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Zucchini with Mint and Garlic
By Charlie Burke

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Marcella Hazan, a native of the Veneto, has brought authentic Italian cuisine to
American readers, just as Julia Child introduced French cooking in the 1970’s.
She is dedicated to tradition and is intolerant of trendy variations of classic
Italian regional recipes, so her books are welcome respites from many current
magazines and cookbooks containing chef’s “interpretations” of time honored
preparations.

In late August most are joking about excess zucchini and trying to give them
away, but this preparation, based on a recipe she found in the Amalfi region of
Italy, breaks zucchini out of its stereotype by its texture and complex flavors.

This past week Joanne and I cooked a Growers Dinner for the
Sanbornton
Historical Society . As we have said in previous columns, New England’s
summer produce is essentially the same as that of Mediterranean countries and
adapts seamlessly to traditional southern European recipes. We developed a
traditional Italian summer dinner, cooked entirely from local products, and
starting with antipasti made from tomatoes, eggplant and zucchini.

The tomatoes were in a tart baked with basil, while the eggplant was thinly
sliced, grilled and then rolled with Valerie Davies’ world class goat cheese from
Heart Song Farm, the cheese having been blended with mint and parsley.

My favorite was the tart, but the crowd favorite was this zucchini preparation
inspired by Hazan’s recipe. She mentioned that the zucchini slices have a
unique chewiness, a texture I had never associated with young fresh zucchini
until I prepared it this way several years ago. This occurs because the very thin
slices are briefly fried in very hot oil, resulting in the moisture in the slices
instantly vaporizing. The steam leaving the zucchini minimizes absorption of oil
and leaves the slices partially dehydrated and denser, while concentrating
intense flavor.

The zucchini is tossed with minced garlic and mint and then sprinkled with
vinegar and a small volume of extra virgin olive oil. A few grinds of black
pepper and a sprinkling with coarse
Maine sea salt completed the dish. It is
another example of elemental cooking: a few high quality compatible
ingredients resulting in a dish that is more than the sum of its parts.

After the dinner, one of our gracious guests (and regular reader of The Heart of
New England) made me promise to do the recipe this week, so here it is!

Four servings as a side or appetizer:

2 pounds thin young perfectly fresh zucchini, sliced very thin
2 cloves local garlic, finely chopped
1/3 cup fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Red wine vinegar to taste
Extra virgin olive oil to taste
Canola oil for frying

Place the canola oil into a deep heavy bottomed sauce pan to a depth of 3 – 4
inches, which should be less than half the depth of the pan. Heat the oil to 375
degrees. When the oil is hot, add approximately 1/3 of a cup of slices – if more
is added, the oil may bubble over the pan as the steam is released. Cook until
the slices just start to brown in spots and remove them with a slotted spoon.
Place them on double layers of paper towels and blot off excess moisture.
Repeat with the remaining zucchini.

Place the zucchini slices into a bowl and mix in the mint and garlic and then
season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle lightly with the vinegar, mixing it
in and tasting until it is pleasantly acidic. Add a tablespoon of extra virgin olive
oil and mix well. Taste the zucchini, adding more salt, pepper, vinegar and oil,
as needed.

Serve the zucchini at room temperature. The flavor improves if it sits a few
hours before serving, and it can be refrigerated for several days.

This is the kind of unusual vegetable preparation one finds in traditional
restaurants in Italy. It is suitable as an appetizer or as great acidic side to fish
dishes and grilled poultry or meat.

Mint is commonly used in Italy and adds depth of flavor to vegetables and
meats, so try adding a small amount to your recipes. I find sea salt is brighter in
flavor than others, and use both plain and smoked sea salt from the
Maine Sea
Salt Company in our cooking.

About the author: An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice
president of the
New Hampshire Farmer's Market Association, president of the NH Farm
to Restaurant Connection and helps run the Sanbornton (NH) Farmers' Market.  Along
with his wife, Joanne, Charlie grows certified organic herbs, greens and berries at Weather
Hill Farm in Sanbornton, NH.  
The Heart of New England
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zucchini with mint and garlic recipe Photo by Charlie Burke
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