A sunny dish for this rainy day: Zucchini alla scapece

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Oh my . . . how long has it been! So long that I almost feel as intimidated as I was when I wrote my first post. In fact, one of the reason why I haven’t been writing is because I did not know how to come back. I kept thinking: “Am I supposed to explain my absence or just pretend I never left ? “. I felt like a child cheating in school, trying to find a good excuse to explain why I had not completed my homework. I have been debating about the right story or topic to return to my blogging, but nothing felt adequate.

Last month, on my FaceBook page, I posted a photo of a dish I had prepared for dinner, ” zucchini alla scapece“. The kind comments that I received and my subsequent promise to post my recipe gave me  the push I needed to come back. I finally realized that I didn’t need to justify my absence and certainly I did not need a big ‘scoop’ to make a come back. So here I am!

The heat wave of last month reminded me a lot of my summer days in Italy, especially when I was a child. The house would get very warm in the afternoon, my mom would open all the windows to facilitate air circulation which really didn’t help much. Despite the heat, my beautiful mother, wearing her sleeveless dress, her hair gathered into a fancy chignon, and tiny sweat beads trickling down her forehead, would spend many afternoon ” ai fornelli” ( by the stove). While thinking of her and those hot days, the one dish that came to mind were the “zucchini alla scapece“, I could almost smell the oil frying.

I am keeping my promise and here it is is my mother’s recipe of  ‘Zucchini alla scapece’, which is simply fried zucchini, marinated in wine vinegar.

The ‘zucchini alla scapece’ are usually served as ‘antipasto’ (appetizer), however, they are also delicious layered on top of some fresh mozzarella in a sandwich made with focaccia or ciabatta bread. In my family we also like to eat them as side dish.

I must admit that my mother’s original recipe includes an additional step which I have omitted. My mother used to slice the zucchini into roundsnot to thick and not too thin, but just right. She would laid the slices on a large tray covered with a kitchen towel and then she set the tray on a chair on the balcony in the sunshine. The slices of zucchini would dry in the sun and a slight curly edge would form. As a child I really didn’t know why she would do that; Only many years later – when I started to show some interest in cooking – I realized that drying the zucchini prior to frying would prevent them from absorbing too much oil; it would also make them slightly crispy.

My decision to make the zucchini alla scapece came suddenly and in the early evening. I had not time to dry the zucchini in the sunshine, however, I lined a tray with paper towels and I arranged the sliced zucchini on top.  I also sprinkled them with salt to facilitate the releasing of water.  I let the zucchini rest for 30 minutes then patted dry with a kitchen towel.

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I hope the result would have satisfied my mom. It sure satisfied my husband!

Zucchini alla scapece

Cosa serve (What you need):

6 small zucchini sliced  into 1/4 inch thick rounds

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

A small bunch of fresh mint leaves minced plus few whole leaves to garnish

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

¼ cup red wine vinegar

Extra virgin olive oil for frying

Cosa fare (What to do):

  • The first step is the prep of the zucchini as explained above. Prior to slicing the zucchini, remember to rinse them thoroughly under clod running water, rubbing with your hands to remove any grit.Zucchini alla scapece 3
  • Heat 1/3 cup of oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. The oil should be enough to come 1/4 inch up the pan’s sides.
  • When the oil is quite hot, fry the zucchini in one layer, without crowing the pan. The oil should be hot enough to sizzle in contact with the zucchini.

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  • Watch the zucchini and turn them over when they become golden on one side. When they are golden brown on both sides, with a slotted spoon transfer them into a serving bowl.

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  • Drizzle with the vinegar, sprinkle with salt and black pepper, finally add the minced leaves of mint. Gently toss and set aside to cool down at room temperature.
  • Before serving garnish with few leaves of mint.

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It’s a rainy and gloomy day here in Frederick today, I hope this dish will brighten your day.

Which dish reminds you of the summer hot days of your childhood?

Spring is on the corner. . . green peas are calling!

