Wednesday, October 3, 2012

DaVinci Storyteller Experience: Zucchini Ripieni ~ Stuffed Zucchini

A Tuscan favorite we enjoyed during the DaVinci Storyteller Experience in Toscana, Italia

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 "Casalinga cooking - it comes from a place of feeling."

Having grown up in a very tightly-knit, Italian American community in New York, I feel the need to emphasize the influence of the casalinga: the Italian Nonna, has made on Italian restaurant cuisine in America. The best Italian American restaurants boast of heirloom recipes from their families; the time-tested recipes with back-stories that can be traced back to the Old Country. They preserve the Regional traditions that are indigenous to their specific locations, and this is why the food is always authentically, on-point

And, if there is one point that I need to make clear here, it's that you will never get an exact recipe from a casalinga! Think you can? Ha! Just try it!  You'll hear measurements like, "oh, about a handful; a splash of this; a dash of that; a couple glassfuls..." A glassful, you may ask??  See? Exactly! You get where I'm going with this? You have to feel Italian cooking. You learn by doing and experimenting until it looks, and feels right. You'll just know. Trust me on this. And, that's why there is so much love in the casalinga cucina; it comes from a place of feeling.

Whether it's your own Nonna, the old, Italian lady across the street that taught you how to make homemade pasta, or fresh ricotta, or it's the woman who's family runs the local salumeria, they are the best teachers. No culinary school in the world can teach heart. These Casalinga are the backbone, the heart and soul of Italian American cuisine in this country. So, when I had the opportunity to learn from Chef Anna, the casalinga of the Casale di Valle at the Cantine Leonardo DaVinci, in Tuscany, I knew I was about to get schooled!  You better believe - my pen and pad were glued to my side!  Between my pen and my camera, I tried to record everything that she prepared, so I could share with all of you - and I've got some real goodies in my line-up! 

It's been a challenge for me to hold them back and pace myself, but there's lots to come! So, for now, we'll start with zucchini. And, if there's one thing I've learned, it's that, if it's local and it's in-season, it's popular! And, you will see it incorporated in dishes everywhere! So, I hope you're ready for some zucchini, because there sure  was a lot of it!

"to learn from Chef Anna...I knew I was about to get schooled!"

Pairs well with  DaVinci's Chianti Riserva, or Brunello di Montalcino
From it's flesh to it's flowers, this versatile veggie pops up everywhere in savory and sweet preparations. Whether it's a frittata at breakfast, a sformato at lunch, or these baked, stuffed zucchini that we enjoyed as part of our "last supper," (sorry, I just couldn't resist a Leonardo DaVinci reference) at the Casale diValle on the DaVinci Cantine for the DaVinci Storyteller Experience, it always made an appearance.

Chef Anna did a five-star job with the entire dinner, and more to follow on that later, but, for now, I wanted to share my favorite part of the meal, these little, stuffed zucchini. Baked to perfection, they are stuffed with a flavorful mixture of bread, seasonings, zucchini, and a touch of garlic. The cherry tomato marinara is meant to be more of a condiment, not a sauce that drenches the dish. It's sweetness and acidity  lends a brightness that cuts through the thickness of the filling. 

Chef Anna prepared a legendary buffet with an assortment of stuzzichini (appetizers), first and second course dishes, and desserts, but I have to say, I could've easily eaten 4 or 5 of these stuffed zucchini as my dinner, but that wouldn't look very polite now, would it? Like that one person who stands next to the shrimp platter all night, that could easily have been me with these zucchini! I'm not joking.

I have to say, even though zucchini was used in so many preparations in Tuscany, the variations were so different and unique, that I never grew  tired of it. In fact, I looked forward to it! And, since I grow so many zucchini in my garden, myself, I'm excited to see how many different creative zucchini dishes I can come up with, inspired by my Tuscan journey.  So, I think you'll be seeing a lot more zucchini love from me, folks! **Hint** Look out for sinful desserts!!

Listen up ~  "It's not wine; it's Brunello!"

Wine Pairing: Now, I know there is Pinot Grigio in the marinara, and I usually drink the same wine that I add to my dishes, but in this case, you can go either way.  I'm not twisting your arm, here, but...I would choose red.The zucchini has an earthiness and vibrant, red sauce. This just makes me crave red wine. Depending on what hearty, second course the zucchini is served with, I may pull out DaVinci's Chianti Riserva, and if I want a complex, “cooked aroma,” I’ll pull out DaVinci's Brunello di Montalcino.  And, if you ask a local from Montalcino, they'll tell you, in an authoritative tone, "it's not wine, it's Brunello!"  So, take that to the bank!

"Casalinga" ~ the culinary Italian housewife superstar!

Chef Anna ~ Casale di Valle casalinga

5 zucchini (small and slender)
1 cup of plain bread crumbs
2 garlic cloves
¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil
1 cup of fresh tomato sauce (see recipe)
Sea salt and cracked black pepper

Tomato Marinara:
3 cups of cherry tomatoes
Extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove
A few basil leaves
¼ cup of DaVinci Pinot Grigio
Sea salt and cracked black pepper 

To make the quick tomato sauce, I just used a bunch of fresh cherry tomatoes from my garden. I picked about three cups worth. Removed stems and rinsed. In a large skillet, on low heat, add two tablespoons of good quality extra virgin olive oil, one smashed garlic clove and sauté for about a minute to infuse the garlic with the oil.  Turn the heat up to medium high. Add the cherry tomatoes and smash with a potato smasher. Add  ¼ cup of DaVinci Pinot Grigio, and allow to simmer for about 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.  Remove the smashed garlic clove, and add a couple torn basil leaves. That’s it! It’s done!

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Remove the ends from each zucchini and with a thin knife, hollow out each one. Mince the zucchini pulp. In a skillet on medium heat, add the extra virgin olive oil, zucchini pulp, garlic and breadcrumbs.  Toss thoroughly to combine and cook for 6-7 minutes. Remove from heat to cool slightly.  

To stuff zucchini, transfer the zucchini filling to a piping bag and pipe the filling into each hollowed out zucchini.  Line the zucchini in a baking dish and ladle a about a cup of sauce over the top and bake for 25 minutes. 

Let's eat, drink, and be Montalcino merry!

Cantina di Montalcino Wine Cellar ~ Montalcino, Toscana



  1. nice blog checkout mine on
    feel free to leave a comment

    1. Hi, Steve! Thanks for checking out my blog. One my way over to check out yours, too! Hope you are having a fabulous day!! Come back soon!


  2. Hi Cathi, I loved reading this, it made me think of my own family and my nonna so much. Everything I learned about cooking is from my mom and nonna and I wouldn't have it any other way.

    1. Hi, Carolina! I'm so glad my story could translate that passion for you. Italians have such a beautiful and loving way to approach cooking; it's something that preserves our memories, our family, and our proud traditions. All of us Italian Americans share this common thread. Thanks for stopping by and sharing!

      Cin cin!


  3. Hi,this looks delicious & love this post...
    I am your new follower & would like to see you in my blog…
    Have a great day!!

    Amy-Food Corner

    1. Hi, Amy!! Thanks so much for stopping by!! I checked out you blog, and are following you, too! You have some really great recipe!!

      Hope you'll stop by and see us again soon!


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