A delectable recipe from one of the best books about Italian food written in English Secrets from an Italian kitchen, by the wonderful Anna Del Conte. If you want to learn how to cook Italian, grab any book from Del Conte, one from Marcella Hazan and you are sorted for life. She calls these courgette dish “zucchine ripiene alla mantovana”, courgette stuffed in the Mantua-style: this is because amaretti biscuits are used in the stuffing and amaretti are indeed one of the signature ingredients of cucina mantovana (the cooking of the Mantua area) , most notably in tortelli di zucca, pumpkin tortelli. The finished dish is a perfect example of the light hand often needed in Italian cooking and too often overlooked by non-Italian cooks: it is mildly, pleasantly sweet and delicate (please note that there is NO garlic in this recipe), with the faintest almond flavour (from the amaretti) in the background and the comforting sweetness of the ricotta in the foreground, perfectly counterbalanced by the sharper tones of the parmigiano.
There are endless versions of zucchine ripiene (stuffed courgettes) in the Italian repertoire, with ground meat, mashed potatoes, stale breadcrumbs, herbs and cheese, canned tuna and so on. But I find Anna Del Conte’s version particularly intriguing and delicious, the only caveat is that the courgettes must be really young, firm and unblemished. Before starting, take a bite and taste one: zucchine (courgettes) must be sweet and delicate, without any bitterness whatsoever, here in the UK a tall order, but I do not give up and nor should you: do try this delectable dish.
Zucchine ripiene con ricotta e amaretti/Courgettes stuffed with ricotta and amaretti (slightly adapted from a recipe by Anna del Conte)
4 medium courgettes, washed and scrubbed
1 shallot, finely chopped
30 g butter
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoon chopped parsley
3 dry amaretti, finely crumbled (do not use the soft ones marked morbidi)
150 g ricotta, drained and patted dry with some kitchen paper
50 g grated parmesan
nutmeg and pepper
a couple of tablespoons of dried plain breadcrumbs
Halve the courgettes lengthwise. Using a teaspoon, scoop out the flesh, without puncturing the skin: the aim is to get hollow, boat-shaped courgette halves. Salt them lightly and turn them upside down: the salt will draw out unwanted moisture and the courgette will be tastier for that. After one hour, wash them and pat them dry. Keep the courgette pulp aside.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/375° F.
Melt half the butter with half of the oil, add the shallot, salt it and fry it gently, with the lid on. When it is meltingly tender, raise the heat, add the chopped parsley and the courgette flesh. Give the mixture a good stir and cook until fairly dry. Mix the ricotta, the parmesan (minus one tablespoon), the egg, the amaretti and the cooked courgette pulp. Add some freshly grated nutmeg and black pepper.
Oil an oven dish where the courgette boats can fit in one single layer. Fill the courgette with the stuffing and place them in the dish. Sprinkle with the breadcrumbs mixed with remaining parmesan. Drizzle the remaining olive oil all over and dot with what’s left of the butter. Bake until a light golden crust has formed, checking after the first 40 minutes. Eat warm or at room temperature, never hot.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/375° F.
Researching for this recipe, I came across a version that is pretty similar but with even more striking features: zucchine ripiene alla lodigiana, courgettes stuffed Lodi-style. Lodi is a northern town in Lombardy, once famous for the production of mascarpone cheese. The courgettes are here stuffed with a rich béchamel sauce, made with milk AND cream to which mascarpone cheese, parmesan, eggs, amaretti, sultanas and pine nuts are added.