Zucchini & fiori di zucca
|July 10, 2012||Posted by ameliaps under Italian, spaghetti, squash, summer, vegetables, zucchini|
In the summer, all the area around Naples (I grew up in Sorrento) makes fritto misto, a mixed fried antipasto that can include a variety of seafood, vegetables and herbs, deep fried in a yest batter, which goes under the name of pasta cresciuta (pastetta or pastella). It is really simple to make, with four basic ingredients: flour, water, yeast, and salt. The wonderful thing about it is that, when this dough is immersed in boiling oil, it grows (hence the name pasta cresciuta which literally means “grown dough”). My personal favorite fritto misto is fiori di zucca (zucchini blossoms), plain, not stuffed. You can try coating this magic batter with virtually anything you wish: mozzarella, lemon slices, tiny fish, shrimp, salt cod (baccalà), seaweed (alghe), sweetbreads (animelle), vegetables, herbs,…. OR, you can even fry some plain rounds of dough, and top with a quick smashed cherry tomato sauce, basil and grated Parmigiano, to make pizzette fritte (mini fried pizzas). An important note is that not all fritto misto is made with the batter, some ingredients just call for a flour coating (e.g. calamari), but you need to make sure the ingredients is super dry before you coat it, and others yet (alici: anchovies, latterini & bianchetti: smelt & whitebait) call to be dorate e fritte, which means golden and fried with a classic flour and egg coating. You have to eat all this frienno e magnanno, which literally means frying and eating, right out of the frier, as fritto misto has to be eaten super-hot, typically in the kitchen, with kitchen paper to hold it together (and half a lemon t-preferably from Sorrento – to squeeze right on the fish, when present), while the host/hostess prepares the rest of the meal. It’s part of the ritual.
|Pasta cresciuta (for fritto misto)||
- 1 cake (0.6 oz) fresh yeast or one envelope or 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
- 2 cups warm water, or as needed to make a thick batter
- 1 tsp salt
- 250 gr. (2.5 cups) bread or all-purpose flour
- Fritto misto ingredients to coat (e.g. zucchini blossoms)
- Frying Oil (sunflower seed, peanut, and corn oil). I think peanut is best.
- (This amount makes about 24-30 fritters)
- Mix the yeast with 1/2 cup warm water in a bowl and allow to regenerate, about 10 minutes. Add the remaining water and the salt.
- Start adding the flour, in small additions, whisking with a fork, until a smooth creamy (not thick, not thin) batter is formed. Allow to rest, covered, for about an hour.
- When ready to fry, stir the batter, and add your “fritto misto” ingredients in, coating with a fork.
- Heat about 8 cm (3 inches) of oil, in a deep heavy wide frying pot, until about 190 °C (375 °F). Drop the batter (or the batter-coated ingredient) by the spoon-ful, without crowding the pan. Flip the fritters on the other side when golden then drain on kitchen paper.SERVE HOT!!!
Plain fried zucchini are also wonderful with spaghetti. There is this small place not far from Positano (in a bay called Nerano), which mastered this dish (the place is da Maria Grazia). The recipe can be found here. We used to dock there in the summer and, after a long swim, we’d sit on the restaurant’s weathered deck, barefoot, with a bunch of friends, and a glass of white wine (Furore Bianco, Greco di Tufo, Fiano di Avellino, Falanghina del Sannio, or Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio), around 4 or 5 pm (and that was lunch, not dinner!) to have Spaghetti con le zucchine. When making this dish at home, my parents add their special touch, by adding a bit of chopped fresh zucchini blossoms, turning the dish into a real piece of artwork. Because the dish only has a few ingredients, they must be the very best (durum pasta – preferably from Gragnano -, freshly picked zucchini and basil, the best cheese – Parmigiano Reggiano and/or provolone del monaco -). There is a secret to this dish, and that it is the addition of a small dab of butter at the very end mixed with some of the pasta cooking water, which allows the dish to mantecare (cream), a procedure usually reserved for risotto.
I have two more favorite preparations for zucchini: 1) zucchine alla scapece (grilled or fried, then marinated in layers, with extra virgin olive oil, a couple of tablespoons of red wine vinegar, some shredded mint, and garlic slivers) and 2) zucchine bollite all’olio e limone (steamed for just a few minutes, then seasoned with excellent olive oil, a smashed garlic clove, salt and a squeeze of the best lemons you can find). In the spirit of summer, these really are non-recipes: you should know the technique but the ingredients need to be measured with your taste buds and a pinch of experience!