Less is often more


"Less is more" is a philosophy I heartily embrace when cooking today, but it was not always so. In the early days of my culinary career, I thought nothing of making recipes that included two pages of ingredients. No dish was too complicated to undertake, no technique too difficult to try.

Oh, how times have changed. I still love good food, but I have much less time to devote to cooking today, so I am always on the lookout for simple dishes filled with robust taste.

Nowhere is food simpler yet more intensely flavored than in Provence, and on a recent visit there, I realized again how uncomplicated yet delicious the dishes from this region of France are. The memories of such modest, unpretentious fare were in my mind when I was trying to decide what to take to a potluck supper last week. I had opted to bring a vegetable, and in the market I couldn't resist a bin of beautiful zucchini. I also picked up a bag of onions. I kept looking for other ingredients but some inner voice kept repeating, "Keep it simple."

And when I got home, I did. I prepared my zucchini the way I remembered the wonderful Provencal eggplant was.

The caramelized zucchini and onions can be cooked a day ahead and actually improves in taste when the flavors have a chance to meld. You can reheat the dish in the oven or in a microwave and add the breadcrumbs at serving time.

Caramelized Zucchini and Onions

Serves 6

1 1/2 to 1 3/4 pounds onions (about 3 large onions)

3 3/4 to 4 pounds zucchini, preferably small rather than large zucchini

6 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more if needed

about 2 teaspoons kosher salt or to taste

1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs (made from good-quality white bread)

Halve onions lengthwise and slice thinly.

Cut off and discard ends from zucchini. Cut zucchini in half and cut each half into julienne strips about 1/2 inch thick.

Place 3 tablespoons oil in each of 2 medium heavy skillets set over medium-high heat. (If you have a 12- to 14-inch skillet, you can use that, but 2 medium skillets work better.) Heat until oil is hot. Add half of onions to each skillet and cook, stirring often, until onions are wilted and golden, about 10 minutes or longer.

Divide zucchini strips between 2 skillets and cook and stir until vegetables are very tender, browned and reduced in volume by about half, 15 to 20 minutes. While cooking, vegetables should stick slightly to bottom of skillets so that they brown and caramelize. If they appear to be burning, add some extra olive oil. When done, season vegetables with salt.

(Vegetables can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cool, then spread in medium-size, oven-to-table baking dish. Cover and refrigerate. Reheat dish, covered loosely in foil, in oven at 350 degrees until hot, 10 to 15 minutes or longer. Or, if using microwave-safe dish, cover with plastic wrap and reheat in microwave according to manufacturer's directions.)

To prepare breadcrumbs, heat remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil in small heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add bread crumbs and stir constantly until rich golden brown and crispy, 3 to 4 minutes. (Breadcrumbs can be made several hours ahead. Keep, uncovered, at room temperature.)

When ready to serve, sprinkle breadcrumbs over warm zucchini and onions.

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