Zucchini skeptics beware: this recipe will alter your reality forever!
When I arrived at the small farm in Acireale, Sicily, I couldn’t go barefoot. A fine layer of volcanic ash covered the earth and beneath it lay an obstacle course of thorns and sharp weeds.
I spent the first few days of my WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) exchange sweeping away dust and debris from the brick path outside my room. It had been some time since the last volunteer’s stay and Mount Etna had rained ash on the region several times since.
When I finished this task, I got to the real work of weeding, harvesting, cooking… and chopping wood.
I chopped a lot of wood.
I worked from morning to early afternoon, then got a ride a few kilometers to the coast to revel in the icy blue Ionian sea. The coral and lava rocks along the shore created spectacular patterns beneath the clear water that I never tired of studying.
That is all to say, Sicily turned out to be my very own paradise. Figs dropped from trees in the front yard, I had never seen a more brilliant sea and the work was calming. Etna was not expected to erupt in the near future. I was content.
Unfortunately for me, I arrived just in time for the zucchini harvest.
Every day for weeks, I brought down baskets of zucchini flowers (fiori di zucca) and several foot-long zucchini from the garden. The flowers we soaked in water to drive out the scores of ants hiding within, then sautéed or stuffed with cheese, battered and fried. I had no complaints about the flowers, but I had never liked zucchini very much.
That would change.
Having no choice but to eat a certain food for days on end can only end two ways. Either you will hate that food for the rest of your life, or you will come to love it.
One recipe changed the way I would feel about zucchini forever, and it could not be simpler to prepare:
2 Cloves Garlic
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
To make this delicious side dish, first go to your garden and select the ripest zucchini from your zucchini patch. Careful of the spiny stems! Rinse it off in the kitchen sink, then slice it as thin as you possibly can. If you have an electric contraption to do this, by all means use it, but a knife will work just fine.
Grill your zucchini slices in a hot, dry pan—no oil!—until a little bit brown on each side. You will be able to see steam lifting off as the slices dry up. Don’t worry if some of the thinnest slices burn at the edges or center; it’s okay.
You will need to keep watching the pan and turning over the slices, as they will all cook at different times. Be patient. While you are stuck there, you can roughly chop your garlic and toss it into a bowl with some good olive oil (the best you have) and a pinch of salt and pepper.
You can play your favorite cooking music and dance around a little bit, too. I like to add the olive oil, garlic and salt slowly, along with the zucchini hot out of the pan, but you can add it all at once, too. I also like to play the Temptations at full volume, but that is a matter of personal preference.
As you pull the cooked slices out of the pan, add them to the bowl with the olive oil mixture and stir.
Then add a bit more oil. Really.
Sott’olio means “under oil,” and olive oil and garlic are the stars of the show—you can’t add too much!
Salt and pepper is up to you.
Serve hot or at room temperature, but give the zucchini slices at least 15 minutes to soak up the oil and meld with the sharp garlic-y flavor. This dish makes a perfect accompaniment for meat or pasta, or it can stand alone as an antipasto (appetizer) with some fresh, warm bread.
Try to resist the temptation to eat it all yourself, and share the goodness with friends and loved ones.
Food always tastes best when it is enjoyed in good company.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice editor: Kim Haas/Editor: Renée Picard
Photos: Courtesy of author.