As anyone who grows vegetables can tell you, it is easy to find yourself drowning in summer squash. We're not gardeners, but even so we find ourselves overwhelmed by the sheer abundance of squash this month. Last week, we were wandering around Prospect Heights when we came across a plastic bag full of zucchini hanging from the fence in front of one of the brownstones. A sign above the bag declared that the zucchini came from a farm upstate, and begged passers by to take some. There is no escaping the summer squash! Not that drowning in summer squash sounds like such a bad way to go, mind.
This dish tastes a bit like a meaty Szechuan version of ratatouille. 'Ma la' means 'numb and spicy', referring to the heat of the cayenne and the tingliness of the Szechuan peppercorns in this dish. Here, we've melded that classic flavor combination with the very French/Italian combination of zucchini and tomato, which you'll remember from the triumphant dish featured in recent film Ratatouille. (Incidentally, we just can't recommend the film highly enough. Pixar really understands what makes great food great. We love the scene where they show how well they get it.)
Roly-poly squash looks like zucchini's chubby baby brother. The taste is fairly similar, but when we have the chance to go for cute vegetables over monstrous ones, well, that's just the way we swing.
Ma La Chicken with Roly-Poly Squash
4 large shallots, chopped
1 lb chicken breast, chopped into bite-sized chunks
2 bananas, peeled and sliced into 1/4" thick rounds
3 small roly-poly squash (or 1 large zucchini), cut into thin strips (as if you were making crispy fries)
2 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
2 tbsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp ground szechuan peppercorns
1 tsp ground cinnamon
t/4 tsp ground turmeric
A pinch of ground clove
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a cast iron pan, add some oil, then add the chicken breast in a single layer and brown. Once it is nicely browned, remove the check and set it aside. Add in and brown the shallots, then return the chicken and stir in all of the other ingredients as well. Cook over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, or until done.
Up until just a few years ago, it was illegal to import Szechuan peppercorns into the United States. Now, you can find them in the larger Chinatown supermarkets, and we're told they even grow wild in Prospect Park.
Try putting one in your mouth for a moment, then spitting it out. Your lips will tingle, and if you leave it in too long, your mouth will go numb. It's more of a sensation than a flavor, and it's absolutely fascinating and fun to play with when cooking.
Roly-poly squash and beautiful fresh tomatoes are in season and easily found at the greenmarkets this month.