Growing up in Southern California did not prepare me for an experience like the Minnesota State Fair. My state version was several hours away, which may be why my family never attended.

So when we moved to Minnesota seven years ago, I couldn't believe how much everyone talked about the Great Minnesota Get-Together. My friends and neighbors wouldn't just figure out which day they were going, but how many days they could go. What?!

I didn't get it at all … until I went. And I've been back every year since. There's something appealing about an event that feels intimate, yet packed with people, all at the same time. It's a shared experience in livestock, games, rides and crowd control.

Then there's the food. Like many of you, I've been following the enthusiastic coverage of what's new this year and have a list of treats I'm looking forward to trying. None of them will be healthy.

When I get home, though, the fried-food train will have to make an abrupt stop. Still, the urge to have something crunchy, dipped in something creamy, will likely not stop. The good news is that it doesn't have to. Coating veggies in breadcrumbs and baking them in a hot oven is a great way to calm the fried-food cravings and make good use of the bountiful summer produce at the same time.

The technique works on everything from eggplant to green tomatoes. One of my favorites is zucchini. I like to mix in a little olive oil with my breadcrumbs, to ensure a little extra crunch. Paprika gives it flavor and an even deeper color. Then I pair the golden brown batons with a creamy dip, spiked with basil and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

The combination will take you right back to the midway, in spirit, but not in calories.

Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at Follow her on Twitter: @meredithdeeds.