Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Parmesan and Brie Topped Baby Zucchini in a Semolina Crust

Zucchini is caramelized on the stovetop then added to a golden baked semolina crust and topped with Parmesan and Brie for a lovely vegetarian main course, perfect for brunch, lunch or dinner. 

Moving to a new country is all about learning.  Learning the culture, learning the language, trying to find familiar in the unfamiliar and somehow easing into it to create a life where you can be comfortable.  It means readjusting expectations and acknowledging reality, no matter how uncomfortable that may be. 

We always thought we were doing the right thing, this moving around.  First of all, the wide world is where the job was.  Secondly, what an experience for our family, our daughters!  And, I think they both get that.  But what I am not sure they get is that the moves don’t stop when they leave home.  Lately I have been getting a little push back about coming to Cairo to visit.  It seems they are prepared not to like it.  It’s not home.  Yeah, I know that.  And for them it will most likely never be home.  (Heck, I’m still working on that feeling myself!)  I know they objected to every move we made as a family.  I was not prepared for resistance to a move that didn’t technically include their having to adjust to no friends and a new school. 

What I have learned from experience is that the last place is always my favorite because of friends and familiarity and all the little attachments we take for granted when we are there.  It takes a long time for the new place to get like that.   But you have to be willing to give it a chance.  When I had elder daughter, I could never imagine loving another human person as much as I loved her sweet little self.  And then precious younger daughter came along.  And my heart stretched to more love.  I think homes are that way.  You don’t have to love just one.  You can grow to love them all.  But you have to open your mind and heart and risk the hurt of someday leaving, to revel in and relish the place where you are.  So I am working on that.

Yesterday was a holiday in my new home.  I have learned about Sham el-Nessim,  which began as an ancient rite, to celebrate new life and creation.  Nessim means "zephyr," the spring breeze, and sham means "to breathe in."  The date is set to coincide with Easter Monday on the Eastern Orthodox Church calendar, but all Egyptians take part by getting into the great outdoors to picnic on the Nile, in parks or the zoo, and apparently eat salted, fermented fish, while breathing in the Spring air.  While I love a good picnic, this holiday was about faffing about in the kitchen for me, while dear husband got on with his outdoor projects of repairing his dartboard and small barbecue table, which had been damaged in the move.  I did open the windows wide and the zephyr blew through most refreshingly.  And, in honor of Spring, some of my seedlings are sprouting!

For the crust:
1 1/2 cups or 360ml vegetable stock
 3 oz or 85g semolina
3/4 oz 20g Parmesan cheese, finely grated
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (if substituting dried thyme, use half that amount)
1 egg
Olive oil

For the filling:
1 1/2 lbs or 680g baby zucchini (if substituting bigger zucchini, cut out the soft, fluffy inside part where the seeds are)
Sea salt
Black pepper
3/4 oz 20g Parmesan cheese, finely grated
4 1/4 oz or 120g Brie or other soft full fat cheese
1/4 cup or 20g breadcrumbs

Preheat your oven to 350°F or 180°C.

Place the stock in a large saucepan and bring to the boil.  Add the semolina in a steady trickle, stirring continuously.  Keep stirring for three to four minutes until the mixture is thick and fairly solid.  Set aside and leave to cool slightly.

Add the thyme, egg and half of all the Parmesan cheese to the semolina mixture.  This will require a few minutes of turning and pressing with the back of your stirring spoon to incorporate.  Just keep on mixing till it’s smooth again. 

That is a whole egg.  You just can't see the white.

Oil a normal pie plate with a drizzle of olive oil.  Spread your semolina dough on the bottom and up the sides of the pan.  Wet your hands slightly to stop the dough from sticking to you.  Drizzle on a little more olive oil and spread it around gently with a pastry brush.

Pop this in the oven for about 25-30 minutes or until you have some browning around the edges.

Meanwhile, wash your zucchini, cut the tops and tails off and cut them lengthwise into quarters and slice your garlic.

Heat a non-stick skillet up on the stove and when it is roasting hot, dump all the zucchini into the pan.  No oil yet!

Cook on high, stirring or tossing frequently, until the zucchini get lots of nice brown bits all over, which takes about 5-8 minutes.  

Sprinkle with salt and pepper and then add in the garlic.  Turn the heat down to medium.

Give the whole thing a liberal dose of olive oil and toss or stir the zucchini and garlic around in the pan for another minute or two.  Turn the fire off.

Chop your Brie or other melty cheese into little pieces.  Take off the outside rind if you want to.  Mine was hard and dried in a couple of places, so I removed that and left the rest. 

Add the breadcrumbs which will help the Brie pieces stop sticking all together. With your hands, gently mix the Brie with the Parmesan and the breadcrumbs.

When your pie crust is done, take it out of the oven, but leave the oven on.  Tip the zucchini and garlic into the crust and then try to arrange them somewhat neatly. 

Cover the top with your cheese and breadcrumb mixture and pop the pie back in the oven.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the cheese is melted and it is lightly browned.

Here’s where my husband wanders in, his projects finished, and says “Whatcha cooking?”  And when I answer "baby zucchini baked with Brie," his eyes light up and I laugh out loud with the man who loves my cooking.  And dotes on his daughters.  I know they will come around to see why visiting Cairo is a good idea.  Because we are here and we are trying to make it a home.  Just doing our best with open hearts. And, at least yesterday, open windows. 



  1. Beautifully thought-out, written and described so well...oh, and the food looks delicious too!

  2. Thanks, Mary. Your kind words make me feel better! And it was pretty tasty.

  3. I've been reading your blog for a while and I just wanted to say that I really enjoy the way you wind your expat viewpoint around your food and recipes. I can understand what's going on with your daughters as well - we moved to Seoul *after* Son#1 graduated from high school, and when he comes to visit from Uni, it's very much a tourist experience. On the other hand, Seoul is 'home' for Son#2- where his friends and his school and his life are.
    I'm a competent - not fabulous - cook, but I enjoy your recipes and love your step-by-step visuals. My husband's family is from Louisiana and I suspect you are the cook they would have wanted him to marry! ; )

  4. MsCaroline, you have made my day! Thank you so much for reading my blog and taking the time to leave such a generous comment. This life is a challenge, as I know you know, but really, I wouldn't have it any other way.

    I enjoyed your post about looking for the cherry blossoms in Seoul and had to laugh when you found them minutes from your house, after searching far and wide all day. Isn't that a perfect metaphor for life? We look and look and had what we needed all along, if only we knew. Kind of like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. : )

    I suspect you are exactly the right wife for MrL!

    Fond regards,


  5. I love your story about moving. I'm sure this is just one of many stories. We've lived in 11 countries and our two children went to school on four different continents. They also disliked leaving their friends each time, but they got on with it and I think despite all the moving are quite balanced human beings now they're grown up. Travel as expats has its ups and downs, doesn't it. Seems like you've learned to cook like an angel over the years - I'm going to pin this recipe for sure :)

  6. The expat life does have its ups and downs but I do believe the positive outweighs the negative. Both girls have written essays over the years that describe the experience positively so I know it's all going to be all right in the end. Each fresh move is always a challenge and an adjustment though. It's always nice to hear from someone else who has chosen to raise expat children and lived to tell the tale. Thank you for your kind words, Johanna!


Where in the world are you? Leave me a comment! It makes me happy to know you are out there.