Summertime Stuzzicare

stuzzicare:

  1. To poke or prod (at)
  2. To tease
  3. To whet (the appetite)
  4. To stimulate

(Courtesy of Wikipedia)

“Stuzzicare” is one of my favorite Italian food words.  It’s a playful verb, one that reminds me of eating cicchetti in a canal-side bar in Venice, crostini in an enoteca off a piazza in Florence or hand-cut prosciutto before a garden feast overlooking the mountains in Abruzzo.  Stuzzichini are snacks that whet your appetite before a meal and Italians have a gift with these little morsels.

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Frittelle di Zucchine e Ricotta – zucchini and ricotta fritters flavored with lemon zest and mint

When I entertain guests, I always serve a wide variety of stuzzichini before a big lunch or dinner.   They are inevitably everyone’s favorite part of the meal and the line-up always includes some tasty fritti.  On Christmas Day, my mother (who is Sicilian) and I prepare fried cauliflower and cardoons, panelle – fritters made of chickpea flour – and cazzilli – fried potato and herb fingers.  However, in the summertime, two of my favorite savory fried bites are frittelle di zucchine e ricotta – zucchini and ricotta fritters scented with lemon zest and fresh mint – and polpette di melanzane – eggplant balls flavored with Parmigiano and basil.  They’re easy to prepare and unlike most fried foods, can be made a few hours ahead of time and reheated without compromising their quality too much (although, naturally, they’re best right out of the skillet).  Accompanied by a chilled glass of vino rosato, they’re perfect pre-grilling appetizers.

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Polpette di Melanzane – fried eggplant balls flavored with Parmigiano and basil

A word of caution, however – as with any stuzzichini, these little bites are highly addictive so don’t prepare too many or your guests won’t have any room left for the main course!  Buon appetito!

Frittelle di Zucchine e Ricotta

Recipe by Majella Home Cooking © 

Makes approx. 20 fritters

  • 3/4 lbs zucchini, coarsely shredded
  • 2 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
  • 3 scallions, very thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup cow’s milk (full fat) ricotta cheese
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • Zest of one lemon (preferably a Meyer lemon)
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
  • 1 tsp each of sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • Extra virgin olive oil, for frying
  • Lemon wedges, for serving

In a large bowl, combine the zucchini, garlic, scallions, ricotta, eggs, lemon zest, mint, salt and pepper.  Combine well and then stir in the flour just until incorporated. (You may make the fritters at this point or refrigerate the batter for up to an hour.)

Line a large baking sheet with paper towels. In a large skillet, heat 1/4 inch of extra virgin olive oil until shimmering.  Working in batches, add heaping tablespoons of the zucchini batter to the hot oil in a single layer (don’t overcrowd). Fry over medium heat, turning once, until browned and crisp on each side, about 3 minutes total. Drain the fritters on the paper towels and serve immediately, with lemon wedges.

Polpette di Melanzane

Recipe by Majella Home Cooking ©

Makes approx. 25-30 polpette

  • 2 lbs eggplant
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup fine breadcrumbs, plus ½ cup for rolling the polpette prior to frying
  • ½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tsp of salt and several grindings of freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
  • Extra virgin olive oil, for frying

Preheat the oven to 400°.  Wash, dry and trim the eggplant and place whole on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper for easy clean-up.  Bake for approximately 45 minutes, turning once, until very soft , and remove from the oven.  When the eggplant cools enough to handle without burning your fingers, remove and discard the skin and any large segments of seeds.  In a fine mesh strainer or colander set over a large bowl, drain the remaining eggplant pulp of its excess liquid, pressing down on it gently with the back of a wooden spoon.  Transfer the eggplant to a large bowl and add the eggs, 1 cup of breadcrumbs, cheese, garlic, salt, pepper and basil.  Stir the ingredients together until well-combined.   Form the mixture into little balls the size of walnuts and roll them in the remaining ½ cup of breadcrumbs.  Set aside the finished polpette on a baking sheet while you continue to form and roll the remainder of the eggplant mixture.   (You may fry the polpette at this point or refrigerate them for up to an hour.)

Line a large baking sheet with paper towels. In a large skillet, heat 1/4 inch of extra virgin olive oil until shimmering. Working in batches, add the polpette to the hot oil in a single layer (don’t overcrowd). Fry over medium heat, turning once, until browned and crisp on each side, about 3 minutes total. Drain the polpette on the paper towels and serve immediately.

Make-ahead Notes:   The frittelle and the polpette may be fried up to two hours prior to serving and re-crisped in a 350° oven.  The polpette may also be frozen in a plastic bag with a zipper for up to three months.

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5 thoughts on “Summertime Stuzzicare

  1. Debra Kolkka May 20, 2013 at 11:45 am Reply

    I am definitely trying the zucchini recipe, thank you. We ahve lovely spring zucchinis right now in Italy.

    • Majella Home Cooking May 20, 2013 at 2:03 pm Reply

      Thanks, Debra! They’re really tasty. I can’t wait to make them with fresh sheep’s milk ricotta in Abruzzo. Ciao!

  2. ciaochowlinda May 20, 2013 at 6:09 pm Reply

    I’ve always wanted to make those polpette di melanzane. But the zucchini sounds pretty darn delicious too. They may both have to wait until I lose the weight from this last trip to Italy.

    • Majella Home Cooking May 20, 2013 at 6:17 pm Reply

      Ha! I’m sure you’ve been walking up a storm over there! And the hills of Santo Stefano will help!

  3. Maria Di Giosaffatte July 6, 2013 at 5:35 pm Reply

    Che belle ricette:faccio spesso le polpette di melanzane che arricchisco con un pezzettino di mozzarella o prosciutto cotto posti al centro.Farò senz’altro quelle di zucchine e ricotta.Grazie Michelle.

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