As we moved from pandemic to endemic last year, we all wanted things to go back to normal, whatever that normal might look like. And it felt like we were ready for celebration and revelry starting with Thanksgiving, continuing through the December observances, and finishing up with a Happy New Year toast.
Well, yes … and no. It seems that autumn brought a triple play of viruses to our area, with both teachers and students missing multiple days of school. I seem to have avoided all of them (knock wood, puh-puh-puh, or whatever you do to ward off a jinx), and I ended up covering in the classroom for so many colleagues who were down for the count. Nonetheless there were secret snowflake gift exchanges, candy cane sales, sweet treats in the faculty rooms, delicious food presents from friends far and wide, and a lot of good cooking with those gifts. I definitely felt that I indulged a bit, and quite happily did so, for it was wonderful to enjoy the season in ways I had not since 2019.
Now it’s back to reality, the humdrum doldrums of deep winter, and often we take turning the page on the calendar as the impetus to begin anew and make resolutions to better ourselves, our lives and our world. A perennial theme relates to health. Exercise is one subset of this topic (and I am reminded how devotees of going to the gym hate the month of January when the facilities and classes are more crowded!) and another is healthy eating. Maybe you want to cut back on portion size and calories, or perhaps to make a commitment to more plant-based eating. Either way, it can be challenging to come up with ways to make food delicious without some of the most tasty, but less healthy, ingredients.
I’ve been playing around for a while with a crumb topping for vegetables. It is so easy and so versatile, and will bring a bit of pep to your plate. Although it uses Parmesan and thus is not vegan, a common substitute is nutritional yeast and I am sure that would work well. For the zucchini version below, I sauté them in a pan with a bit of olive oil. Roasting works well for many other vegetables, and the crumb topping can likewise just be sprinkled on top. If you are steaming something, such as broccoli or green beans, you will want to drizzle a bit of olive oil over the breadcrumb-topped vegetables.
Whether you want to eat more vegetables, or just want a tasty topping for your veggie sides, this is a quick and easy way to add some zest — pun intended!
ZUCCHINI WITH LEMON-PARMESAN BREADCRUMBS (GOOD WITH OTHER VEGETABLES, TOO!)
1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs, regular, panko, or homemade
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon lemon zest, about ½ lemon
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
2-2 1/2 pounds zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch-thick half moons
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or more to taste, and optional)
Warm about 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a small sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add the breadcrumbs and cook for about a minute until they begin to toast a bit. Do not leave the pan for even a second as the breadcrumbs can burn quite suddenly. Remove from the heat and allow to cool before adding the Parmesan, lemon zest and garlic powder. Mix to combine.
Heat the remaining oil in a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the zucchini, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper, if using. Sauté, stirring frequently, for 10-15 minutes until zucchini is softened and beginning to brown. If you want more caramelization, you can cook a bit longer.
Remove the zucchini to a serving dish and sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture on top. Serve warm or at room temperature.
If using the breadcrumb topping on steamed vegetables, drizzle a bit of extra virgin olive oil over the top before serving.