There’s zucchinis coming out of gardens all over the place and today I’m preparing one of my favourite uses for them: pitticelle cucuzze. These zucchini fritters are the ultimate summer snack: light, crispy and made with readily available ingredients. And boy are they available! Our Sicilian zucchini (called tromboncino)-which was featured in my recipe for Tenerumi Pasta-has produced massive zucchini at 4.25 feet long and 6.8 pounds for the largest one.
My grandfather always used to make pitticelle cucuzze during the summer and I struggled to say the Calabrese name for zucchini right: cucuzza. I often mixed it up with Cocuzza, the name of a mountain region in Calabria (Monte Cocuzza). Either way, it’s way more fun to say than the traditional Italian name: zucchino or zucchine.
These pitticelle are a great way to use the zucchini but also zucchini flowers. Many people fry up zucchini flowers on their own and my comare, in Sicilian-style, breads the zucchini flowers and cooks them up like a cutlet (also very good!). In these pitticelle, the flowers add colour and taste but you can make them without the flowers.
Here a tip about pitticelle cucuzze: they are best right out of the frying pan or the next day toasted up to crispy in the oven. Want a little some extra in the pitticelle? Sometimes if my grandfather had it, he would add some shredded mozzarella to the batter as well.
(If you missed my previous posting on pitticelle/fritelle/fritters, check out my explanation of these snacks along with my recipe for pitticelle di pane).
2 cups packed thinly sliced zucchini
5-6 zucchini flowers (optional)
1 cup room temperature water
1-2 tablespoons salt (to prepare the zucchini, you’ll wash this off after)
1/2 teaspoon salt (for the batter)
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil (to taste, optional)
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Wash and peel (or semi-peel if the peel is thin) the zucchini. Cut in half and using a spoon, remove the seeds from the centre if the seeds are large. This section of the zucchini will add too much water to your fritters (plus who likes to eat seeds!). Slice thinly on a mandolin.
Salt generously and place under pressure in a colander to drain for a minimum of one hour. I usually put a plate on top of the zucchini and top the plate with a heavy can or bowl or water. The salt, and the pressure, will remove excess water from the zucchini. If you need to let them sit longer than that (maybe the slices are larger or you have to leave the kitchen for some time), place the colander in the fridge to stop the zucchini from degrading too much.
After your zucchini have been pressed, rinse them well and squeeze out the water with your hands. The zucchini slices should be soft. Set aside.
Inspect your Zucchini flowers, removing any damaged petals. Press the stem of the zucchini flower at it’s base to separate the stem and stamen from the petals. By pressing it with two fingers, it should pop away from the petals easily. Discard the stem and tear open the petals to open the flowers. Wash under running water and place on a paper towel to dry. Set aside.
To make the batter, break four eggs into a bowl and add a 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Stir vigorously, the salt will help to break up the eggs. Add in the water and flour and mix well. The batter should be a little stiffer than pancake batter (after you add in the zucchini, the water from the vegetables will thin it out).
Tear the flowers into strips and add to the batter. Add chopped basil (optional). Add the sliced zucchini and mix to combine well. The batter should be loose and run off a spoon fairly easily.
Heat a frying pan with 1/4 inch of oil coating the bottom. When the oil is heated through, you are ready to start frying. Using a large serving spoon, pour the batter by the spoonful into the frying pan. Fry until golden brown and flip, about one to two minutes per side.
Remove to a paper towel to drain. Serve when piping hot. Save leftovers (if any) to warm up in a toaster oven the next day!