Martin Scorsese calls the Italian film classic La Strada “A poetic picture—it’s about the road of life.” Federico Fellini’s 1954 film is known as a powerful rumination on love and hate. The devastating, beautiful story follows a triangle of itinerate circus performers, the strong man (Anthony Quinn), the clown (Richard Basehart), and the gentle Gelsomina (Giulietta Masina). Giulietta was Fellini’s wife and muse and was called “the female Chaplin” by many, and was nicknamed “Lo Spippolo” by her husband—argot meaning any small thing that inspires tenderness.
And like Giulietta, zucchini adds an inspiring touch when it plays a starring role in Italian cooking. This tender vegetable is very adaptable and receptive to flavors, and Italian cuisine is extremely rich with ways to prepare zucchini. It takes well to cheeses, herbs, and other veggies like tomatoes. It’s delicious baked in a zucchine al forno from Lombardia with olives and capers, or stuffed, as they do in summertime Sardinia. It’s delightful in a tart—tortino di zucchini—or prepared as the familiar crispy zucchini stick treats, í la sports bar.
Zucca means squash or gourd in Italian, with the diminutive zucchino becoming the plural zucchini. Although refined in Italy, the zucchini plant originates from the Americas, and was likely taken back to Europe by early explorers. Varieties such as Striato di Napoli (striped of Naples) and Zucchino Rampicante (climbing zucchini) first began appearing in turn-of-the-last-century American seed catalogs, likely in step with newcomers from Italy.
The dense sweet flesh of zucchini is rich in nutrients, especially manganese and vitamin C. One cup of cooked zukes contains 1.64g of protein and .15g of omega-3 fatty acids. Zucchini is a nutritious, versatile veggie that brings a lot of fun, flavor, and star-quality to any table. Buon appetito!
Preparation: Rinse before preparing, and trim the ends. No need to peel.
Storage: Zukes are tender and bruise easily, so handle carefully. Store in a bag in the crisper section of the refrigerator. Use within one week.
—By Heidi Lewis