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by Francesca Di Meglio
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Ode to Zucchini
JULY 24, 2005 - Summer means that most Italians are living off the land - and eating fresh fruits and vegetables from their gardens. Part melon, part squash, zucchini is one of the easiest - and most delicious - plants to grow in hot weather. People in Mexico and other parts of South America have been eating a form of zucchini for thousands of years. Although, zucchini remains a staple in the Mexican diet, the Italians were the ones to name and create the version that most of us eat today. The delicate skin and meaty inside make it a delectable and versatile treat.
Zucchini has become my drug of choice in the last month. I might turn into one before the summer's over. If your garden is like mine, then it's full of zucchini - and you might not know what to do with it all. Here are a few of my favorite ways to prepare it:
Fried matchsticks are my favorite way to eat this squash. You peel and cut the zucchini into thin strips that look like - you guessed it - matchsticks. Then, you roll each strip in flour. Heat about three inches of olive oil in a saucepan under a high flame. When the oil is nice and hot dump those matchsticks in and fry them to a golden brown. Place them on a dish with two paper towels on it to absorb excess oil. Then, throw a bit of sea salt on top and try to serve them as quickly as possible. They'll look like shoe string French fries, but they're even better. My nonna tells me that you could bake the matchsticks instead of frying if you're minding your health.
Another family favorite at Casa Di Meglio is stuffed zucchini. I have yet to choose a favorite recipe, but we've stuffed our zucchini with everything from ground meat and sausage to rice and peppers. Recipe searches on the Web can help you turn up interesting ways to stuff the zucchini - or its flowers.
Speaking of the zucchini flower: did you know that southern Italians eat them as well? They sometimes stuff and always fry the flower after dipping it in batter. Even Martha Stewart Living got in on the act this month by telling readers to stuff zucchini flowers with ricotta and bocconcini before frying them.
Although I haven't tried to do this myself yet, many of my relatives make zucchini breads. This makes for a good appetizer and is popular in Italy as well. But I find that the breads tend to be thick and a little heavy. As a carb-a-holic, however, I see no harm in trying them. And one of these days I might just get around to baking one myself.
Chef Marcella Hazan offers many recipes for sauces with zucchini as the main ingredient, all of which should smother al dente pasta. And a quick recipe check on any search engine will reveal countless others. Many of these are perfect for those watching their health - if not their weight.
But if you're really trying to eat right, then you should rub oil and a clove of minced garlic over silver-dollar sliced zucchini. Then, place each silver dollar directly on the grill. Turn them each over once with tongs, cooking each side for about two minutes.
However you choose to prepare your zucchini, enjoy the abundance while it lasts. Summer is, after all, almost half over. Buon appetito!
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