Paula Deen and Hemingway

Photo Credit: Rob Oneal
It is perhaps very un-localish of me to get excited at the prospect of a national spotlight on my beloved keys, but I admit that I like when people learn about them. So many people either don’t know that the keys exist or they associate the “keys” with Duval St. and there’s the end of it. They don’t know about the important, and sometimes crazy, role the keys have played in America’s history or the significance the keys have had in shaping many artists that we’ve come to love (Jimmy Buffet and Ernest Hemingway are just the tip of the iceberg my friends). Exposure, of course, is good on the one hand for the local economy, but also disruptive. It puts stress on an already tense relationship to a delicate ecology and on the economic politics that run these small islands. Still, I get a little heady at the prospect of fame for the place I love, so I was thrilled to see a family friend (and keys local) post this video of Paula Deen and her husband chatting about his bid to become the next “Papa” at the Key West Hemingway Look-Alike Contest.
I’m now majorly kicking myself for not going this year. I was first introduced to Paula Deen when I started watching the food network to teach myself how to cook. Then my late grandma Ann, bless her, gave me one of her cookbooks. Grandma Ann and Paula cooked very similar, butter laden, Southern meals which I enjoyed at holidays, but which I never felt the need to replicate on a daily basis. I found Paula’s preferred dishes for entertaining (at least in my cookbook) to be clunky and a bit old-fashioned. However, I always enjoyed catching her on Food Network because of her bubbly personality and ease in the kitchen. She is not above reproach for some of her antiquated ideas, but I like to think she’s turned over a new leaf in recent years. I know that I enjoy watching her sons’ cooking shows as much as hers and their recipes (which are lighter and more modern) even better.
Speaking of lighter and modern, I broke out my mandolin again to slice up four medium sized zucchini into “noodles” to make lasagna! My traditional lasagna with real noodles is the first dish I made for Mr. Foodie on our third date. He loved it A LOT for a man who doesn’t usually care for pasta dishes. But Mr. Foodie and I are on wedding diets now (sort of), so we devote at least a few dinners a week to lighter fare. At first there was some disagreement between us about how to treat the zucchini before cooking. I advocated a light salting and drying out in the oven because like any lasagna, controlling moisture should be a priority unless you want to serve lasagna soup. Mr. Foodie wasn’t so sure, but we tried my method anyway. I started with a layer of dried out zucchini on the bottom of the casserole dish, poured some sauce over that, sprinkled some cooked ground turkey, sprinkled some Feta cheese (still trying to get rid of all the feta my dad bought last time he was here), and topped that layer with a handful of shredded mozzarella. Then I just repeated that pattern until I ran out of ingredients, covered it with foil, and baked it at 350 for 45 minutes and finally another 15 minutes without the foil and with an extra sprinkle of parmesan. I only used about one regular size jar of fire-roasted garlic sauce for this dish which felt like too little sauce when I was putting it together, but it turned out perfectly. Our lasagna wasn’t soupy in the least. The zucchini was the perfect substitute for noodles with its fresh flavor and al dente bite. The Feta and the mozzarella was light in the dish, but acted as an excellent binder, offering a tantalizing flavor balance between the saltiness of the feta and creaminess of the mozzarella. Mr. Foodie conceded that my version was the best so far. Woot!
After our post-dinner pool dip, we were settling in for the night when we heard the wind just howling down the canal. It was the loudest, fastest wind I’ve heard since the last hurricane I went through over 15 years ago. We were a little concerned for the backyard and the boat, but with the lightening crashing all around, we didn’t dare go out to check it. Luckily nothing much happened to our place – just some scattered leaves. Some of our neighbors weren’t so lucky – there will be more than a few new mailboxes on my street before long.
Here’s the ingredients list for the zucchini lasagna should you wish to replicate it:
1 lb ground turkey, cooked
4 medium zucchinis sliced into 1/8″ “noodles”
1 jar spaghetti sauce (or equivalent homemade)
3 oz Feta cheese
6 oz shredded mozzarella
Sprinkle of parmesan
350 degrees 45 min covered; 15 min uncovered

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