Spicy Zucchini Firecrackers

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Enjoy a quick veggie recipe that explodes with flavor.

By Kevin RR Williams

RECIPE Zucchini may not be the most flavorful or aromatic vegetable. Yet, because of its texture and nutritional value, it is found in breads, fried appetizers and vegetable medleys.

Zucchini Firecrackers make an elegant main course over pasta with pesto sauce. They can also be served as appetizers or side dish. One of the best things about them is Firecrackers portion well for individuals or groups with minimal preparation.

Preparation is Easy

This prep should take less than 10 minutes, depending upon how many zucchinis you are preparing. Each one yields 10 to 20 slices (measure the length in inches and divide in half to determine how much is necessary).

Heat olive oil in large skillet. Wash and and chop zucchini into 1/2 inch rounds. Use an apple corer to punch out the centers and set aside. Chop mozzarella stick into 1/8 inch rounds and set aside; cutting same amount as your have zucchini rounds. Slice the same amount of pepper as thinly as possible; use apple corer to trim pepper rounds. (For extra color and crunch, you can dice thin carrots 1/16 x 1/2 inch as decorative fuses.)

Sear and Assemble

Place the zucchini centers first on the hot skillet first and lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper; they should sizzle for a minute or two until seared. Turn them over and add the outer zucchini rounds to the skillet. Salt and pepper the rounds. Quick sears of about a minute on each side keep the vegetables warm. Place a slice of pepper in the center of each zucchini round and top with mozzarella. If you made carrot fuses, cut a small nick in center of the small zucchinis before forcing the carrots through. Now insert the zucchini centers through the holes on top of the cheese. Use a spatula or fork to scrape the seared firecrackers from the skillet intact.

Adjusting For Tastes

Jalapeno chili peppers vary in hotness. I like them pretty spicy. It is a good idea to bite one to test how explosive your firecrackers will be. Serrano chilies may be a bit milder and can fit within the holes of the zucchini but unless the fit is snug, they can fall out. If you really want to play it safe for varying palates, Ortega chilies are very mild. If the peppers are not large enough to be cut with the apple corer and remain intact, you can scramble a small egg and pour a quarter teaspoon into the zucchini hole to hold small peppers together.

As far as cheeses go, you want a firm, not oozy consistency. Avoid the soft fresh mozzarella. The firm sticks work perfectly, acting like a "glue" to hold all the pieces together. If sticks aren't handy, you can use the apple corer on a slice of Baby Swiss or block mozzarella. For more of a flavor burst, before dropping the mozzarella into the zucchini, shake the cut pieces in a sandwich bag with smoked paprika until well coated.

It is best to pop the entire assembled zucchini in your mouth. As you set the pepper side down on your tongue and begin to chew, you should feel the flavor explosion. Usually, the first one feels hotter than subsequent ones. But there's a trick to adjusting the heat while dining; place them in your mouth upside down, so the pepper touches the roof of your mouth rather than your tongue when chewing.

Since this recipe includes cheese, it is more suitable, as described, for vegetarians than for vegans. However, a characteristic of tofu cheeses is that they do not melt very well. Since this recipe calls for a firm cheese, it is likely that the mozzarella cheese can be substituted with a vegan cheese. If you do, let me know how it tastes!

Tags: chefs, cooks, dietitians, herbivores, hot, nutritionists