We had a most pleasant morning watching how DOP grade parmigiano reggiano (the king of cheeses) is made. It is strong in flavor. It is not particularly cheap to purchase but its strong, full-depth flavor means you don’t need as much as milder cheeses to impart that great parmesan taste. Depending on the age of the cheese, it is great for cooking, so today we have a great baked stuffed zucchini flowers recipe using parmigiano reggiano cheese.
Walking into any delicatessen in Italy, one is confronted with giant wheels of parmigiano reggiano and great chunks of it all ready to be taken home.
Grading of Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese
When sold by a retailer (in Italy at least) parmigiano reggiano is designated with a colored seal denoting its age. The flavor becomes more intense as the cheese ages. So the recommended use of the cheese varies as well:
- Red seal (aged over 18 months- creamy) serving suggestions:
- excellent served with aperitifs and apples
- Good for cooking with (as we will in this recipe, baked stuffed zucchini flowers or squash blossoms)
- Silver seal (aged over 22 months- firm structure, distinctive taste, crumbly) serving suggestions:
- accompanied by nuts and dried fruit (walnuts, hazelnuts, dried plums, figs)
- with traditional Italian pasta dishes
- use the rind in vegetable soups (minestrone or bean soup are excellent)
- Gold seal (aged over 30 months- strong, “strevicchio”, highest nutritional value, crystals, crumbly, distinctive taste) serving suggestion:
- excellent served with balsamic vinegar or honey
- great with a “big” flavored red wine or dessert wine
In the Emilia Romagna area 24 month old parmigiano reggiano sells between 14 and 19 euros a kilo. ($7.50 to $10 USD per pound). That is significantly cheaper than we pay at home!
Access to Fresh Produce
One of the great pleasures when driving around Italy in the late spring and early summer is to observe the lush and rather magnificent-looking fields full of agriculture, not to mention the well-maintained, vegetable gardens in most homes.
Corn, wheat, vineyards, tomatoes, zucchinis and other crops are all lush and healthy looking. It is little wonder the fruit and vegetable stores and the produce in markets looks so good. When you pick up a tomato it has that lovely, home-grown smell you just don’t get if you buy from a supermarket.
Not only does food look good here but it tastes good. Another interesting food observation when you travel around Europe is they don’t really waste anything. Its not just steak you see in a butcher store but the offal and bones as well. Everything that can be sold is sold.
People here want to spend more time on making things like stock, preserves, sauces, pickles, terrines, bottled vegetables and the like. When summer produce is at its peak and prices are cheap, people here buy up to make some of the aforementioned items.
Better Eating Habits
Depending how old you are, you probably remember your grandmother or mother doing the same thing. In my view, until recently, this practice has been slowly dying out in places like Australia and the US. As a child I remember our family gathering in the kitchen and talking as your mother or grandmother worked on the bottled tomatoes.
There are promising signs though. We see lots more interest in farmer’s markets, some old cuts of meat are making a comeback and there is definitely an interest amongst younger people to experiment with old fashion fruits and vegetables that just went out of vogue 30 or 40 years ago.
Zucchini Flowers or Squash Blossoms
Strange how the rise of supermarkets and the slow demise of fruit and vegetable stores coincided with this development. A lot of people now see the value in small business for a bit of diversity and because they actually employ people!
It’s not just tomatoes that taste good in Italy but zucchinis as well. It is thought Christopher Columbus brought the original vegetable (actually a fruit) back to Italy. There it was developed into what we now call zucchini (summer squash).
And in testament to not wasting anything, zucchini flowers here are very popular and I am pleased to say they are commonly available in Australia, the US and other places. So buy some zucchini flowers from your farmer’s market or local fruit and vegetable store and make baked stuffed zucchini flowers. Feel free to substitute the zucchini flowers with squash (pumpkin) blossoms, they are just as good.
This version is for baked stuffed zucchini flowers is not fried, so no real cleaning up afterwards and maybe a little healthier than the fried versions. I usually stay away from “delicate flower” recipes, but trust me these baked stuffed zucchini flowers are not fiddly, but actually fairly easy and will be sure to impress!
Tell us what you think.
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