Dinners at the long gone, but not forgotten Tavola Calda da Alfredo in Greenwich Village meant fresh pasta (well before it was common here) and their signature antipasto table. Their garlicky breadcrumb-stuffed zucchini, eggplant and tomatoes left a lasting impression. Later, as a student traveling in Italy, I fell for fried ricotta-stuffed zucchini blossoms. Eventually, these distant cousins collided in this recipe.
It makes a great centerpiece for an antipasti assortment, served hot or at room temperature. As a main course, it can be served on a puddle of fresh tomato sauce (for a vegetarian version, sub the prosciutto with chopped roasted or sautéed red peppers.)
5-6 as appetizer, 3 as entree
zucchini (about 2 lbs)
olive oil, plus more for brushing and drizzling
breadcrumbs (I use panko here)
grated Parmesan or Grana Padano
butter, plus more for baking if desired
Drain the ricotta in a fine sieve (or sieve lined with cheesecloth) set over a bowl for at least a half hour. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Meanwhile, wash the zucchini, trim both ends and halve lengthwise. Remove the seeds and some pulp, to make zucchini canoes (I use a spoon for this.) Chop the pulp and set aside. Lightly brush both sides of the zucchini halves with olive oil and set them in a buttered or greased shallow baking or gratin dish.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a small skillet and add the bread crumbs, a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Sauté, stirring occasionally, for a couple of minutes until just beginning to color. Take off heat and stir in a heaping tablespoon of the Parmesan.
In another skillet, melt the butter and 1 Tbsp. olive oil, and sauté the shallot for 1-2 minutes until translucent. Add garlic, cook another minute, and then add chopped zucchini pulp, a pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring, until soft and golden. Scrape into medium bowl.
Add the drained ricotta, egg, nutmeg, cayenne, chopped parsley and prosciutto to the bowl with the cooked vegetables. Season lightly with salt and pepper to taste (depending on saltiness of the prosciutto.) Combine well.
Spoon the filling into the zucchini halves, mounding slightly. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over the tops and then the remaining 2 Tbsp. of grated parmesan. Dot the tops with a little butter, or drizzle lightly with olive oil.
Bake for 30-45 minutes, or until well browned and the zucchini is cooked through. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.