After 20 years in the restaurant business and having raised my four kids into various stages of adulthood, I was ready for some variety to my life. With the support of my son, who had invited me to stay in his apartment in New York, and my husband, who would stay behind and keep the restaurant going, I spent a few months studying acting at the Lee Strasberg Theater and Film Institute in New York.
I had recently completed shooting 52 shows for the fledgling Food Network, and really enjoyed it. The network, originally known as TVFN, was brand new, and I was thrilled when they asked me to be among their first hosts. My old boss from Channel 7, Raysa Bonow, who had directed the Look program I was on a few years earlier, was helping to get the Food Network launched, and it was great to have a national opportunity. All of this tickled an acting bug, and since my bachelor son said I could live with him for a few months in his West Village apartment, it was an opportunity to be grabbed.
Even now, I’m glad I did. The next few months were so much fun. My best friend in school was Telly Savalas’ niece, Aphrodite, and we just clicked. I was much older than most of the students, and was often asked to play roles like aunt, mother, or older sister in some of the plays. My time with my son was wonderful and I did learn some techniques to help me relax in front of the camera. Having the chance to play at living in Manhattan was also wonderful — though I’d been to college, I had done so as a commuter, and a city kid, so my brief time at Strasberg gave me the feeling of being a “real” college student.
My son lived in an amazing restaurant neighborhood, and he delighted in introducing me to some of the best — almost as much as I enjoyed the experience. One of his favorites was Lupa, one of the first of Mario Batali’s efforts. It is a tiny trattoria in the Village. I made a plan to interview Mario for a radio piece for a show I was doing called “Delicious Encounters.” My husband, Todd, was in town for a few days, so the two of us went to Lupa at Mario’s invitation to interview him during the day, before the restaurant opened. Mario was caring for his 2-year-old, and couldn’t have been more charming. He took me into the kitchen with a “let’s cook something together” invitation. In a few minutes he rinsed a few cups of chickpeas in water, dried them with a paper towel and tossed them into a pan with olive oil and garlic for a quick saute. Next, he added a teaspoon of freshly chopped rosemary, then a cup of chicken broth. With each additional ingredient he would snap his wrist and send the ingredients airborne a few times before adding another. Next in was a few cups of fresh cooked pasta and a heaping handful of Pecorino.
Mario plated the food in the dining room and served us some delicious wine, then joined us for lunch and a great conversation about food. It was one of the highlights of my New York experience. The recent accusations of inappropriate behavior against him are disappointing, of course, but I will always remember how cordial and gracious he was to us.
I enjoy the dessert book, “Dolce Italiano,” written by Gina De Palma, who worked at Babbo, another of Mario’s restaurants and a favorite of ours. Her recipes are easy to follow, delicious and fresh tasting. I enjoy her olive oil/zucchini cake with lemon glaze (with only a few variations I’ve made over the years). It is delicious. All my gardening friends are already supplying me with zucchini from their gardens, so this is timely to deal with the overflow supply. I hope you enjoy this cake and some other favorite zucchini ideas.
I prefer the narrow, long thin zucchini. Wash and dry them and cut into half-inch slices on the diagonal.
Heat a pancake grill and oil it with an olive oil spray.
Sprinkle a few fresh thyme and or rosemary onto the grill and place the zucchini right on top of the herbs. Turn over after a few minutes, careful not to brown too much. Both sides should be nicely golden.
Save for zucchini Parmesan, sandwiches with roasted peppers and soft cheese, or just a nice accompaniment as a side dish with meat or fish.
Minestrone is delicious with finely chopped vegetables, especially red pepper, celery, carrot, summer squash, zucchini.
Puree a few tomatoes in the food processor after you saute the veggies in a little olive oil and garlic, then cover the veggies with the tomatoes and broth.
Season with salt and pepper, a sprinkle of fresh thyme and add a few cups of green beans the last few minutes, for some crunch. Serve with a side of pesto and some grated cheese.
For a fresh summer salad that is so easy to make, grate a few zucchini in a bowl. In another bowl mix a half cup of olive oil with the juice of half a lemon, a tablespoon of maple syrup, a pinch of dijon mustard, salt and pepper and whisk well.
Toss some of the dressing with grated zucchini.
Any fresh herb like cilantro, flat leaf parsley, basil is nice chopped with this. Grate some Pecorino over the salad at serving time.
Zucchini flowers like the ones that I decorated the cake with are stuffed with ricotta and then dipped in a flour and beer tempura batter and deep fried. They are considered very special in Italy, and at my house. Enjoy the many opportunities that zucchini can provide along with the other great seasonal veggies.
Zucchini Olive Oil Cake with Lemon Glaze
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease a 10-inch bundt pan well with Crisco and then sprinkle with flour, shaking off the excess.
Place 2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder and ½ teaspoon baking soda and 1 teaspoon salt in a bowl and whisk together with ½ teaspoon nutmeg, and 2 teaspoons cinnamon and ginger, set aside.
In a mixer bowl, beat 3 eggs with 1¾ cup sugar and 1 cup of olive oil for 3 minutes.
Beat in 1 teaspoon vanilla, scrape sides of bowl. Beat in dry ingredients on low speed all at once.
Add 1 cup of nut pieces and 1 teaspoon chopped candied ginger, stir to mix.
Pour into prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes until knife inserted comes out clean.
Prepare the glaze while the cake is baking.
In a small bowl, whisk ¾ cup of fresh lemon juice with ⅓ cup granulated sugar and 1 cup of confectioners sugar.
Allow the cake to cool for 10 minutes, and then invert onto a wire rack. Brush with glaze when cake cools off. Decorate with a few zucchini flowers.