A photo of healthy fruits, veggies, nuts and fish

The Peasant Kitchen

What’s the peasant kitchen?

The peasant kitchen’s emphasis is using the freshest ingredients available – relying on nature’s produce and the local offerings of the soil, the seas and the lakes.

In his recent Flavors of Tucson City of Gastronomy: Fresh from the Farmers Market class, Maynards Chef/Owner Brian Smith shared a kitchen rule: Vegetables and fruits must come from an Arizona farm. While he’s a world-class chef (also blessed with an organic garden and grove at Maynards) and I’m a home cook, I think it’s kinda neat we share common ground of seasonality first.

What about your kitchen? Is it merely a functional space? Is it the heart of your home – a place where food, family and friends come together, making inventive and spontaneous dishes with ease and pleasure?

My nana had a root cellar and shelves lined with the canned and pickled bounty faithfully reflecting the calendar as the seasons came and went. That lives on in me, minus the root cellar.

A plethora of Tucson chefs share Chef Brian’s, and my nana’s, philosophy. Some are even able to venture into their restaurant or home gardens for inspiration and ingredients. They have relationships with farmers and ranchers, highlighting locally raised items on their menus.

For 30 years, from her catering to the bodega to the takeout, Kristine Jensen, chef/owner of Gallery of Food, seasonality has been her guiding principle. In July, she brought FarmDrop to Tucson, a collaborative online marketplace hosting multiple farmers and producers. You order and pay from each week’s availability and either pick up at Gallery of Food or opt for delivery with a charge based on your ZIP code.

The perfect meatball should be like a cloud, not like a rock. Join Chris DeSimone on September 20 to master this kitchen staple two ways: Italian & Greek style, along with making marinara and tzatziki sauces. Just a few seats remain.

Carne asada is usually a noun, but on October 11, Felipe Garcia, foodie, cook, blogger and president/CEO of Visit Tucson will teach you it’s also a verb – the experience of bringing people together, storytelling, cooking and the sights and smells of meat grilling, chiles and tomatoes charring for salsa and tortillas warming. You’ll make it three ways: Taco, Lorenza and Caramelo.

Football season is finally here. On October 20, cook with UArizona legends Coach Ricky and LaMonte Hunley in their Cooking with the Wildcats class. On the menu: Lemon and Wine Marinated Baked Salmon; Bok Choy Salad with Strawberry, Pear, Apple, Jalapeño and Sesame Seeds; Sautéed Spinach; and Key Lime Pie. Oh, talking plenty of football, too.

Biscotti is the perfect cookie for dunking in coffee, tea or wine. A staple of Italian kitchens for generations, on October 22, join Certified Executive Chef and Slow Food Southern Arizona President Barry Infuso for a fun morning preparing this twice-baked treat. You’ll leave with ready-to-bake dough that’ll yield about 10 dozen cookies.

In November, Chef Janet Balderas, who’ll be running the kitchen at the highly anticipated Mojo Cuban Kitchen & Rum Bar, will bring those flavors to her class. Stay tuned for the details.

News & Notes
Sonoran Restaurant Week is in full swing! With about 100 places to choose from, there’s something for everyone. Prices for the three-course prix fixe menus are $25, $35 and $45.

At 7 p.m. on Wednesday, tickets go on sale on Eventbrite for the latest Gastronomic Union of Tucson dinner: Right Here, Right Now – Hyperlocal & Seasonal. The last dinner sold out in 15 minutes; limit four tickets per transaction.

Congratulations to Chef Tyler Fenton at the crew at BATA, 35 E. Toole Ave., on being named one of the 50 Best New Restaurants in America by Bon Appétit magazine.

Wishing you joy in the kitchen,

Stuffed Zucchini Florentine
Yield: 4 servings

4-6 medium zucchini
12 oz. fresh spinach
5 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons scallion, finely minced
1 garlic clove, minced
Freshly ground white pepper
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ cup whole milk, heating to boiling
3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

1. Wash and dry zucchini then cut off and discard stems. Heat oven to 350°F.
2. In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil. Add zucchini and cook over medium heat 8 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and cool.
3. Add spinach to the boiling water and cook over high heat 5 minutes. Drain thoroughly, pressing out moisture with your hands. Finely chop and set aside.
4. Cut a ¼ -inch strip lengthwise off each zucchini. Finely mince. Carefully scoop out the flesh without breaking the shell. Reserve flesh for another use.
5. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a heavy skillet. Add scallion and minced zucchini and cook over low heat 3-4 minutes or until scallion is soft but not browned. Add spinach and garlic. Season with salt and pepper; partially cover and cook another 5 minutes. Set aside.
6. Melt 1 ½ tablespoons butter in a small heavy saucepan. Add flour and cook 1-2 minutes, whisking constantly without browning. Remove pan from the heat, add milk all at once and whisk until mixture is completely smooth. Return to heat and cook until very thick; season with salt and pepper and set aside.
7. Add spinach mixture to sauce and stirring well to combine. Taste and correct seasoning, then spoon into zucchini boats.
8. Melt remaining butter in a heatproof rectangular baking dish. Arrange zucchini in the dish, sprinkle Parmesan cheese on tops. Bake 15 minutes, then broil 3-4 minutes or until tops are nicely browned. Serve hot.

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