litter the ground all over California.  I have always loved olives, I remember putting the pitted California black olives on my fingertips when I was little and eating them off one by one. So when I would see olives on the ground in the fall, it always seemed like such a waste to me. But the methods required to turn those incredibly bitter fruits into something deliciously edible had always seemed foreign and unattainable to me.

We have been making our own olive oil with some friends now for about 10 years, and recently we planted our own little olive grove. I finally decided several years ago to give olive making a try using home-grown olives.  I first tried a lye cure, which is fast and produces very mild green olives, and I have done that for the past few years. I have also tried a slow salt water soak, which took about 6 months to produce tasty black olives, and I have been using last year’s batch in my salads for the past 6 months. I was planning to make some olives using both of these methods this year when I ran into a bit of a problem.

California has a pest called the olive fruit fly, which will bore a hole into the fruit, leaving brown tunnels in its wake. These tunnels make cured olives unacceptable. There are organic ways to control these, but as I have mentioned, we are lazy and don’t tend to spray much of anything, organic or not. This year, when I went to pick olives, the majority of them had the tell-tale spots on the outside that are the hallmark of the fruit fly.

I had been reading about a method of curing the olives with only water, and decided to try a modification of that method to deal with my problem olives. We have now finished one batch and have started on the second and I am happy to report that this also is the easiest and fastest method for making olives ever. If you have access to an olive tree I urge you to get outside in the next few weeks, pick at least a quart or two of olives and give this a try.

We picked these Sevillano olives when they were still green. Sevillano olives are very large, so they are one of the preferred olives for preserving. You can pick them with a bit of color on them as well. If you have smaller olives, such as the Kalamata variety, this water method is a traditional way of preserving them.

Now sort through the olives and get rid of any that have obvious spots on them from the fly. Next, put the olives on a board. Here is one of the Sevillanos.

Now get a mallet or something heavy similar to a mallet and give the olive a smack. Don’t hit it so hard that you crush the pit or smash it to pieces.

My olives were relatively crisp and cracked fairly cleanly. If the olives are black and mushy this method is not going to work!

At his point the normal method is to leave in the pit and cure the olives in this manner. However, I needed to inspect the olives for fly damage in case I missed any. So I went ahead and broke the olives in half and got rid of the pit.

This is an olive with fly damage.

Only one side was damaged (the left, see the brown marks?).  So I took out the pit, threw that side away, and saved the good half.

Once you have cracked all the olives (and removed the pits if you so choose), just put them in a jar and cover them with a lot of good fresh water. Make sure the jar is filled to the top, and put on a lid, so the olives are kept under the water as much as possible. You can even put a smaller plastic jar lid under your wider mouth jar lid if necessary to keep the olives under the water. When they are exposed to air they will turn a bit brown. I really did not care if mine turned a little bit brown so I just filled the jar all the way up and put on the lid.

Let them sit somewhere near a sink, because for the next 7 days or so you will be changing the water every day.  All you do is drain off the water (I put a strainer over the mouth of the jar) and refill with water.  After about 7 days, taste one of the olives. If they are no longer bitter, you are finished with this step. If they are still bitter, continue with this process until the bitterness is gone.

Now they are ready to be flavored. Olives are perishable, so at this point you need to either use them quickly or preserve them in a fairly strong brine.  The recommended brine is made by putting 3/4 cup vinegar in a jar or large container, adding water to equal 1 quart total liquid, then adding 5 Tablespoons of salt. Mix it well to dissolve the salt. You can add dried garlic and/or chili flakes for seasoning. Cover the olives with this brine, and make sure you put a plastic lid or some such under the outer lid to hold the olives down in the brine. Then refrigerate them. I would use them within a few months. If the brine makes them too strong for you, you can soak them in water in the refrigerator for a day or two right before you use them, but then you should use them up right away.

Here are my olives before they were tucked away in the refrigerator:

They are very crisp, so if that is not to your liking, you can bake them for 30 minutes or so, then let them cool before eating. I just put them in the microwave for a minute or two and that softened them up nicely as well.

You also might try baking the unseasoned olives with lemon, salt,  garlic, rosemary and olive oil in a covered dish when you take them out of the water bath, and then you can eat them right away.  MMM, that sounds so good I may need to scrounge up so more olives to preserve so I can give it a try.

I got the original recipe idea from Penna olives. They have directions for making other types of olives, including lye curing, and they sell both uncured and cured olives.

© 2011. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.