Zapallitos

2006.Mar.19 Sunday · 3 comments

in Food & Recipes

Buenos Aires – I love the ladies at the various little verdulerías (vegetable stands) in the neighborhood. I know they’re just out to make an extra peso here and there, but they’re constantly pushing things on me that I don’t plan on. I had a vague idea of some sort of zucchini sandwich. I had a friend back in Michigan who used to take large zucchini, cut ¼” slices, and just serve them on white bread with mayonnaise and salt. Chicken and Tomatillo CasseroleSimple, and perfectly delicious. But there were no large zucchini, only piles of small ones, which just aren’t the same. I grabbed a couple and the lady looked at me like I was nuts. She promptly filled a bag with a dozen of them, assuring me that they were so good, I’d thank her later. I also ended up with a half pound or so of tomatillos, but I turned those into this questionable casserole that is better left unexplored – sort of a mac and cheese with tomatillos mixed in and topped with chicken. Something I might have been subject to as a child at home if tomatillos had been near at hand.

Zapallito (in Spanish)

Zucchini (US, Australian, and Canadian English) or courgette (New Zealand and British English) is a small summer marrow or squash, also commonly called Italian squash. Its Latin name is Cucurbita pepo. It can either be yellow or green and generally has a similar shape to a ridged cucumber, though a few cultivars are available that produce round or bottle-shaped fruit. Unlike the cucumber it is usually served cooked, often steamed or grilled. Its flower can be eaten fried or stuffed. Zucchini is commonly thought of as a vegetable, and in layman’s parlance, of course, this is more useful; however by strict definition the zucchini is a fruit, being the swollen ovary of the zucchini flower.

Zucchini is one of the easiest vegetables to cultivate in a temperate climate. As such, zucchini has a reputation among home gardeners for overwhelming production, and a common type of joke among home growers revolves around creative ways of giving away unwanted zucchini to people who already have been given more than they can use (maybe this explains the lady at the verdulería).

In 2005, a poll of 2,000 people revealed the courgette to be Britain’s 10th favourite culinary vegetable. In Mexico, the flower (known as Flor de Calabaza) is preferred over the fruit, and is often cooked in soups or used as a filling for quesadillas.

Zucchini, like all summer squash, is native to the Americas and was introduced to Europe during the time of European colonization of the Americas. The name ‘squash’ derives from the Massachusett Native American name ‘askutasquash’ meaning eaten raw. In Europe, the plant acquired its current names. Courgette comes from the French name of the vegetable, with the same spelling. It is a diminutive of courge, meaning ‘marrow’. Zucchini is the plural of zucchino, the Italian for courgette (alongside the more common zucchina), in turn a diminutive of zucca, ‘marrow’. American familiarity with the plant (and the nickname Italian squash) came about when an improved version of zucchini was re-introduced into the United States by Italian immigrants in the 1920’s.

Zucchini sauteeingSo, back to the zucchini sandwich idea. Knowing Henry’s aversion to raw vegetables, my mayo and white bread idea wasn’t going to fly, I’ll save that for a day I’m lunching alone. I pulled out four of the small zucchini, figuring two apiece was just about right. An onion, a clove of garlic, and some mixed dried herbs – basil, oregano, and marjoram. Sauteed the chopped garlic and onion in some olive oil until limp, added the herbs and zucchini (salt and pepper at various stages along the way), and came up with this rather tasty mixture.

Open faced Zucchini meltsFrom there it was an easy translation to sandwiches. When the zucchini was cooked through, not wanting any cries of Tan Crudo! ringing through the house, I scooped the mixture out onto the bread. In this case all that was in the house were these long chains of dinner rolls, a baguette or something similar would be preferable. I pulled a little of the center of the bread out to make it easier to mound the zucchini, and then did what every proper chef would and mushed the insides into a ball of bread innards and ate it. Topped the sandwiches with a little shredded parmesan and tossed them into a hot oven to melt and brown the cheese.

Of course, while it was all browning, I just knew it was going to need something to give it a little zip. So I threw together a vinaigrette of crushed mixed peppercorns, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and salt, with just a splash of water to help it emulsify. I was informed during lunch that these were the best sandwiches I’d made, so there you have it.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

ksternberg March 20, 2006 at 02:56

Wow, Dan! That food all looks sensational. Can you vacuum pack some and send it north?

dan March 20, 2006 at 17:24

I’ll go with the sandwich being sensational. With a better bread to put under it, like a good baguette, it would have been worthy of serving in a restaurant!

The casserole was just plain bizarre – I made mac and cheese, but the pasta got overcooked when I wasn’t paying attention – which meant by the time it went in the oven I may as well have just mashed it up. And on top is just a bunch of breaded chicken breasts that I had leftover and cut into squares… what can I say, I wasn’t feeling ambitous that day.

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