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Baked Stuffed Zucchini with Tomato Sauce (Zucchini Ripieni con Sugo di Pomodoro)

As I mentioned in my previous post, this trip was great for discovering some new dishes for me to try to re-create at home.  While I don’t think that I’d been in a culinary rut recently, it was more that my tastebuds needed a bit of a wake up or re-tuning.  Italy is, not surprisingly, the perfect place for this.

A couple of friends of mine moved to Rome a little over a year ago.  I hadn’t had a chance yet to catch up with them either in the U.S. or in Italy so we spent some time walking around, seeing the city, and, of course, eating.  One of the places they took me to try was the Gelateria del Teatro located at Via di San Simone, 70.  Tucked away off of a busy street, this shop not only has a range of unique-sounding gelato flavors, there’s also mini treats like tiramisu and boxes of handmade chocolates to savor.

Really, though, it was the gelato that I was there to try.  With flavors like Pear and Caramel and Raspberry and Sage, theirs is not the typical array.  Several of the choices are made without dairy, like their Chocolate Fondant gelato (I was told that the green handle indicates these.).  My first selection was one of their more unique combinations: Chocolate with Nero d’Avola wine.  It was rich and smooth, like taking a square of the finest confectionery, putting it on your tongue, and then taking a sip of a robust red wine to let all the flavors mingle together to slide down your throat.  My other scoop was the bright, citrusy, creamy Agrumi di Sicilia, a lemon cheesecake gelato studded with the peel of the fruit, delivering a wonderfully refreshing contrast to the richness of the chocolate concoction.

While I was in Rome, I met up with Nicole of And Baby Cakes Three, a wonderful blog to check out for some delicious Italian recipes.  She shared with me one of hers and her husband’s favorite restaurants to visit (and where I notice she got the inspiration for this recipe)  Santa Lucia is on a side street off of busy Piazza Navona (at Largo Febo, 12).  This charming spot was where I ate probably the best meal that I had on my trip to Rome.  Being sensitive to policies regarding the prohibiting of taking photos of meals in restaurants, I opted not to snap any pictures.  I was also too busy enjoying all the wonderful tastes.

I started out with a dish that has in recent years become one of my favorites, which is a complete shock to me.  Artichokes (carciofi) are definitely something to try when you are in Rome and when they are in season as there they handle them perfectly.  I had a shaved artichoke salad dressed with extra virgin olive oil and decorated with strips of parmesan cheese and crumbled crispy pancetta.  This hit many of my taste points: salty, meaty, cheesey, crunchy, vegetal, and is one of the dishes I plan to try to recreate when artichokes come into season in New York.

My pasta course was maltagliati (literally “badly cut”) pasta with cooked little squid, a perfume of rosemary, and a buttery sauce.  Both of these dishes held true to the Italian mantra of “simplice ma buona” (simple ingredients prepared well).  Being on vacation, I decided to order dessert.  The semifreddo (sort of an ice cream type dish) with nocciole (hazelnuts) and torrone (nougat) which was dusted in cocoa powder and drizzled with chocolate sauce was the perfect end to the meal.  Alongside of it were two wafer thin cookies dusted with powdered sugar.  These were a surprise, as they had a delicate anise flavor that proved to be a welcome balance to the creamy semifreddo.

That night, we ate at the place that inspired the recipe in the title of the post.  It was in a restaurant that did seem to be full of tourists, but the food was not bad. We had been directed there by a friend of a friend.  Two dishes stick with me from that meal, the Carciofi alla Romana (artichokes Roman style) and the stuffed zucchini covered in tomato sauce.  Usually when I’ve seen zucchini ripieni, they are open-faced and baked with a topping of cheese and breadcrumbs.  Inspired by this version and with fond memories of my encounter with a Roman street vendor, I decided to try my hand at making this for myself.

Stuffed Baked Zucchini with Tomato Sauce (Zucchini Ripieni con Sugo di Pomodoro)

Prep Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes (with making sauce) Serving Size:  2 zucchini each for 4 people Ingredients: Basic Tomato Sauce (see recipe below) 1/4 lb. ground pork 1/4 lb. ground veal 1/4 c. finely grated parmesan cheese, plus additional for finishing 2 Tbsp. finely grated breadcrumbs 2 cloves garlic, very finely minced or put through a garlic press 1/2 tsp. salt 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg 1 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley 1 large egg 8 medium zucchini

Assembly: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Mix together, pork, veal, cheese, breadcrumbs, garlic, salt, pepper, nutmeg, parsley, and egg until combined thoroughly.  Take each zucchini and cut it in half.  For each half, scoop out the seeds to create a trench to be filled with the meat mixture.  Place meat mixture in 8 of the halves, being generous so that the second half covers the meat mixture almost completely when placed on top of it.  Top each filled half with the second (empty) half of the zucchini.

In shallow baking dish, spoon 2 Tbsp of the tomato sauce and spread it to coat the bottom of the dish.  Place the filled zucchini in one layer in the dish.  Cover zucchini with an additional 1/2 c. of the tomato sauce.  Put aluminum foil over the baking dish and place in the oven to cook for 30 minutes.

At 30 minutes, check to see that zucchini are cooked by poking a fork or knife into the thickest one.  The meat should be cooked through as well.  Remove from oven and sent aside.  Reheat leftover tomato sauce.  Place two of the stuffed zucchini on each of 4 plates and ladle about 1/4 c. of the sauce around the base of the plate and over the vegetables.  Sprinkle with additional parmesan cheese.  Serve hot.

Buon appetito! Basic Tomato Sauce

Prep time: 40 minutes Serving size: makes about 2-3 cups of sauce

Ingredients: 2 tsp. olive oil 2 large cloves of garlic, sliced 1 pinch red pepper flakes 1 box chopped tomatoes (like Pomi, 750 ml or 26.46 oz.) or large can chopped tomatoes without salt 1/2 c. water 1/2 tsp. salt 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

Assembly: In large saucepan or Dutch oven, heat olive oil.  Add garlic and red pepper flakes and let cook for about a minute, taking care not to let the garlic get brown or burned.  Pour in the chopped tomatoes and water and bring to a simmer.  Let cook for 30 minutes until the mixture is thick.  Turn off the heat.

Add in the salt and pepper.  With a hand-held immersion blender, mix the ingredients until completely smooth or slightly chunky, depending upon your preference.  At this point, the sauce is ready for additional seasoning or spicing up as necessary for the dish in which you are using it.  For the recipe above, nothing more is needed.

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