August: Zucchini Agrodolce

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Zucchini finish with script

Buon giorno!

So you planted zucchini in your garden this year and now you are up to your eyeballs in green squash! Your family is tired of zucchini  – what to do? Solution: find a new and more interesting way to cook it! Italians love their zucchini – also called courgettes, and every Italian garden has it. This recipe may not be entirely new, as it is an old preparation coming from the island of Sicily, but ZUCCHINI AGRODOLCE (sweet and sour) is interesting and VERY tasty. It is not your typical zucchini accompanied by tomatoes, onions, etc. This is totally different and includes some of the favorite ingredients of Sicilian recipes – pignoli (pine nuts),  golden raisins and a tiny bit of anchovies. The anchovies are very subtle in the dish. They are chopped in tiny pieces, and as in many other dishes which include them, they melt into the sauce giving it a lovely flavor. However no one sees them, or knows they are there!

Some of my family members do not care for zucchini unless it is cleverly disguised in some way. We ALL  love this, and you will love it too!

ZUCCHINI AGRODOLCE

Serves: 2

Prep: 10 minutes

Cook: 15 minutes

Ingredients

1 Fresh Medium Zucchini

3 Tbsp. Olive Oil

1 large Clove Garlic cut in half

1 Sprig Fresh Oregano (or a teaspoon dried)

2 1/2 Tbsp. While Wine Vinegar

2 Tbsp. Water

2 Teaspoons Sugar

3 Tbsp. Pignoli (pine nuts)

3 Tbsp. Golden Raisins

2 Anchovies – patted dry and cut into tiny pieces

Shavings of Pecorini or Provolone Cheese for garnish (you can also use grated)

Instructions

Clean a medium fresh zucchini. Leave the skin on .

Zucchini 1

Cut off the ends and discard. Then cut the zucchini lengthwise in half – then again into quarters. If the pieces are large enough – cut them one more time so you have spears.

Zucchini 2

Heat the oil in a shallow pan, add the garlic and oregano, and cook a couple of minutes until the garlic is beginning to brown. Do not burn the garlic! Keep it moving in the pan. Then remove and discard the garlic. In this dish you only want its essence.

Zucchini 3

Now add the vinegar, water, and sugar. Mix in.

Now add the zucchini spears, tossing them in the pan to coat, cover the pan, and cook about 10-12 minutes at medium high. Stir occasionally .

Zucchini 4

When finished, add the pignoli, raisins, and anchovies. Toss a little, and cook a couple of minutes more at medium high, uncovered.

Zucchini 5

Taste and see if any salt is needed. Usually the anchovies take care of the need for salt. By the way, at this point, the anchovies are quite invisible.

Serve with shavings of Pecorino or Provolone or grated.

This ZUCCHINI AGRODOLCE is so delicious, you will want to make it again and again. It is just as suitable as a side for a fancy summer meal as it is for middle of the week dining with your family. Easy and quick – you will be using up your supply of garden fresh zucchini in no time!

PARLA COME MANGI!

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Ciambotta

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Buon giorno!

This one might tickle an Italian memory or two. CIAMBOTTA!  Put this one on my list of  “favorite things ever”. It is a wonderful vegetable stew that usually made its entrance sometime during the summers at the Calabrisi house, when zucchini and tomatoes were in abundance. It was the kind of thing you could eat pounds of and not tire. It was always an arrow headed straight for my heart when the aroma reached my senses.

What is it? The answer to that is.. it can be several things. It is considered a stew – but it also can be a soup. Traditionally speaking, it is a vegetable stew or concoction that is a very typical Southern Italian dish – sometimes called Ciambotta Napoletana and a healthy example of the Mediterranean Diet. It can be a side dish and you might compare it to the French Ratatouille. It can also be a soup or stew used as an entrée served with crusty bread.  No matter how you serve it, be prepared to have it disappear as the flavors of the ingredients are so perfect together that it is difficult to stop consuming it. Whatever you decide to call it – it’s really good!

