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June 9, 2008

Second only to basil, zucchini is my favorite green vegetable (although, recently I learned that it’s really considered to be more of a fruit than a vegetable—but I still think of it as a veggie, so that’s what I’m going to call it for the sake of this post). Zucchini, like the tomato, is one of the most frequently grown home-garden vegetables, but this is a fairly recent development in home-gardening.

Thought to have originated near Milan, Italy in the late 1800s, the zucchini was a product of experimental mutation between squash-melon-like varieties. Since that time, it’s been dubbed the quintessential Italian summer vegetable (some could argue that the tomato might come out on top of that throwdown, should it happen). The zucchini didn’t make it’s Unites States’ debut until the 1920s, when it is believed Italian immigrants brought the seeds with them.

Americans were already familiar with squash (don’t we hear stories about the Pilgrims and Indians eating turkey and squash on that first Thanksgiving?), so zucchini wouldn’t have been vastly foreign to them. Zucchini is a sort of squash, not too unlike cucumbers, although zucchini are typically cooked rather than eaten raw. One hint when buying or picking your own zucchini: it’s better to get the small ones, since the larger ones tend to be less flavorful (and can have a slightly bitter undertone). Often considered to be more of a complimentary addition, zucchini are delicious with just about any item in the Italian diet—tomatoes, prosciutto, pasta, Parmesan cheese, even cooked with just a little butter or olive oil.

For the longest time, the only way I would eat zucchini is if my mother had slightly cooked them (so they were barely tender, but still held onto a little bit of their crunch) in butter or oil and then grated a good helping of Parmesan cheese on top. The combination of the saltiness of the cheese paired with the hint of sweetness from the zucchini is divine! I am happy that my taste buds have since matured and are now able to appreciate some finer zucchini offerings, such as Saltimbocca Zucchini (pronounced salt-eem-boe-ka zoo-kee-nee), which essentially means “jump in your mouth zucchini” (please refer below for the recipe).

Another zucchini delicacy is not the zucchini itself but rather its flower. My Nonna loves eating the flowers. I remember watching her pick the flowers from the zucchini plants in their garden when the flowers were perfectly yellow, with a hint of green ribs along the underside edges (brown or wilting flowers simply won’t do). I thought it strange that she would eat the flower, but I’ve since come to realize that she had the right idea! The flowers are extremely delicate, which is why they must be picked and eaten almost immediately. You might be able to find the flower in the supermarket, but be warned, it is very expensive due to the difficulty in storing and transporting the flower. The best way to eat the flower is to fry it. Once fried, you can stuff it with anything you like (ricotta and Parmesan cheese are always good), however, it will taste just as good without stuffing as it will with.

Saltimbocca Zucchini (a slight deviation from the Michael Chiarello version)

Serving size: 4-6
Time: 15 minutes preparation; 8 minutes cooking

2 lbs. zucchini (try to get each 1 ½ inches in diameter)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 thin slices prosciutto
20 leaves of fresh sage

1/3 lb. fontina cheese, thinly sliced
3 eggs, lightly beaten with a fork
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup pure olive oil
2 Tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan

Cut each zucchini lengthwise into thin slices (about 1/4-inch thick). You will need 16 slices total. Lay them out in pairs and lightly season with salt and pepper.

Arrange prosciutto slices on half the zucchini slices, ensuring no prosciutto hangs over the edges of the zucchini. Place 2 sage leaves on top of the prosciutto. Set the fontina slices on top, again making sure no cheese hangs over the side. Then, lay the remaining zucchini slices on top of each stack. Using paper towels, press down firmly on each stack to extract moisture and firm the zucchini.

Pour the lightly beaten eggs into a deep dish. Season the flour with salt and pepper on another plate. Pick up each zucchini stack by both ends and hold it securely, dipping it first in the egg and then dredging it in the flour until evenly coated.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until hot. Cook the zucchini, turning once, until golden brown (about 2 minutes on each side). Once cooked, place on a plate and keep warm until ready to serve. Add more oil to skillet if needed.

Add the remaining sage leaves to the hot pan and cook briefly until crisp. Arrange several crisped leaves on top of each saltimbocca. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top. Serve and enjoy!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 11, 2010 9:19 am

    I had no idea zucchini hasn’t been around in the US that long. This stuffed zucchini was really good:

    • Liana permalink*
      August 12, 2010 6:03 pm

      Glad you liked the zucchini, Michael. It’s one of our favorites!


  1. Flavorful Fridays: Squash « Tomatoes and Basil

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