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swirl & savor

Eating Green in Tuscany, Carpaccio di Zucchine

Beth Ribblett

My personal meat platter at Castello di Verrazzano
One of the things I love about foreign travel is immersing myself in the local culture.  Not only eating what they eat and drinking what they drink but also doing those things the way they do them.  Downing a shot of espresso in the afternoon with a half a pack of partially melted sugar in the bottom of the cup while standing at a bar in Cortona, eating a decadent brioche con crema for breakfast in Rome, drinking the simple but delicious house table wine made by the owner of the osteria in Montepulciano, enjoying a daily sweet, creamy gelato in Positano - I live 49 weeks of the year in America but for a few precious weeks I get to experience the joy of eating and drinking like an Italian!  I tell people who travel with us to leave all of their American habits at home because the best way to truly experience a place is to live it like a local.  After all, why spend the money and the time to come half way across the world to a country steeped in thousands of years of culinary traditions to eat a hamburger and french fries covered in ketchup and washed down with a Budweiser? 
Pasta with saffron cream, prosciutto and zucchine
But I must admit I do have one gastronomic complaint about Central Italy - as much as I love going to Tuscany every year the thing I crave by the end of our trip is fresh green vegetables! This part of Italy is about meat + pasta + cheese and many amazingly different and unique combinations of all of them.  Of course there is also an abundance of ripe juicy tomatoes in every size and shape, deeply flavored roasted eggplant, marinated artichokes, delicately fried zucchine flowers, but sometimes a girl just wants a SALAD!!! 

Truffles foraged in Umbria
So one of the American traditions that I enjoy on a regular basis has slowly and reluctantly crept its way to Tuscany.   Each year we go, as the Italians try to cater more to American tourists, I have noticed salads are making their way onto restaurant menus.  Thankfully these are not salads as we know them - there are no bottled gloppy dressings or fake processed cheese, no stale croutons that came out of a can or "salad in bag" stuff here.  It's their spin made of course with fresh local ingredients that change with the current season's offerings. Like crisp lettuce topped with the thinly sliced, small pears that were ripening on the trees and shaved with the local pecorino cheese from Pienza just a few towns away or the local figs that grow wild on the hillsides combined with strips of sliced prosciutto over freshly picked arugula....

Fufluns frolicking on the left
All of these wonderful food memories are bringing me to one such salad we had on our last trip - not once, but twice!  There is a great little pizza place off of Piazza della Republica in Cortona called Fulfuns (fittingly the Etruscan God of vegetation, gaiety and wine!) that we tested out on my family the first week and then brought our Swirl guests the following week.  Not knowing what it would be but assumed it would be "green"  Kerry and I ordered the "Carpaccio di Zucchine"; the epitome of Italian flavor and simplicity!  Freshly grown local lettuce and basil topped with very thinly sliced zucchine ribbons and shaved parmigiana cheese, a sprinkle of roasted pine nuts served with half a lemon and Tuscan olive oil to dress it.  I've made it a few times at home now and while it will never be as good as it is in that medieval hill town washed down with a pitcher of local Trebbiano, it brings me back to sitting outside on that cobblestone street with family and friends enjoying the food and flavors of Tuscany.

Carpaccio di Zucchine, Fufluns Cortona

Carpaccio di Zucchine  (serves 2 hungry Americans craving greens)
1 fresh head of local lettuce or Boston Bibb lettuce if not in season
2 baby zucchine sliced very thin on a mandolin 
1 handful of fresh basil torn into pieces
2 T. toasted fresh pine nuts 
lemon zest from 1/2 lemon
shaved parmigiana or grana padana
Salt, pepper
1/2 lemon
Extra virgin olive oil  

Take a large flat bowl, add the lettuce an torn basil leaves.  Top the greens with the zucchini, salt and pepper, and pine nuts; Serve with 1/2 lemon on the side and olive oil.  To dress, put a fork in the lemon half to break the fibers and squeeze the juice all over the salad.  Follow with olive oil, toss and enjoy!
Buon Appetito!!
I didn't have pine nuts this time so I used roasted almonds, preferred the pine nuts!