Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Fiori di Zucca "Fritti" Pappardella

I have a love affair with Italy. I've already been to Italy 4 times in my life, and there's so much to love about it. I love the quiet mountains and unassuming castles of Sudtirol where Mediterranean cuisine meets German cuisine. Then there's the winding canals lined with colorful apartments that ultimately give way to massive baroque churches in Venice; I had one of the best meals of my life (a briny pasta dyed in cuttlefish ink and served with the freshest mussels imaginable) near St. Mark's Basilica. I love the sunflowers and terra cotta stands that stretch throughout Tuscany and the multiple dinner courses made of wild game. And how can you forget the gelato sundaes and amazing iron work by Pisano and Ghiberti in Florence?

My love does not extend to Rome.

I find Rome to be unnecessarily busy and crowded and loud. Not to mention dirty. And covered in bombastic buildings. But what I found most disappointing about Rome is that (while tasty) so much of the traditional Roman food feels uninspired. I found one notable exception-- Roman Jewish food.

Roman Jews were once confined to a walled-off ghetto near the river. Because they lived in such poverty, they created dishes out of cheap and easy-to-grow ingredients. These included lots of fish because they could be gathered from the river, and lots of artichokes and zucchini because they grew plentifully in the Roman soil and climate. The area is now known as possibly the most culinarily exciting in Rome.

Okay, okay. So SOMETIMES Rome is pretty.
One of the best-known summer delicacies of Roman Jewish cuisine is fiori di zucca fritti: zucchini blossoms stuffed with mozzarella cheese and anchovies and then battered and deep fried. The recipe below is adapted to capture the flavors of this dish without the unhealthy parts. I heavily borrowed from this Orangette blog post but changed the recipe to incorporate the savory-umami anchovies and crispy fried texture. This meal was so deeply satisfying that I have already made it twice. Plus it uses up an abundance of summer CSA zucchini.

Fiori di Zucca "Fritti" Pappardella

     1 1/2 lbs. zucchini or yellow summer squash
     1 tbsp. table salt
     1/2 red onion
     1 carrot
     1 stalk celery
     Leaves from 10 stems Italian parsley
     12 zucchini blossoms
     1 tbsp. + 1 tbsp. good quality olive oil
     1 tbsp. ground flax
     1 tbsp. almond meal (or 2 tbsp. almond meal if you don't have ground flax)
     Pinch red pepper flakes
     1 tsp. + 1 tsp. kosher salt or maldon salt flakes
     6 anchovy fillets or 1 1/2 tsp. anchovy paste
     Pinch (6-10 threads) saffron
     2 cups + 3 tbsp. good quality chicken stock
     1 large egg yolk

1) Make your zucchini papparadella.
     a) Slice squash in half lengthwise.
     b) Using a mandoline set to 1/16", slice cut side of squash lengthwise to make long, wide noodles.
     c) Cut noodles in half again lengthwise.
     d) Place noodles in a colander and toss with 1 tbsp. salt.
     e) Let noodles sit for 20-30 minutes to drain liquid.
     f) Rinse noodles thoroughly.
     g) Dry noodles between two paper towels.
     h) Put noodles back in the colander and place uncovered in the fridge until you're ready to use.

2) Prepare your veggies.
     a) Cut carrot and celery into quarters.
     b) Place red onion, carrot, celery, and parsley leaves into food processor.
     c) Pulse 20 times, scrape down sides, and pulse 10 more times until finely chopped. (Alternatively, you can finely chop all these ingredients by hand.)
     d) Roughly chop zucchini blossoms into quarters or eighths.
These are zucchini blossoms. They are usually only available late June-late July and can be found in specialty grocery stores or your local farmer's market.

3) Make your fried topping.
     a) In a small pan, heat 1 tbsp. olive oil over medium heat.
     b) When oil is hot, add ground flax, almond meal, a pinch red pepper flakes, and a pinch salt.
     c) Stirring constantly, toast your seed/nut meals until dark brown and, well, toasty.
     d) Put on a plate or in a small bowl and put to the side until later.

4) Make your sauce.
     a) In a larger pan, heat 1 tbsp. olive oil over medium-low heat.
     b) While oil is heating, in a small pan over low heat, warm the 3 tbsp. chicken stock.
I used anchovy paste
Here you can see the paste entirely
dissolved into the hot oil
     c) In a small bowl, beat the egg yolk with a fork.
     d) When oil is hot, add anchovies or paste. Cook until the fish is dissolved into the oil.
     e) Add chopped onion, carrot, celery, and parsley. Cook until tender, about 5 minutes.
     f) Add zucchini blossoms, a pinch salt, and the saffron. Lightly crush the saffron between your fingers while you add it.
     g) Stir, turn heat up just past medium, and then add 3/4 cup of chicken stock. Stir again.

5) While your sauce is cooking, make your pasta.
     a) Heat another frying pan with 1 tbsp. olive oil over medium heat-low heat.
     b) When oil is hot, add the zucchini pappardella.
     c) Cook zucchini pasta for 3-5 minutes until starting to lightly brown.
     d) Set aside until ready to use.

6) Finish sauce.
     a) Once the chicken stock has started to boil off of the sauce, add the rest of the chicken stock a splash or two at a time and stir in. This process should take about 8-10 minutes.
     b) The sauce is done when the chicken stock has reduced down to a thin layer on the bottom of the pan.
     c) Whisk the warm 3 tbsp. chicken stock into the beaten egg yolk. This will make a pale yellow liquid.
Add the chicken stock sloooooowwwly
so it doesn't cook the egg

     d) Remove the sauce pan from the heat and add in the egg yolk mixture. Stir well to coat vegetables and mix into liquid.
     e) Using tongs or a pasta spoon, lift the zucchini noodles and add them to the sauce mixture.
     f) Return to heat and cook 30 more seconds, stirring constantly. You want the sauce to cover the noodles.

7) Serve.
     a) Divide zucchini pasta and sauce onto 2 warm plates.
     b) Top with 1 tbsp. each of the fried seed/nut crumbs.
At its simplest, this is what the meal
looks like. Not the most appetizing thing, eh?

Suggestions to make this a meal:
     a) Fry some guanciale (cured pig jowl meat). Remove meat from pan, and instead of cooking your veggies in olive oil, cook them in the meat oil. Add the cooked meat back into the mix along with the zucchini noodles at the end to make it taste like a veggie-heavy pasta carbonara.
     b) Serve alongside a seared veal cutlet.
     c) If you are not lactose intolerant, make it more similar to Roman Jewish Fiori di Zucca Fritti by adding some torn up pieces of buffalo mozzarella like I did here. Yum!
Add some parsley, tomatoes, and buffalo mozzarella and it's suddenly beautiful! Delizioso! Translation: nom nom nom

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