The warm weather months in the Hudson Valley provide a bounty of enchanting local fruits and vegetables. The delicious and versatile zucchini squash happens to be one of those blessings the heat of summer bestows on us. The origins of squash, the foods and the name, can be traced to the Americas, however zucchini was developed in Italy. Zucca in the Italian language refers to squash; the translation of zucchini (plural masculine) is little squashes. In Italian it is not uncommon to see the spelling as zucchine,which is the plural feminine version. The French and the English refer to the green squash as courgette. Generally zucchini is considered a vegetable, but botanically the definition of zucchini is the immature fruit, being the swollen ovary of the female zucchini flower. Don’t let that scare you off though.
Besides the incredible fruit, also known as the swollen ovary, the plants yield hearty golden blossoms. The plants generate both male and female flowers. The female flowers are larger and grow on the end of the zucchini fruit, and male flower grows on the end of a stem. Some feel that the female flowers are more succulent, but they are more delicate and if over picked the yield of zucchini will be reduced. Picking a baby zucchini with the flower attached is a nice treat.
If you don’t have a zucchini plant hanging around, zucchini blossoms can sometimes be purchased at your local farmers’ market or grocer. There are numerous applications for the blossoms. They can be eaten raw in salads, simply sautéed, or toasted in the oven. My grandmother made a batter of flour, water, and some special brand of magic then fried them to a golden brown to be finished with sea salt. Stuffing them with cheese and fresh herbs and then frying is also an option. The blossoms are fantastic in a frittata, scrambled eggs, risotto, with pasta, or on top of a “white” pizza.
While the zucchini flowers are a delicacy we must not ignore the zucchini. When picking zucchini I personally prefer them smaller, they tend to be sweeter and less seedy in my opinion. Be sure to wash your zucchini well before using. Once your squash are washed and dried the possibilities are vast. They can be batter dipped or breaded and fried. Zucchini can be scooped stuffed and baked, or grilled outdoors when it is too hot and muggy to be in the kitchen. Other tasty applications for the squash include zucchini bread and cakes.
My mother made the best zucchini dish that I have ever eaten, it is easy to prepare, nurturing, and inexpensive. To prepare a meal that feeds four people all you need is about two pounds of zucchini squash cut into half moons about 1inch wide, extra virgin olive oil as needed, two large cloves of garlic sliced thin, a pinch of red pepper flakes, four eggs, water as needed, salt and black pepper to taste, six chives chopped, liberal amounts of grated parmigiano reggiano or pecorino Romano cheese, or in my case both.
Add the extra virgin olive oil to a cold 8-quart rondeau and on moderate heat cook the garlic until it is golden brown. Add in the zucchini and the red pepper flakes, season with salt and pepper and cook the zucchini in the oil until the zucchini starts to become tender. Then pour in enough water to cover the zucchini by 1 inch, taste and adjust seasoning. Cover the rondeau with a lid and simmer until the zucchini becomes soft.
Once the zucchini are soft, crack the eggs into the simmering liquid and sprinkle on the grated cheese. Replace the lid of the rondeau and continue to cook until the egg whites are set, the yolks are still soft, and the cheese is melted. With a large kitchen spoon scoop up a heaping serving of egg, zucchini, and liquid into a serving bowl. I like to top off the dish with more grated cheese, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and some chopped chives. Serve the dish with a crusty piece of bread to soak up the liquid.
Pairs perfectly with KRIS Pinot Grigio