Zucchini were, in the past, the quintessential Italian summer vegetable: Tiny, flavorful baby zucchini and their flowers would appear in the markets in mid-spring, to be joined by larger zucchini by early summer, and all three remained a fixture of the Italian table throughout the rest of the summer months. In many ways the situation is unvaried today; though hothouses have made zucchini available year-round, those that ripen during the summer are much more flavorful than the force-grown varieties, and consequently Italians buy zucchini primarily in the summer.
Zucchini are the basis for all sorts of dishes, from pasta sauces to main courses. As a general rule you should select the smallest possible zucchini that can be used for the recipe, because larger zucchini are less flavorful and can have bitter overtones. The round variety is especially suited for stuffing, though the elongate ones will also work well.
Zucchini are perishable, so buy only as many as you need. Come time to cook them, wash them, pat them dry, and trim off the ends (especially the stem end). If they're small there should be no need to remove the seeds. There's another advantage to buying baby zucchini, especially in an Italian market: They often come with flowers attached. If the flowers are in good condition, a glorious yellow with green ribs (no brown discoloration and no wilting) they're delightful fried. Indeed, many Italians prefer them to the vegetable.
Zucchini flowers are one case where less really is more; they're extremely delicate, and will be overpowered by almost any addition you make to them. Just rinse them (if they need it), pat them dry, dredge them in a lightly salted egg-and-flour batter, and fry them in abundant oil; remove them to absorbent paper to drain once they're golden brown, dust them to taste with a little salt, and serve. Their only defect is that they have a way of vanishing off the platter. For a more detailed discussion of zucchini flower frying, and stuffed flower recipes, see the Fiori di Zucca page.
What to do with the rest of the zucchini? Here are some suggestions:
- Rigatoni con gli Zucchini -- A quick, light summery pasta sauce.
- Riso con gli Zucchini -- A tasty summer dish that's not as dry as a risotto, but not a soup either.
- Frittata di Zucchine
If you sauté zucchini, you can easily transform them into a light lunch by using them to make a zucchini frittata. Cut into thin wedges, a zucchini frittata is also a nice summer antipasto.
- Sformato Di Zucchini Passati
A quick, tasty summery dish.
- Zucchini alla Scapece -- Zucchini, served chilled with breadcrumbs and mint -- very refreshing in summer.
- Zucchini Fritti -- Zucchini sliced, dipped in a cheesy, peppery batter and fried, a zesty Calabrian dish.
- Zucchini al Formaggio -- Quick, simple zucchini smothered in a buttery cheesy sauce.
- Zucchini al Forno -- Zesty zucchini with baked with olives and capers.
- Zucchini al Pomodoro -- An unusual Sardinian stovetop zucchini casserole with tomatoes and cheese.
- Zucchine con le Noci -- Walnuts go surprisingly well with all sorts of things.
- Zucchini e Pomodori All'Acciuga -- Zucchini sauteed with tomatoes and anchovies.
- Zucchine in Padella -- Sauteed zucchini are a summer classic. Two versions, one with meat and one without.
- Zucchine alla Griglia -- Grilled zucchini, breaded and browned in the oven. Very tasty.
- Filetti di Zucchine -- A tasty alternative to French Fries!
- Zucchine Ripiene agli Asparagi -- Zucchini and asparagus are an inspired spring combination.
- Zucchine Ripiene di Carne -- A simple, tasty meat-based filling for zucchini.
- Zucchine Ripiene di Magro -- A vegetarian filling for zucchini.
- Zucchini Ripieni -- Zucchini stuffed with ground beef, breadcrumbs and cheese -- A Calabrian recipe for an elegant meal.
- Elisabetta's Quick & Easy Stuffed Zucchini -- With a simple stuffing made from the hollowings of the zucchini and a link sausage.
- Tortino di Zucchini -- A simple zucchini torte made with béchamel sauce and cheese.
A few Zucchini Recipes found on the Net
- Francesca's Zucchini Carpaccio
A recipe with delightful background info from Faith Willinger, which gives an idea of how travel influences Italian cuisine.
- Grilled Eggplant and Zucchini Casserole
Very tasty looking, from the folks at The Artisan.
- Stuffed Zucchini
Italian cooking is spreading; this quite authentically Italian recipe for stuffed zucchini is from a site that's primarily Indian. The tips on cooking, which discuss adapting Italian foods to the Indian taste, are especially interesting.
Got more sites / recipes to suggest? Let me know!