Everyday it seems there is a mysterious bag, basket or pile of zucchini by my door. These things must multiply like rabbits. Last year, it seemed like I was chomping down on zucchini blossoms daily. Bundles of fully formed zucchini didn’t appear because we were all too busy frying up the flowers – remember this post: Fried Squash Blossoms Don’t forget – all recipes are posted in the recipe section. Look above the Tower Picture to find the tabs.
I thought I knew how to make ciambotta! Take whatever summer vegetables were starting to turn ugly in the fridge, slice them, dice them and sauté them with ground meat, dump in a couple of cans of diced tomatoes, add a pinch of salt and a few basil leaves. Easy peasy. Since everyone in New Jersey grew zucchini, the first ciambotta I ever ate featured zucchini, more zucchini and nothing but zucchini.
EEEEEEE. Midgeee, questo non e ciambotta. I got my hand slapped by Santina the butcher when I ordered carne macinato – ground meat – and she asked what I was making. I got my head smacked by every other elder who I asked about ciambotta. But, I swear my mother or grandmother or someone always added ground meat.
Simply put, ciambotta is a beautiful blend of fresh – not almost rotting in the fridge – vegetables. Zucchini, green beans and eggplant are pleantiful now. Carrots spill over in the market with fresh white onions and tomatoes. I add tomatoes but my cousin and ace cook Carmella Fusco didn’t and her ciambotta was magic.
The trick I have learned here in Pontelandolfo about cooking some vegetables is to not add any liquid. The vegetables have all the liquid you need. Put a nice thick layer of extra virgin olive oil in the bottom of a pan and add the vegetables in order of how long they take to cook. I always start with the onions, then toss in carrot slices, then add the beans, zucchini and eggplant. Rats, Jack hates eggplant – he puts it in the ‘tofu category’. Don’t tell him that the perfectly formed cubes are eggplant. I toss in so little salt that it doesn’t count and add a handful of crushed fennel seeds. Note: No added liquid like that can of squashed tomatoes that I used to use. The vegetables do have enough liquid to create their own sauce. Also, I’m the only one that seems to add carrots to the mix. Yummy.
I can not tell too many lies – I often still add ground meat to the onions and when it is brown add the vegetables. I also often dice up fresh tomatoes and toss them in too.
Carmella’s Spaghetti with Zucchini and Zucchini Flowers
When cousin Carmella sends me a “WhatsApp” text that says –Venite a pranza oggi? I always quickly respond with a SI! Carmella is a world class cook and lunch at her house might be the simplest of ingredients but they are always tossed together delectably. Check out Carmella’s cooking on her Facebook Page A Pranza dalla Nonna.
Today we had another variation on the zucchini theme, Spaghetti with Zucchini and Zucchini Flowers. Fresh, local ingredients easily tossed together and delicious. Zucchini flowers, zucchini, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, salt, hot pepper, spaghetti and pecorino cheese round out the list of ingredients. (You lucky New Jerseyans who belong to a CSA like Hillsborough’s fabulous Martenette Farms have access to lots of zucchini and zucchini flowers this time of year.)
As I was slowing chewing my spaghetti, I asked Carmella her secret. Simplicity is the secret. She cut the flowers into little pieces. They added great orange color to the pasta. A few cloves of garlic were chopped and after cutting a zucchini in quarters it was thinly sliced. She put a walloping helping of olive oil in the pan – it thickly covered the pan – and added the garlic. She let that sizzle for a second and then added the zucchini and flowers. Next came a tazzino – espresso cup of water – or two fingers in a Nutella glass – and salt. The veggies cook until the water has evaporated and then they sauté for a couple of minutes more.
At this point the salted spaghetti water should also be on the stove. Cook the spaghetti as you normally would. When the pasta is done, drain it and add it directly to the pot that has the oil and sautéed zucchini. Carmella said, saltare in patella. Toss it and let it cook a wee pit in the pan. At this point she also added a hint of hot pepper and freshly grated pecorino cheese.
That was our primo piatto! Zucchini heaven!
(Carmella is one of the cooks who opens her home for the Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo program. Interested? Message me.)