Variations: Actually, it can be made with pancetta or even sausage, if you like a little meat or pork flavor. It isn’t necessary, in my opinion.

Fresh tomatoes straight from the garden may be used or canned tomatoes are fine also.

You will find recipes for it using eggplant or beef or other things. I prefer, it to this day, the way Loretta served it – pure, rustic, and simple – no need to gild the lily. To me, it doesn’t seem to need anything else. Some things just don’t need embellishment!

My mother, Loretta, would often remind us that you could add shrimp or Cannellini Beans or even a little pasta in it if you wanted to. As nice as any of that sounded, I never wanted anything else in it. Like Goldilocks, I thought it seemed “just right”  the way she made it.

The way you see it here is the way Loretta, most often served it – no meat, straight from the pot, with crusty Italian bread, usually from DiRienzo’s or Di Lascia’s Bakery in Binghamton, NY, and a little grated cheese. My father usually had some red pepper flakes handy to throw on his dish. He liked the hot stuff!

More good news – CIAMBOTTA can even be made ahead and frozen for later use.

Let the chopping begin!

CIAMBOTTA

Serves: 4 as a main course or 6 as a side dish

Prep: 15 minutes

Cook:  1 hour 10 minutes

Ingredients

3 Medium Zucchini – cleaned and unpeeled – cut coarsely

3 Large Yukon Gold Potatoes – cleaned and unpeeled – cut coarsely

1 Medium Onion – sliced thinly

2 Cloves Fresh Garlic – chopped finely

1/3 Cup Olive Oil

2 Tbsp. Chopped Fresh Basil

3 Tbsp. Chopped Fresh Sage

2 Tbsp. Chopped Fresh Parsley

1 Bay Leaf

42 Oz. Chopped Tomatoes with juices

1/4 Tsp. Red Pepper Flakes

1 Cheese Rind – Parmigiano or other ( just a piece for added flavor)

Salt and Pepper to taste

Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano for serving

Instructions

Ciambotta 1

Put olive oil in a pan and add the zucchini, potatoes, onion, garlic, herbs, and bay leaf – cook and stir – about 10 minutes.

Ciambotta 2

Add the tomatoes, red pepper flakes, cheese rind, salt and pepper. Mix well.

Ciambotta 3

Cover and cook on medium heat for about an hour or until the potatoes are fork tender.

When finished – remove the bay leaf and rind if any is left and discard.

Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.

Serve with Crusty Italian Bread and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or your favorite grated cheese.

PARLA COME MANGI!

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Zucchini and Potato Flatbread

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Flatbread 8- finish

Buon giorno!

What to do with all that zucchini in the garden? Lookin’ for a great appetizer? Need an interesting bread for dinner? Lunch maybe? How about a few drop in guests on the patio? I have just the right answer to all these questions – ZUCCHINI AND POTATO FLATBREAD. Flatbread is a great and versatile thing. It can be an appetizer with wine or cocktails. It can accompany your meal as a rustic homemade bread. It can be lunch! You choose!

This is an easy and fun recipe. Get everyone in on the act – your grandchildren, your kids? You can even enlist those drop-in guests. They’ll love you for it. So fun – so easy – soooo good!

I had just this experience the other day when a neighbor dropped by for a Friday night Martini while I was preparing some of this incredibly delicious flatbread. I had her at the front door actually when she smelled the garlic roasting and then followed the aroma to the kitchen. She was amazed at how quickly it all came together and said she wasn’t leaving until she tried some. Well, she did – and followed her first bite with a loud OMG and eyes that I thought might just pop right out. ( FYI – this is always a good sign) In other words – success! It was amore!

