At one time, Waverly Root was Paris correspondent for the Chicago Tribune and then for the Washington Post. He also wrote books about food that are erudite, opinionated and good reading. Among Mr. Root’s opinions is his belief that no Western country cooks vegetables as well as Italy. One reason for this, he thinks, is that Italian farmers provide better vegetables than any other farmers. His second argument is historical—Italians have been enthusiastic vegetable growers and eaters for a very long time. They have been at it since the Etruscans tilled the peninsula’s soil. And, as a footnote to their many other accomplishments, the Romans, according to Mr. Root, grew the best asparagus in the ancient world.
A dish like Zucchini alla milanese is an example of what you get when you pay attention to vegetables and do not treat them as an afterthought and a necessary space-filler on the plate. It may be made with larger zucchini and turned into a Main course for an everyday dinner. But Zucchini alla milanese with tiny versions of the vegetable are better and a fine accompaniment to a Main course. They attract favorable attention, as illustrated by this remark once made by someone sitting at the table: “What are these nice little things?”
Zucchini alla milanese ~ Baby Zucchini Milanese style ( for 6 people)
- 12 baby zucchini: To make Zucchini alla milanese as a Main course, use 6 medium zucchini
- 1/2 cup (4 ounces) of Prosciutto, chopped fairly fine
- 2 Tablespoons of parsley, chopped
- 1/4 cup of fresh basil, chopped
- about 2 Tablespoons of dry bread crumbs: a little more if the stuffing mixture is not thick enough after all the other ingredients are added to it
- 2/3 cup of grated Parmesan chese, and a few more Tablespoons for sprinkling over the stuffed vegetables before baking
- 2 eggs, beaten
- a little grated Nutmeg
- 4 Tablespoons of butter
- 1 Tablespoon of flour
- 1 cup of milk
- freshly ground black pepper and salt
- 1 teaspoon of Baking Soda
- 1 teaspoon of Baking Soda in a pot of boiling water for blanching the zucchini
- a bowl of ice water
- 1 whisk and a small pot or pan for making the sauce
- a baking dish large enough to hold 24 baby zucchini halves
1. Cut off the ends of the zucchini. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon of Baking Soda to it. Blanch the zucchini (whole) for 1 minute, drain, and put them in a bowl of ice water to cool and stop their cooking.
2. Dry the zucchini, cut them in half lengthwise, remove the flesh, reserving it in a bowl and leaving shells of about a 1/4-inch thickness: See Step 6 for a photo of the hollowed-out shell.
3. Add the Prosciutto, parsley, basil, breadcrumbs and Parmesan to the bowl of zucchini flesh, and then, the beaten eggs. Grate some nutmeg into the mixture, grind some black pepper and salt over it, and set the mixture aside.
4. Make a sauce: Melt 4 Tablespoons of butter, add 1 Tablespoon of flour and cook the mixture for a minute over medium heat, stirring with a whisk. Gradually add 1 cup of milk, continuing to stir. Lower the heat and simmer the sauce, stirring, until it thickens.
5. Add the sauce to the zucchini mixture. If the stuffing is not thick enough, add some more bread crumbs:
6. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter the baking dish. Fill the zucchini shells with the stuffing:
7. Arrange the Zucchini alla milanese in the baking dish:
9. Bake the Zucchini alla milanese for about 30 minutes, or until they are golden:
A Note: Zucchini alla milanese is adapted from the recipe for this dish in Waverley Root’s cookbook The Best of Italian Cooking (1974), and accompanies Fried Filet of Sole with Oranges and Fresh Tomato in the Lunch Menu: Simply Delicious Combinations.
A Second Note: The baby zucchini may be stuffed–and not baked–a day ahead of time. Refrigerate them until ready to bake.
© Elizabeth Laeuchli, the diplomatickitchen, 2011-2012