Zucchini, walnut and raisin pastries

Zucchini walnut pastries

A few months ago, my friend Tony described something I’d written in these virtual pages as an “essay.” That idea was so pleasing to me, and it’s something I’ve thought a lot about since. I like the idea of writing essays. In school I used to love essay tests. I felt like I didn’t really understand whatever I was writing about until I started writing about it, and then connections would come flying out at me. I found it quite exciting (I was a weird kid). On the one hand, essays feel so substantial and victorian. Move over, John Stewart Mill, and make room for my landmark essay, “On beets.” Today’s essayists are serious people who write important words for the New York Times. Which obviously isn’t me (although, NYT, if you’re looking for somebody to write about zucchini, fireflies and hip hop versions of War and Peace, I’m your woman!) On the other hand – the smiling side of the janus face, if you will – is the fact that “essay” comes from the word “to try.” How lovely is that! You’re not succeeding (or failing). You’re not even worried about that! You’re just giving it a go. It’s all about the journey, man – process not product, man. According to the highly reliable dictionary that pops up on my computer when I press a button (definitive source!) the “try” in “essay” doesn’t just mean “attempt.” It also means “test,” or “weigh.” As in “I tried the strength of the rope bridge that crossed over the fiery ravine before I commenced my journey upon it.” Interesting! If you’re following along at home, you’ll recall my infatuation with the word Selah, which also meant “to weigh.” I think of selah as being about feeling the weight of the words, and valuing that, and essay as being about testing the weight of the words by sending them out there and watching whether they sink or swim. (“What is she going on about?!” you’re asking yourself. It’s 97 degrees here! My brain is all melting and wobbly!) One thing I’ve been thinking about essays, as it directly relates to this collection of recipes, is that cooking is like writing essays. You have an idea, you try it. You weigh the possibilities, you weigh the ingredients. (I’m almost done, I promise! I’ve nearly followed this unravelling line of thought to its illogical conclusion.) You don’t know how it will turn out, and that’s why it’s fun to try. If you think that it might not come out well, you’ll won’t make the attempt. And there’s so much joy in trying!

I have a lot of zucchini from my CSA, and I’ve been thinking for a while about combining it with raisins, walnuts, goat cheese, cinnamon and basil, in some sort of dish. I thought I’d try (segue!) rolling it into a pastry, because a crispy layer would be so pleasant with the soft zucchini and goat cheese. I put a bit of lemon zest in the pastry dough, for piquancy. And I wanted to have a couple of sauces to dip the pastries in, so I decided to shape the pastry like little christmas crackers, so that when you broke it in half, you have two little tabs to hold onto, while you dip, and then you have a nice, buttery-lemony crispy bite to end with. I think it turned out well! I’m going to make other stuffings for this shape of pastry, because it’s so much fun to eat with your hands and dip things! For dipping sauces I used two leftover from a takeout Indian meal (lazy, I know, but they’re so good you can’t just throw them out!) That’s the sweetish tamarind one, and the cilantro mint one. And then I made some good old-fashioned basil/pine nut/garlic/parmesan pesto. I mellowed it out a bit by adding a teaspoon of honey, and by roasting the garlic.

zucchini walnut pastry

Here’s James Brown’s Try Me, one of my favorite songs ever!

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