The dough: I use my  mother, Loretta’s, pizza dough which is easy to make. Visit: Pizza – That’s Amore for the recipe – guaranteed to be the best pizza dough you’ll ever taste! OK so I’m just a little bit biased maybe? But, it’s not just me. My husband doesn’t like to order pizza anymore because he says the crust doesn’t measure up. My book designer, Doc, who lives in San Francisco and has access to good Italian food and ingredients, says I’ve spoiled him forever with this dough. He can no longer go out for pizza! It is very easy to make, and the flavor and consistency  – perfect. I like to make it when I don’t need it and freeze it for when I do need it. The recipe makes 4 loaves. I wrap each one individually and always have it available. I just pull it out of the freezer a few hours ahead and let it defrost.

The ingredients: Pretty straight forward here – freshness being of utmost importance as always. As far as ingredients go – this flatbread is all about layering them and achieving several levels of flavor that combine for maximum impact. In other words, YOU NEED ALL OF THEM!

The roasted garlic is VERY important here. It gives the flatbread a layer of flavor that you cannot duplicate without it. If you have followed my posts in the past, you know the high regard I have for roasted garlic. It is easy to make, has so many uses, and the roasting transforms it from strong to mild and nutty. The flavor of roasted garlic is nothing like the raw garlic, and those who may not appreciate it in its usual form should really give it a go. It is wonderful stuff!

Fresh garlic

This is a great way to use some of that good seasonal zucchini. The zucchini and potato are sliced paper thin. You can do this with a sharp knife or use a mandolin like I do – a handy tool that slices to the thickness desired in nothing flat! It is very easy to find in any store that sells cooking gadgets. This is what it looks like:

flatbread 1

The Rosemary – fresh as ALWAYS! Hopefully you have some growing in your garden. Maybe your neighbor has some you can steal when he/she isn’t looking – or yes ask to “borrow” some. If not, you can always find it at your grocer. The Rosemary is necessary. Do not substitute something else – not all herbs impart the same flavor!

The cheeses – Gorgonzola or Blue combined with the Parmigiano – these are the ones you want for this flatbread. The combo is fantastico!

And of course – the Extra Virgin drizzle is the ribbon that ties up this package. Choose a good one that has more of a peppery finish.

Some tips: This is not pizza. We are not making this on the grill and charring the edges and bottom like a Napoletano pizzaiolo. Instead, we make this in the oven with a little olive oil under the dough – baking at 450 until golden. We want a more bread like consistency with a little more oil dominance. Follow the directions – you’ll get the idea!

ZUCCHINI AND POTATO FLATBREAD

Makes:  one large flatbread (Serves 4-6)

Prep: 15 minutes + time to make the dough

Cook: 35-40 minutes

Ingredients

1 loaf pizza dough – Recipe HERE

2 Whole Bulbs Roasted Garlic ( instructions below)

Olive Oil

1 Medium Zucchini – skins on – sliced VERY thinly

1 Medium Potato or 2-3 small ones – skins on – sliced very thinly

3 Sprigs Rosemary – chop and use the leaves

3/4 C. Crumbled Gorgonzola or Blue Cheese

3 –4 Tbsp. Parmigiano – Reggiano Cheese – grated

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Instructions

Make your pizza dough – recipe noted in the ingredients list – highly recommended. You can make it ahead and freeze it like I do. If so – defrost it the morning of the day you intend to use it.

Roast two garlic bulbs: Take each whole bulb and peel off outer leaves leaving inner skins on and bulb intact. Cut off the top of the bulb at the “pointy” end exposing the tops of the cloves. Drizzle with olive oil and add a little salt. Place in foil and seal up like a package. Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 40 minutes. Remove from the foil carefully – they will be hot. Let the bulbs cool a little until ready to use.

Slice your zucchini and potato – paper thin. A mandolin is a good tool for this as shown and explained in the post. If you don’t have one – use a sharp knife.

Flatbread 2Flatbread 3

You are ready to make your flatbread!

Flatbread 4

Roll out your dough into a rectangle on a lightly floured board.

Take a sheet pan and rub it with a little olive oil. Then place the dough on the pan. Rub the top of the dough with a little olive oil.

