Zucchine Sono Arrivate! Recipe 1

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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 to busy frying up the flowers – remember this post:  Fried Squash Blossoms

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This year, I didn’t get invited to imbibe as much in my favorite fried flower.  Now I know why.  People let the blossoms grow into long green meaty vegetables.  But what is a woman to do with them?  I can’t say no thank you – half the time I don’t know where they come from and the other half – well it would just be rude.  I remember making tons of zucchini bread in Flagtown but we’re in Italy – so it is time to start finding out what the elders do.

Zia Paulina taught me how do make a simple zucchini topping for pasta.  Actually, she tortured me with a little knife by insisting that I cut paper thin zucchini slices without using a cutting board, mandoline slicer or food processor.  None of my slices were thin enough – come carta – like paper!  When I finally got the thinness just right she was pleased.  Then I watched her dump some olive oil in a frying pan, sauté the zucchini slices and toss them with pasta and a healthy dose of parmigiana.  Prima piatta was finished.

I decided to see if anyone else tossed zucchini with pasta – a quick web search found lots of recipes.  Being an independent type, I ignored all the advice and just followed my instinct –  the pinch of this, a handful and there you go style of cooking. The first step was to create the paper thin slices that really worked in Zia Paulina’s dish.

Note - I slice towards my thumb!  How dumb but it works.
Note – I slice towards my thumb! How dumb but it works.

My smart ass husband watched me get closer and closer to lopping off a finger and he decided to show me how to get those paper thin slices.  First he took out the potato peeler and peeled the skin off one cucumber.  Then he cut it in half and started making short thin slices with the peeler.

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Master chef makes quick work of the zucchini – but where is the cute green? Oh, next to the cutting board.

 

Jack’s system would absolutely work.  But I wanted the zucchini – which I know had absolutely  no yucky chemical crap on them – to have that cute green trim.  White zucchini against white pasta couldn’t look very appealing.  So I finished up the rest using the potato peeler on unpeeled zucchini.

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Cripes, they didn’t teach me this in 4-H. What a cool use of a peeler.

The actual cooking of the dish was much simpler.  I sliced up some onions and a red pepper.  Why the red pepper?  Because I had it and I liked the color – back to white pasta and white onions and white zucchini – you get the idea.  The olive oil that we have here is literally from the trees in our yard and pressed locally.  It is heaven on the tongue all by itself.  It really helps to use good olive oil for dishes like these.  While the water for the pasta was getting up to boil, I quickly sautéed the onions and peppers.

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What a beautiful red color! They do not sell green bell peppers here – because red means ripe!

Salt, pepper, a touch of garlic powder – I noticed that none of my Italian relatives cook with onions and garlic in the same dish.  Loving garlic anyway I can get it, I tossed in the garlic powder.  When I added the zucchini, I happened to look out the window at the basil growing madly and thought – why not.  The basil added at the end gave the dish more color and a little zing.  Here is the final product – I added grated cheese to the dishes before I tossed them.  Buon appetito!

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How Many Bags of Fava Beans Are There?

Fava beans are sprouting in everyone’s gardens!  Yea, these protein filled little fellows make a yummy dinner.  Last year, when the fava beans kept gracing my doorway, it was the first time that I had ever seen a fresh one.  Well, maybe I did when nonna was alive and had the garden the size of a campo di calcio (soccer field) – but I don’t remember.

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Pods are really green giants!

Seriously, this is a question that merits exploration.  How many bags of fava beans are there in Pontelandolfo?  When people pop in after pranza for caffè they usually bring something to share – like what ever is growing in the garden or was baked that morning.  Now me, I like the “what was baked” this morning – no fuss, no muss, just yummy delight.  My neighbor, Zia Vittoria, has an incredible garden.  It is chock full of every vegetable you could possibly imagine – including fava beans.

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Bursting with protein the pods just wait to be picked, gifted and gifted again.

Yet, as other women pop in to visit Zia Vittoria, so do giant bags of fava beans.  H’mm when women visited these women they too brought fava beans.  One day it hit me.  What if there was really only a finite number of bags of fava beans and in any given span of two days the same 15 bags got re-gifted from house to house.

The bags stop here!  Well, when a bag appears on my door step I don’t re-gift it.  I say “guess whose coming to dinner.”  Last year Mr. Fava came often. The top picture is of my first bag of this season.  I pulled out the colander, a knife and a bag for the compost pile.  The sky was blue and I cheerily began popping beans out of the pod.

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Eat local and touch your food first.

So there I am shelling beans and wondering how I was going to cook them when my nipote (Italian for any kid in your family that you are related to and older than) popped by, reached into the bag, ripped open the pod and tossed the beans in his mouth.  RAW!  Who knew!  I was forced to try it – I mean I’ll taste just about anything.  The bean was sweetly good and obviously picked this morning.  I discovered that the day they are picked they are deleeeeesh as a salad – tossed with tuna or just a few slices of onion or whatever you can imagine.  That is also an abundantly easy lunch or dinner.

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If you can find the “zipper” these are pretty easy to open. Or stick the tip of the knife in the top and give it a slice. Then pop the beans into a bucket – just like a carnival.

I kept at the de-podding for a while.  My brain taking journeys back to the early seventies when with my long hair braided, I shelled beans, baked bread, grew sprouts and didn’t inhale.  It seems to me that it used to be fun.  This ain’t fun but it is worthwhile.

How many more are there?  And why do so many giant beans yield one little bean dish?
How many more are there? And why do so many giant beans yield one little bean dish?

One of the things I remembered while I was mindlessly popping beans, was an article in the New York Times that I read last year. A snotty assed food writer had gone to Rome. ordered fava beans in a restaurant and was appalled that they weren’t peeled!  I had no idea what the hell Miss little anal retentive was talking about.  In all the homes I’ve visited for pranza, all the fava bean stew, soup, frittata I’ve eaten, no one peeled off the outer shell.  I was taught to par- boil the beans before creating the dish.  Apparently, after this par-boiling part you can take off the outer shell.  Hell lady, I just spent an hour popping pods and now you want me to spend two hours popping par-boiled beans?

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It looks like a nursery of wee ones nestled on a flannel bed.

I caved and decided to try it.  After boiling the beans and dumping them in the ever faithful colander, I burnt my fingers trying to pop them out of their little shells.  What?  Wait till they cool?  What a thought!  Ten minutes is the maximum of waiting time I give anything.  I popped a few and tasted them.  Damn, it did make a taste difference.  They tasted sweeter and less meaty than they do with the shells on. I looked at the bowl of about a pazillion beans and I looked at Jack.  He gave me the “are you crazy” look – no one here takes the shells off.  When in Rome……

Without skinning the par-boiled beans, I made a simple recipe.   First I sautéd a couple of large onions in local olive oil, toss in cubes of pancetta and let that all get caramelized and crispy.  I always buy un etto of cubed pancetta – 100 grams – so that is probably what I used.  H’mm, from all the veggie tops and pieces I had languishing around, I made vegetable broth yesterday.   I tossed some broth in the pan, added the beans, a dollop of red wine – this is Italy – and let it simmer.  That and crusty bread made a perfect “cena.”

What’s that outside my door?  FAVA!

Thank you Rachel for my present!
Thank you Rachel for my present!