My husband is away, which among other implications means the morning chores are all mine. I loaded the wood furnace without singeing off my eyelashes--a major victory, considering my record--and fed the sheep. Here are a couple of facts about sheep, for those of you who do not live with them. In the summer, sheep are as finicky as cats. Patches of grass that look lush and delicious even to those of us with two legs and one stomach are passed over with a sniff if that’s not the mood they are in that day. Treats are carefully examined and considered from all angles, and after some deliberation may or may not be cautiously accepted.
All the plants in “my” “garden,” of course, are pre-approved in any season in which they manage to poke their heads up, and are summarily dispatched when access is granted. But I’m not talking old grudges right now. What I meant to tell you is that in winter, sheepy tunes change. My husband hays all summer, which is among both the calmest and most meditative of farm tasks and also the most stressful and arduous. Thanks to this labor of his, every day, all winter long, bale-of-hay is the special of the day, the appetizer, the entrée and dessert in the Sheeptown Café, because it is basically the only thing on the menu.
But do you see a “Hay? Again? Not hay again!” expression on their faces? No, you do not. If they could clap, they would, as you approach with the bale. “Look! Guys, look! She’s bringing hay! AGAIN!”
Treats, too, are suddenly big news and a broad category. Finicky summer tastes fade to memory, as their need for the this-and-that provided by a diet of fresh greens cannot be met in the bale. Their enthusiasm for carrot tops and lettuce butts and apple cores may not surprise you, but the excitement of being handed a pile of lime rinds (we generate a lot of lime rinds) might. My husband reports that after he’s given them a mineral block from the feed store (kind of like a salt lick, but also kind of like a Kit-Kat bar, as they load it with molasses to make it palatable), their interest in these things wanes.
Bringing this neatly back around to Vegetable Week, rest assured I am not suggesting you eat lime rinds or hay. I am suggesting zucchini pancakes. They are entirely unlike a bale of hay in real terms. I make them a lot and everyone is happy to see them regardless, so in that sense they are metaphorically similar. Because I was trying to cast a wide net, wider than my usual bag of old stand-by tricks, I was not going to include them.
But something in her expression suggested that I should.
In the summer, when zucchini are everywhere, this is a nice way to dispatch some. In the winter, when they have to jet in from elsewhere, this means you will not mind if the zucchini are not bursting with summer sunlight. It’s the mint that elevates the goings-on here, makes your mouth happy and wakes up senses that may have been hibernating a bit, so don’t skip that if you can help it. These are more savory and satisfying than the otherwise simple ingredients might have you think. One of my housemates is a confirmed Zucchini Hater, but gobbles these right up. It's the pancake factor, I think.
zucchini feta pancakes
adapted from Mollie Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook
4 c coarsely grated zucchini
1 c crumbled feta cheese (about 4 ozs)
2T minced scallions or chives
1T finely chopped fresh mint
Fresh pepper to taste
1/3 c cornmeal (corn, millet or rice flour can be substituted, as can regular wheat flour if you are not avoiding it)
Olive oil for the pan
Lightly beat the eggs in a large bowl, then add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. The mixture will be mostly zucchini, bound by a little batter. The longer this mixture sits, the more water will be extracted from the zucchini by the salt in the feta, so it's best for the texture to cook them right up; if you need to do some advance work to make these possible, just prep all the bits ahead of time and then combine them right before you cook. Heat a medium heavy skillet and add oil enough to coat the bottom of it; let the oil get hot enough to race around the pan. Drop the batter in by 1/3 cupfuls and turn the heat down to low-medium; fry the pancakes until they are a nice golden brown and flip to repeat. Take some time to let them brown slowly and well and they will not be hard to flip. These can be kept warm in a 250 degree oven as you go, or eaten at room temperature, and leftovers ride happily in someone's lunch the next day.