The warm days leading to Primavera (Spring) are here and this wonderful season comes with a basket full of fresh produce. While it is true that it is possible to find almost any produce all year long either frozen, grown in greenhouses or coming from somewhere on earth, there is not better satisfaction than using seasonal, local ingredients.

Which one amongst produce speak to you about Spring? To me is piselli (green peas)! How can I forget  when as a child, on my mom side, I was helping to shell the piselli freschi (fresh green peas)! And when a very tiny one would come out of the pod,  I would eat it just like that, raw. . . and I can still taste the sweetness of it.

I definitely associate certain dishes with Spring. One is the Agnello di Pasqua (Easter Lamb), baked with green peas and potatoes, and another one is definitely the pasta e piselli (pasta and green peas).

My other Spring favorites are carciofi (artichokes) and asparagi ( asparagus).

Two nights ago, the warm weather and a trip to the grocery store reminded me that it was no longer time for stew, polenta, and soup but it was time to switch – just like your wardrobe- to the Spring menu.

And guess what? A basket of fresh green peas was before my eyes, just waiting for me, and I immediately knew what was going to be on my dinner table : pasta e piselli, of course!

Before I give out my recipe, there is something I should confess. To my complete disappointment, once I started shelling the fresh green peas I soon realized that they were not very good; the peas inside the pods (except for a handful) didn’t have the bright green color that you would expect, they were pale and hard. After the initial discontent, I got over the fact that I couldn’t actually use the fresh spring green peas that I was longing for, but I had to rely on the bag of frozen organic sweet peas that was in my freezer. Except for my personal disappointment the final product was delicious anyway.

For the most part, this is the traditional recipe of pasta e piselli like my mom used to make. I have added, however, few unconventional elements: the snow peas for crunchiness and the fresh mint for aroma and freshness. I also puréed part of the green peas to achieve some creaminess.

I hope you will enjoy it. Oh, and did I mention that you can add this dish to your meatless Friday (or Monday) and to your Mediterranean diet’s recipe book?

Which is your favorite Spring recipe? Do you usually make an effort to use seasonal, local ingredients?

RICETTA PASTA E PISELLI

Ingredients for 4 persons

2-3/4 cups mezzi ditalini tubetti pasta (My preferred brand is De Cecco)

2 pounds of fresh green peas (this should yield to 2 or 2-1/2 cups of unshelled peas)

OR 1 bag of frozen sweet peas

1/2 onion finely sliced

1 slice of ham 1/4 inch thick and cut into short strips (I use grilled Tuscan cooked ham). You can also use pancetta cubed into 1/2 inch pieces.

4 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

4 cups vegetables broth (warm)

10 snow peas

few leaves of fresh mint

Directions

If using frozen peas:

1)  To defrost the peas I place them in a colander and I set the colander under cold running water for few minutes. Transfer half of the peas to a food processor, start pulsing, add a little broth and run the food processor to purée the peas. Set aside.

2) In a heart ware pot heat the oil with the onion and the ham. Add some salt and cook until the ham is golden. Add the snow peas and the whole peas and stir to combine the flavors.

3) Add the peas purée and stir to combine. Add few leaves of mint (save 4 for presentation).

4) Cook few more minutes then add 3 cups of the broth. Add salt, pepper  and cooking on medium heat, bring to boil. add the pasta and cook for the required time (if more liquid is needed add the remaining broth). Make sure you stir frequently so the pasta doesn’t stick together and do not over cook the pasta, it must be al dente!

4) Before spooning into individual plate remove the mint’s leaves (once they are cooked the color is not appealing). Plate the pasta and right before serving decorate with a small leaf of fresh mint. If you desire you can drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil.

Doesn’t just the color of this dish tell you that is Spring?

Wow, this dish is quite green. Italian twist on St. Patrick’s day anyone?

NOTE: if you are using fresh peas, during step 2 will shall add all the unshelled peas. You will skip step 3. In step 4 you will cook the peas for 15 minutes then spoon off 1/2 of the peas, purée them in the food processor and then transfer back into the pan. Cook 5 more minutes, bring to boil and then follow the directions for cooking the pasta.