Mona Lisa Revisionist


So, you’ve got a copy of the Mona Lisa hanging in your living room.  Don’t ask why.  You just do.  Then, after living with the picture for a few weeks, you finally start to let go of the notion that the painting if perfect in everyone’s eyes.  In other words, you begin to think about ways of improving the Mona Lisa.  She needs more bling you decide.  You begin by painting in a few decorative rings on the fingers.  Then a necklace.  Lipstick and eye shadow.  Is this sacrilege?  Is this totally wrong?  After all, you’re the one who has to live with the painting.

When I made a recipe from Yotem Ottolenghi’s cookbook Jerusalem.  I had received a jar of za’atar and was itching to use it. The recipe I chose was “Roasted Butternut Squash & Red Onion with Tahini and Za’atar.”  I made it, and it was great.  But then, I began to think . . .

Is it sacrilege to change a recipe developed by Yotem Ottolenghi?  Probably.  I would defer to him on any food matters.  Except, I’ve got this thing about wanting to feel free to change recipes– to tinker with them, so that they fit my own tastes, inadequacies, or limited supply of exotic ingredients.  So, after making “Roasted Butternut Squash & Red Onion with Tahini and Za’atar,” I’ll have to rename it the next time I make it. 

Next time, I will ditch the onions.  (This was a group decision by those of us eating it, although I think there may have been an unfair anti-onion /pro-squash bias, meaning that the onions didn’t stand a chance.)  I’ll also replace the pine nuts with walnuts just because I don’t want to have to remortgage the house every time I make it.  I’ll make a few other changes, too, but I don’t feel like letting them get out on the internet because, to many people, they would be cringeworthy in a culinary sense.

And so, the next time I make this wonderful dish, I’ll do it differently.  Yes, I realize it’s like altering Munsch’s “The Scream” to become, “The Yodel,” or Monet’s “Waterlilies” to become, “Waterlilies with Man Doing Backstroke.”  But ultimately, it comes down to the fact that I’m the one eating, “Roasted Butternut Squash & No Red Onion with Tahini If You Have Any and Za’atar on a Tight Budget.” 



The Evolution of the Zucchini Fry

In your alphabetic cookbook, very likely the last recipe will involve zucchini since the consumption of zebra just seems wrong, and your abhorrence of cannibalism forbids you to eat zombies.

On a related note:  You love fries but know that eventually they will be blamed for your early death, so you seek out “healthy alternatives.”  Yams work, and zucchinis definitely qualify.  Plus, they start with ‘Z.’

Zucchini fries seem like a pretty perfect combo.

So, you strike out to make zucchini fries and soon discover that the “Preparation to Consumption Time” ratio of these stringy little veggies is about 263 to 1.  Microscopic slicing to transform a zucchini into a bunch of fry-shaped pieces, shaking them up in a flour-filled bag, one dip, another dip, then laying them out on a rack to bake– you know there’s got to be a better way.


And then, it strikes you.  Use your zucchini as a mandolin pick and slice them up into rounds. 


For some reason, the whole process seems much less laborious.  But there’s one problem.  There’s no longer the illusion that you’re eating fries.  You can’t even call them Zucchini Fries because, with fries, the shape is a pretty critical part of their definition.  So, you refine the name, arriving at a compromise that pays tribute to the original recipe but clarifies one essential difference.  

Once you make them, you realize they represent a fitting final entry in your alphabetic cookbook.  That is, until the day arrives when you develop a liking for zabaglione.

This recipe is adapted from one found on Budget Byte$.

Circular Zucchini Fries

You’ll need:

1 lb. zucchini
¼ cup all-purpose flour
⅛ tsp salt
1 cup bread crumbs
¼ cup parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp seasoning like dried oregano, basil or something Italians would use.
1 large chicken egg
1 Tbsp water


1.  Use a mandolin or a wickedly sharp knife to slice the zucchini into 1/4” thick rounds.

2.  Throw them all in a plastic bag with 1/4 cup of flour and 1/8 tsp of salt.  Shake!  Shake!  Shake!  

3.  In a bowl, mix together the bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, and seasoning.

4.  In another bowl, crack in the egg and add a splash of water (1 Tbsp or so) then whisk it up.

5.  Here’s the messy part, but it’s totally worth it, so tough it out and you’ll be glad you did when you snack on these beauties–  Dip each zucchini slice in the egg, then the dry mix. 

6.  Place them on a wire cooling rack which sits on a cookie sheet covered with tinfoil.  The thing about the rack is that it elevates the zucchini, giving them a sense of self-importance and a tendency to bake without getting all mushy.

7.  Bake at 425 F for ABOUT 15 minutes, depending upon how thickly you sliced the zucchini.  I can’t really tell you how to test that they’re done other than say to sacrifice one of the pieces at the front of the rack and periodically bite into it to test for doneness.  It may not sound elegant, but it’s effective, and which would you rather be:  elegantly ineffective or inelegantly effective?