I love judging cooking contests because I can read recipes quickly and in a more careful, analytical way than by thumbing through a cookbook at home. And it’s fascinating to see what other cooks consider their favorite dishes. The most important lesson I’ve learned, however, is that recipes that read well, with many ingredients, often don’t cook well. It’s the plain, drab-sounding recipes that are often the winners.
I’m still cooking some of the winners from the 1979 Contra Costa Recipe Contest, and one that always gets a big vote of approval is Royal Yolks, submitted by Ardith Dahlstrom of Walnut Creek. The concept is simple: Line custard cups with grated cooked zucchini, drop an egg into the zucchini nest and bake. When the egg has set, you have a fine-looking dish with bright green zucchini holding a shirred egg, every inch a winner.
The recipe calls for four pounds of zucchini. This seems like a lot, but after it is cooked and squeezed dry, you will find that there is just enough to line the custard cups. Serve this dish with tomato wedges and warm rolls or toast, plus walnut butter bars for dessert.
The walnut butter bars are outstanding cookies, and like all bar cookies seem more difficult to make than they really are. Actually, it’s a snap to stir the topping ingredients together while the cookie is baking and then just spread the topping over the crust when it is partially baked. Pop it back into the oven and bake 15 minutes more and they’re all ready.
These cookies are among the few that benefit from mellowing overnight in a cookie jar. They also keep better and longer than most. The topping of walnuts, coconut, brown sugar, eggs and a few basic ingredients give a butter-caramel flavor with the added texture of walnut and coconut. Be sure to use light brown sugar--dark brown sugar makes the flavor too intense. You may substitute the coconut by adding another half cup of walnuts.
4 pounds zucchini, stem ends trimmed off
3 tablespoons butter
3 green onions, finely chopped
6 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Coarsely grate zucchini. Place in bowl and sprinkle with 2 teaspoons salt, toss to mix well and let stand 10 minutes. Remove zucchini by handfuls and squeeze to extract all liquid possible. Place zucchini onto paper towels and spread out. Set aside.
Melt butter in saute pan over low heat, add zucchini and green onions and cook, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with pepper. Remove from heat and let stand until cool enough to handle.
Butter 6 (1-cup size) baking ramekins. Divide zucchini mixture into 6 equal portions and line ramekins with zucchini mixture, patting firmly all over sides. Drop 1 egg into each zucchini cup and season to taste with salt. Place ramekins on baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees about 15 minutes, or until whites are set.
Combine mayonnaise, lemon juice and zest in small saucepan. Remove zucchini from oven. Warm mayonnaise mixture over very low heat (overheating will break down mayonnaise). Spoon 1 tablespoon over each serving and serve. Makes 6 servings.
WALNUT BUTTER BARS
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt (if using salted butter, omit salt)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Walnut Butter Topping
Cream butter and sugar in mixing bowl until smooth. Beat in egg until blended. Add flour, salt and vanilla and mix well. Dip fingers into cold water, so they don’t stick to dough, and pat dough evenly over bottom of buttered 13x9-inch baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees about 12 minutes.
Remove from oven and spread Walnut Butter Topping evenly over crust. Return to oven and bake until topping looks set, about 15 minutes. Remove and cool. Make 3 cuts lengthwise and 5 cuts across. Makes 24 (2x2-inch) cookies.
Walnut Butter Topping
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup flake coconut
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
Beat eggs in mixing bowl until foamy. Add brown sugar and beat until smooth. Stir in flour, baking powder, salt and vanilla and mix well. Add coconut and walnuts and stir to mix.