Zucchini Goodness, Zucchini Lore
Ragazza/ragazzina (“girl/little girl) – chiesa/chiesina (“church/little church) – stella/stellina (“star/little star”) are logical pairings but zucca/zucchina (“squash/little squash”) doesn’t quite work out:
La zucchina (“zucchini”) is not related at all to the pumpkin or any other squash – and in fact, its closest vegetable “relative” is actually the potato, just one chromosome away, genetically.
That one chromosome gives the potato its rounded form rather than the oblong form of the zucchini.
The number of the Italian varieties of this Central-American vegetable might surprise you: they include the lightly-striped striata d’Italia, the firm, dark green verde di Milano, the lighter green, club-shaped Florentina, the pale green, pear-shaped zucchino siciliano, the tubular and thin zucchina genovese (trombetta) and two rounded zucchine, la tonda di Nizza (light green) and the tonda di Piacenza (darker in color).
I should probably use the zucchina siciliana variety when making Zucchine Marintate alla Siclliana, but I just use whatever variety we have in our vegetable garden. This year, it looks like la striata to me…
I learned to make this buonissimo Sicilian summer antipasto from my husband Pino’s wonderful mother, Vincenza, who taught me so very much about Sicilian history, folklore, lifestyles and Sicilian cooking. She is no longer with us – but her culinary secrets live on. One summer while visiting us, she taught me how to make zucchine marinate alla siciliana, a tasty way to use up our abundant zucchini crop of that summer. Often, on a summer night, zucchine marinate, a chunk of savory cheese, crusty bread and a glass of good wine are all we need for dinner.
Summer heat has brought a bumper crop this year, too: zucchine marintate for dinner tonight! Che bonta’!
Zucchine Marinate alla Siciliana
• zucchini – 6 or 8 or…as many as you want (and use more mint and garlic, olive oil and vinegar if making this dish with more zucchini)
• small-to-medium-sized but NOT large (too much pulp inside – and less flavor) – and they must be fresh and firm
• wine vinegar, red or white – q.b (“quanto basta” or ” as much as needed”)
• extra-vrigin (ONLY!) olive oil – q. b.
• sunflower seed (or other seed oil) – q. b.
• a generous bunch of fresh mint
• garlic cloves, 4 or 5
• salt – q.b.
(Note: vinegar is often used in Sicilian cooking as years ago, many families had no refrigeration and cooking with vinegar stopped foods from spoiling. When Pino was small, there was no refrigerator in their home. Even in the intense heat of Sicilian summers, these zucchini need not be refrigerated.)
Rinse zucchini and then slice. Slice longtitudinally if zucchini are quite small; slice rounds if zucchini are larger. Objective: you will be frying all the slices and therefore want to be turning as few slices as possible. Put all zucchini slices in deep bowl and cover with salt – a cup or more. Let sit about half an hour. (Zucchini will soften as water is leached – this vegetable is 95% water! – and are therefore prepared for frying).
Rinse 2 or 3 times to eliminate all salt.
Drain. Spread on cloth to dry.
Heat 1/2 olive oil and 1/2 sunflower seed oil in stainless steel frying pan. Oil should be deep for better frying. Begin to fry only when oil “spits”. Zucchini should be brown and crispy on both sides. As you remove one zucchini from pan, add another, leaving no “open” spaces in the pan or oil will smoke and burn.
Finely-chop garlic cloves and a generous bunch of mint.
When all zucchini are fried, add olive oil and wine vinegar, then garlic and mint. Mix lightly. Add salt as needed.
If making large quantities, the zucchini can be stored in the fridge in a jar for a couple weeks, if you add a bit of olive oil and vinegar. Zucchini should not be “exposed” to the air, ie, top level should be covered with olive oil.
Serve cold or at room temperature as antipasto.
**** If you have any zucchini still in the garden, grill the zucchini, bell peppers, a few eggplants and radicchio, drizzling olive oil and balsamic over these verdure grigliate before serving. (Hint: salt the zucchini prior to grilling to draw out the water – then rinse. Do same to eggplants).
**** When Peppa has zucchini abundance in her garden she makes a simple and delicious zucchine/fresh tomato/pancetta pasta sauce and spaghetti alla carbonara di zucchine.
Click here for more recipes.
Read more on another tasty zucchini recipe