Take your roasted garlic bulbs, turning them upside down – squeeze each bulb. The cooked cloves will slide right out onto the dough. Squeeze them all out. Then take a fork and mash them around on  the dough.

roasted garlic

Lay the zucchini slices, overlapping a little,  in a long row on the long edge of the dough. Follow this with a row of potato slices also overlapping slightly.

Repeat with another row of zucchini and potato.

Flatbread 5

Sprinkle on the Gorgonzola or Blue Cheese. Then follow with the Parmigiano.

Top with the fresh Rosemary leaves.

Flatbread 6

It’s time for a generous drizzle of a beautiful Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Bake this in a 450 degree oven for about 35-40 minutes until golden brown.

And now you have ZUCCHINI AND POTATO FLATBREAD!

PARLA COME MANGI!

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Zucchini Flowers Fried and Stuffed

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Zucchini-sharp_thumb 2

Buon giorno!

It’s that time again! Time to start harvesting those early jewels from the garden – the Zucchini Flowers. Some call them Zucchini Blossoms  or Fiori di Zucca– one and the same. For those familiar, ZUCCHINI FLOWERS, FRIED AND STUFFED are an experience one always remembers. For those who haven’t tried them – now is the time – whether from your garden or in a local farm to table restaurant, they are a must when in season. The season is not a long one, so don’t wait.
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These made my “favorites list” a long time ago, when my mother Loretta first introduced me to them after plucking them from our vegetable garden in my hometown of Binghamton, NY. They are a traditional dish served in the region of Lazio where my mother’s family came from. Now that I am doing my own cooking and creating in the kitchen, I have taken her fried blossoms – fritter-like with a heavier batter than most – one step further and stuffed them with goat cheese. Oh my!
Those who have ever tasted a fried zucchini or squash flower will tell you how delicious they are. Anyone can have these flowers, as zucchini is easy to grow and will grow in pots if you don’t have a garden. The zucchini plants just pump these lovelies out like crazy. Caution though – if you want to actually harvest  zucchinis, you must only pick the male flowers to eat. Differentiating is easy – the male flowers grow on regular little green stems. Female flowers which should remain in the garden have a swollen little zucchini growing and attached to them. It is best to clip the flowers in the morning as that is when they are open and ready. Just place them in a glass of water, and prepare your little feast. Remember to remove the little center pistil inside each flower. The flowers are often available at Farmer’s Markets, but keep in mind that they are among the first things to go. Plan to go early if you seriously want to find any. Prepare them ASAP after you get home!

zucchini-in-garden-300x225 - Copy

zucchini in the garden
ZUCCHINI FLOWERS, FRIED AND STUFFED
              (WITH LINDA’S STUFFING AND LORETTA’S BATTER!)
LINDA’S STUFFING
Makes: approx 8

Prep: 5 minutes

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp. Ricotta cheese

4 Tbsp. Goat Cheese

3 Tsp. Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

2 Tbsp. Chopped Golden Raisins or 2 tsp. Anchovies

1 Tbsp. Chopped Italian Flat Leaf Parsley

Instructions:

Mix together above ingredients. Use Golden Raisins for an unexpected sweet burst in your mouth or the Anchovies if you prefer a savory flavor. Place a little ball inside each flower. Gently gather the petals around the ball and twist the top a little. This kind of seals it.

Stuffed blossoms

Then dip each “little package” into the batter described below and fry!

LORETTA’S BATTER

Makes: 8-12

Prep: 5-7 minutes

Cook: Less than 1 minute

(If you don’t have that many flowers, you can fry other vegetables or even banana slices using the batter or make little blinis or pancakes which are delicious!)

Ingredients:

8-12 zucchini or squash flowers – center Pistils removed -again you can do fewer and use the remaining batter for other goodies

Olive Oil for frying

½ c. milk

1 beaten egg

¼ tsp. salt

½ Tbsp. Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Black Pepper

1 tsp. Baking Soda

½ c. Flour

1 Tbsp. Chopped Italian Flat Leaf Parsley

Instructions:

Whisk above ingredients together and dip each flower – stuffed or not stuffed depending on your preference.

