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Our friend Terry said something to us last week about how culture is like a thumbprint embedded on our souls. Like a lot of things we don’t pick or ask for, that thumbprint is predetermined for us when we’re born; it surrounds us; we swim in it.
Like the air we breath, our culture is part of everything we think and do, affecting us, being affected by us, and yet virtually unnoticeable.
I am a different person because I was born into the geographic location of the Chicago suburbs and not South Florida or small-town Texas or northern California, I realize, the first child of a Midwestern couple who were starting a new business, not working at office jobs, and a new family, not a big one, in the early 1980s.
My personality and perspectives have been affected by a childhood in private school instead of public school where my mom and not my dad cooked most nights and my family ate out often. I went to northern Wisconsin most summers, not the East or the West.
It was normal to me that people sent annual Christmas cards and gifts required thank-you notes and when someone came over to your house you should try to be a good host.
Most of the ways I’ve been affected by the culture I grew up in are so tied up into the way I look at things and do things, I can only see them when I step outside that culture into a new one, like I’ve done over the last three years, surrounded by different people who didn’t grow up in Naperville, Illinois.
Until I’m confronted with someone else’s reality – in a new place or in a new conversation, in a story over coffee or in a story on a big screen – it’s hard to see the world as bigger than what I experience with my own pair of eyes.
I’ve always been fascinated by this. It’s why I like books and blogs and meeting open people who will talk about their lives. It’s also part of what’s drawn me to a new book, Smitten with Squash, from the Minnesota Historical Society, written by our blog friend Amanda Paa.
It’s the fourth in what the MHS calls The Northern Plate Series, a book collection that celebrates, one by one, foods that are beloved and prolific in the American Midwest.
If you didn’t grow up in the middle of the United States, you may or may not be familiar with the annual bumper crop of squash everybody’s talking about around this time of year. But when I was a kid, summer meant people would bring bags of zucchini to school or to church, handing them out to anyone who wanted them and would use them up.
People put zucchini in cakes at church potlucks. There were zucchini gratins and zucchini slices roasted on the grill.
And apparently what I experienced in Illinois is not too different from what others experienced in Minnesota, nor what Tim and I experienced at our farm pickup last week when there was a take-as-much-as-you-can approach going on with the plethora of summer squash.
“Summer squash is promiscuous without even trying to be,” Amanda writes. “It’s a shame they are sometimes taken for granted, which most often happens when they are growing at the speed of weeds.”
It’s funny, but when I read those words, I mostly think how much it makes sense to me, how alike a life in Minnesota can be to a life in Illinois, how people in certain regions have relatable experiences simply because of weather and the way things grow.
I like when it’s easy to picture what someone else is talking about. I like it when what someone’s saying makes sense, even if that something he or she is saying is about a simple, fairly basic thing like food.
As mentioned above, the idea for this recipe comes from Amanda Paa’s Smitten with Squash (Northern Plate Series) cookbook, which we were sent a copy of, and the cheesy zucchini crisps are an adaptation of her zatar-spiced Parmesan zucchini crisps on page 21.
As written, this recipe makes simple, fresh, squash-flavored soup for two and cheesy zucchini crispies for a crowd. This is because I quadrupled the original cheesy crisps recipe in favor of the rather large amount of squash I had shredded in the food processor…. and I made extra.
If you, on the other hand, want just a few crispies, reduce the crisps recipe by four (i.e., try shredding 1/2 squash to start).Print
A simple, fresh, squash-flavored soup for two and cheesy zucchini crispies with a tray full of cheesy zucchini crispies, with fried basil to garnish.
For the Soup:
- 3 yellow zucchini squash, chopped into rounds
- 1 leek, chopped into rounds
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/8 cup milk
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
For the Cheesy Zucchini Crispies:
- 1 1/2 large yellow zucchini squash, chopped (or 2 cups shredded zucchini)
- 3 3/4 cups shredded Pecorino cheese
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons Italian (or za’atar) seasoning
Fried Basil Leaves (Optional):
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 6 to 10 leaves of fresh basil
- Fill a large stockpot with three quarts of water (and a pinch of salt, if desired), and bring to a boil over medium to high heat. Add chopped squash and leeks, cover the pot and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook for about 20 minutes or until vegetables are fork-tender.
- Meanwhile, start the cheesy zucchini crispies: Preheat the oven to 375F/190C and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the chopped zucchini in a food processor until it’s shredded.
- Then, place the shredded zucchini in a tea towel and wring it out over the sink as much as possible to remove the excess water. In a large bowl, combine the wrung-out squash with cheese, olive oil and seasoning.
- Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and scoop spoonfuls of the mixture onto prepared baking sheets. Flatten each one, leaving room between each mound.
- Bake crispies for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown and shimmering. (I did this in two batches, i.e., four sheets total.) When crispies are done, remove from oven and let cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a serving dish.
- Once vegetables are softened, drain the water from the pot. Then, in the same pot, mash vegetables with a large fork or a potato masher until smashed throughout. Add butter, milk, salt and pepper, and mash with a large fork until combined.
- Then, use an immersion blender to smooth out the mixture (alternative: transfer mixture in batches to a Vitamix or food processor). You want to almost purée the mixture but not quite, so that there are still some chunks throughout. Taste and adjust for salt as you like.
- Serve soup hot, topped with cheesy zucchini crispies and, if desired, the fried basil leaves (see below).
- Optional extra step: warm a tablespoon of coconut oil in a small saucepan until hot. Lay basil leaves inside for a minute or two, until crisp. Remove to a paper-towel-lined plate to dry. (This is very easy and very fast but fairly impressive and fun.)
What about you? Did you make this recipe and love it as much as we did? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below and please rate the recipe!
Are you looking for more tasty summertime soup recipes? Some of our favorites will tickle your tummy?
Photos by Shanna Mallon, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on June 4th, 2014. Last updated: September 20, 2022 at 11:44 am.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Shanna Mallon
Shanna Mallon is a freelance writer who holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her work has been featured in a variety of media outlets, including The Kitchn, Better Homes & Gardens, Taste of Home, Houzz.com, Foodista, Entrepreneur, and Ragan PR. In 2014, she co-authored The Einkorn Cookbook with her husband, Tim. Today, you can find her digging into food topics and celebrating the everyday grace of eating on her blog, Go Eat Your Bread with Joy. Shanna lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with Tim and their two small kids.