Two things:

One, I’m a dork and forgot to take pictures of dinner while I was making it. Sorry. Two: dinner was so good I totally forgot to take pictures of it before it was gone. Hee.

Which is a long way of saying: no pictures today, sorry. But you want to try this, pictures or no. This is fabulous stuff.

Our recipes today hail from La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy. And while this book hasn’t quite yet hit the status of “cookbook I can’t live without”, it’s rapidly heading that direction.  While there are some flaws in the book’s construction, I have nothing but positive words for the recipes so far.

One of the things about Italian cooking is how absurdly simple it can be sometimes. It can be so simple that sometimes you just sort of sit there and go … “wait, why didn’t I think of that?”. But simple recipes demand the best ingredients you can get your hands on, because the recipe relies on the strength of the ingredients, not how well you can whip your materials into shape. Fortunately for us and our fabulous dinner today, I had a plethora of delicious zephyr squash and green-leaf lettuce from my CSA box, and baby onions and “hottie” peppers from my yard.

Marinated Lettuce Salad

This salad is a lot like one my family make s for Christmas Eve, with sliced olives and garlic powder. But we don’t usually marinate that one. La Cucina recommends  a frisee (also known as curly endive or escarole), but notes that you can make it with Romaine or green leaf lettuce. I can state for a fact that it’s delicious with green leaf. Yum.

  • 1 head of firm lettuce, torn into pieces
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 small mildly hot pepper, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil (use the best you have)
  • salt (use the best you have)

Tear the lettuce and place in a large bowl. Mince the garlic and add to the lettuce.

For the pepper:  I used a “Hottie” pepper which is substantially hotter than “mildly hot” (to the tune of “habanero hybrid”), so I used only half of one, seeded it, and removed the membranes, then minced it. The pepper you choose will have a strong effect on the flavor of the salad, so plan accordingly. Hotties are fruity-hot like habaneros, which was pretty darn delicious. Mince the pepper, removing seeds and membranes if you desire, and add to the salad. If you’re sensitive to capsaicin on your fingers, remember to wear gloves when working with hot peppers.

Toss the salad with the olive oil and salt to taste. Find a plate that fits inside your bowl and place it over the lettuce. Weight it down with a can or Mason jar or something else similarly heavy, and cover the salad if you can. Place the whole thing in the fridge and let it rest for at least half an hour, preferably up to a couple of hours. Toss the salad again before serving.

Vegetable Tart (Scarpaccia)

Adapted from La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy

  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 lb. small zucchini, preferably with blossoms attached (I used zephyr squash … and probably more like a pound’s worth), sliced into thin rounds. You can use pretty much any summer squash you’d like.
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 c. whole-wheat flour
  • 1/3 c. milk mixed with 1/3 c. water
  • 3 baby onions (not green onions/scallions) thinly sliced into rings (about 3/4 of a small regular onion)
  • 1/4 c. Parmesan cheese
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 425F. Spray a tart pan or baking dish with spray oil or lightly coat with olive oil. Slice the zucchini into rounds, place in a large colander, and sprinkle generously with salt. Allow the zucchini to rest for 20 minutes and let the salt pull some of the liquid out.

Meanwhile, prepare the rest of the tart filling: beat the two eggs together, add the milk and water, and add the flour. Beat well to combine and season with salt and pepper. Slice the onions and mince the garlic. You can also start the Marinated Lettuce Salad now, if you didn’t start it earlier.

When the zucchini is ready, rinse it thoroughly to remove the salt, drain well, and pat it dry. Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a cast-iron skillet or large frying pan, and saute the zucchini until it’s a nice golden brown. Don’t stir too much — it takes a while for that golden crust to form. Just toss the zucchini with the hot oil and let it cook undisturbed for a few minutes, then stir and turn the pieces over to cook the other side. If there are small pieces that look done, fish them out and put them in your greased baking dish while you wait for the rest to finish.

Scoop the zucchini out of the skillet and layer it in the bottom of the greased baking dish. Layer the sliced onions on top of the zucchini, and sprinkle with the minced garlic and Parmesan. Stir up the egg mixture (it’s probably settled a bit) and pour it all around and over the zucchini-onion mixture. Drizzle the tart with 2-3 Tbsp. of olive oil. The tart will be about 1/2-inch thick. Pop it in the oven and bake for 30 minutes.