Heat a little olive oil in a pan – you don’t need much- you are not deep frying.

Dip each flower in batter, covering completely. I like to use tongs. Drop in hot oil. Sides should bubble up and sizzle if oil is hot enough.

Flip with a spatula.

Takes just several seconds for each side.

Lay each one on paper towels to absorb the excess oil.

Best to eat right away while warm and slightly crisp. Do not let them sit around.

There you have it! ZUCCHINI FLOWERS, FRIED AND STUFFED with Linda’s Stuffing and Loretta’s Batter. How can you miss?

PARLA COME MANGI!

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Baked Stuffed Zucchini

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A Gift From the Italian Garden

Baked-Zucchini-300x225

Buon giorno!

OK! Going out on a limb here – but I don’t usually do this unless I know I am on terra firma.On this one, I can safely state this is the BEST BAKED STUFFED ZUCCHINI you’ll find anywhere. YUP! I said it, and it’s true. This stuff is the bomb! It will be the “side” that goes first at your cook outs and barbeques. So, run out now and get all the zucchini you can find or harvest, and make extra. This is the one!

Zucchini is definitely one of the wonders of the Italian garden. In fact, it can safely be said that you can’t have a truly Italian garden without growing some. If you haven’t considered planting it in your garden, give it a try. It kind of grows on its own – a no-brainer! Also it makes an attractive plant in any setting, even if you don’t have a vegetable garden. Its flowers are legendary, beautiful, and you can cook them as well – stuff for another post.

zucchini in the garden

zucchini flower

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You know how zucchini really is kind of lifeless and rather tasteless on its own? Well this zucchini dish takes it to a new level where everyone will want more.

It is so darn easy too!

Make room for this one next to the potato or macaroni salad or beans or whatever. Happy to report that it is also comparatively healthy. So what are we waiting for – ?

It’s a done deal! You and this dish will be heralded in the annals of barbeque legend for centuries to come. Wellll.. ok maaaybe not centuries?? I do get carried away when I’m excited about some dishes, and yeah, this is one of them. Suffice it to say, this one is a winner.  So go for it!

BAKED STUFFED ZUCCHINI

Serves: 2 –  or more if cut into smaller pieces

Prep: 20 minutes

Cook: 40-45 minutes

Ingredients:

1 Medium Zucchini – split in half lengthwise, seeds scooped out with a spoon

1 Beautifully Ripe Fresh Tomato – skinned: drop in boiling water for a couple of minutes & peel skin off easily

Olive Oil

1 Clove Fresh Garlic – chopped

1 Tbsp. Fresh Oregano – chopped

2 Tbsp. Fresh Basil – chopped

1 ½ Tbsp. Grated Pecorino Romano Cheese

2 Tbsp. Fresh Breadcrumbs

Salt & Pepper to taste

Extra Virgin Olive Oil for drizzling

Instructions:

Oil a baking dish and also oil both sides of each zucchini half. Place the halves cut side up in the baking dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Chop the fresh tomato and mix with the chopped garlic and the herbs. (If for some reason, you must use dried herbs, remember that you use less of the dried than fresh.) Add some salt and pepper to this mixture and spoon it all along the top of the zucchini halves.

Top this with the grated cheese.

Spread the fresh breadcrumbs on the top of the cheese & sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Finally, drizzle some good Extra Virgin Olive Oil over each half.

Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 40 minutes or until a fork penetrates the zucchini easily. (Time may depend on the size of your zucchini.) During the baking process, check the baking dish for dryness. Add a little water to the baking dish ,if needed, to prevent browning of the bottom of the dish.

When finished baking and still hot, give the zucchini one last drizzle with Extra Virgin Olive Oil. That finishing touch will give it one last nudge into heavenly!

Try this BAKED STUFFED ZUCCHINI at your next cook out or whatever. You’ll want to take this one to the patio immediately. They’ll love you for it!!

PARLA COME MANGI!

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