Mamma Rosa has been great at catering for my vegacquarian Marito over the years. Though really, in the world of Southern Italian cooking, this isn’t hard. A lot of Southern Italian is old style “cucina povera”, or peasant food, as meat was considered a real luxury, and vegetarian anyway. That is the type of food I ate all of my childhood, and what I often now make my own children. The decades following the second world war, when my parents grew up, were a time of terrible poverty in Italy’s south, hence the name of this type of cooking. My father tells the story of him as a very young boy, sneaking out to the chicken coop to take the eggs, eating them raw, so desperate were the times and so severe his hunger. My nonna would go to collect the eggs wonder and why the chickens weren’t laying. He tells it with a laugh, the story of a mischievous boy who tricked his mother, but there is sadness there too.
But I’ve meandered a little. Flipping through Mamma Rosa’s little book this weekend, I felt like making this stuffed zucchini recipe of hers. Like many of the recipes, it is a little light on detail and quantities, as when she is making something it is generally done by feel and taste, and she found them difficult to scribe for me. She has always used the light green zucchini variety for this dish – the variety you’ll see growing in Italian backyards around Sydney in the Summer – and I think the shape is better for this recipe. The number of zucchini is approximate, it really depends on the size. Mine were on the smaller size so I used eight. Her quantity of cheese is “a piacere”, a phrase you see a lot in Italian recipes. It means “to your liking”. I used about half a cup, but use more or less as you please!
6-8 light green Italian zucchini
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 leek, white part only, diced
50ml olive oil
1 cup aborio rice
1/2 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
Grated parmesan cheese, “a piacere”
Salt for seasoning
1. Bring a pot of salted water to the boil. Cut the zucchini in half, and place in the boiling water for 4-5 minutes so that they soften slightly. Drain and once they are cool enough to handle, using a knife and/or a spoon scoop out the flesh, leaving the skin. (This step is rather fiddly, you want a nice thin casing, but not too thin so that it doesn’t hold). Set the flesh aside in a colander to drain. Place the hollowed out zucchini in a baking dish or a tray lined with baking paper, and season with salt.
2. In a pan, heat the olive oil then saute the onion and leek until softened. Squeeze the zucchini flesh to remove any excess water, chop coarsely then add to the pan and continue to cook for a couple of minutes. Add the rice, stir to coat, then gradually add the stock as if making a risotto until cooked. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Add the parsley and parmesan and stir through. Taste for seasoning and add salt if required. In a bowl, beat two of the eggs and stir through.
3. Heat the oven to 180 degrees. Fill each of the zucchini cases with rice. (If you were preparing ahead, after stuffing you could place them in the fridge for cooking later). Beat the remaining egg and brush over the top. Spray some foil with olive oil, cover, and place in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and cook for a further 20 minutes. Serve.