I have often heard my husband, JuanCarlos, talk about good design and how keeping it simple is one of the hardest to achieve. It means that the elements need to stand purely on their own merit. Without any flashy accruements. Without any special effects or distractions. Their very essence must to be outstanding. The same is true with simple food dishes. The purity of the ingredients must be superb; because without fancy schmancy sauces or tons of other ingredients there truly is no where to hide. Fresh flavor front and center. This is at the core of Italian cooking. Few ingredients but fresh as hell, or we'll take you out at the knees.
This zucchini crudo dish falls squarely in that corner. Now you know my love/hate affair with zucchini. It's a great vegetable but let's face it, it can sometimes be boring. Over the years I have tried to take the ho hum of the zucch and give it some 'zazz. (Check the various ways I have used them by searching zucchini on the blog.) Case in point, last year while staying at our friend's country house I was faced with more zucchini. I conjured up a Zucchini Carpaccio that featured a gutsy citrus punch of flavor. (More on that one soon.) For now, I want to stick with the Italian theme and share the recreation of dish I recently had during our last visit to Tuscany. In last week's posting I mentioned that I made this dish as part our Sunday afternoon meal in the Tuscan Hills of Montesperoli. As promised, here it is.
Crudo. What a great word, meaning raw. There are many reasons to love crudo. The first being... no cooking. Next, it's natural and naked. Which is ideal for the summer. I would venture to say that during these sultry months many of us prefer our food as well as our friends crudo - raw, natural and naked!
Food wise, with the heat pounding down, the kitchen is the last place you want to be. And consumption wise, who wants your food hotter than the weather? Something cool and refreshing is required. This dish checks off all those boxes. Plus with 4th of July fast approaching, it's the perfect way to elevate that holiday BBQ.
There are four main ingredients that demand the utmost freshness. Zucchini, Parmigiano Reggiano, fresh mint and lemons. If any one of these are old and tired, then figure out something else to do with them.
I'm not listing quantities because this is one of those platters that you make to the size you need. For 7 people in Italy I used 3 large zucchini. For the big party a few weeks ago, I used 5-6. The amount of Parmesano is up to you.
Shave the zucchini lengthwise using a mandolin. You want long strips. In Italy, Claudia, the villa owner, gave me a hand slicer which worked just fine. Albeit it got scary as I reached the last part of the zucchini. Watch your fingers, folks. You need all of them.
Arrange them on a plate by folding them over onto themselves for create a ribbon like effect. Circle your way around the plate, filling it to the middle. Shave shards of good, sharp Parmigiano Reggiano cheese over top. Shave until your heart's content.
2 c packed fresh mint
2 T lemon juice
1 t lemon zest
1 c Olive oil
salt/pepper to taste
For the dressing, you can either mince up the mint, buzz it in a small processor or use a mortar and pestle to ground the mint. Course sea salt, pepper, lemon juice and fruity olive oil are all you need. Whisk together and drizzle over top.
The zucchini are crisp and mild. The parmigiano adds the salty bite.The mint is fragrant and the lemon juice brightens it all. ( I would say basil would work just as well for this dish.) Simple ingredients showcasing their best. Now how simple was that. I think good design can be simple, and simple design can be good when your star ingredients are just that... the stars.