In 1971 I was introduced to the Trattoria Trestevere, a small Italian restaurant on Crescent St., just below St. Catherine St. The restaurant is still there and it hasn’t changed much in all these years.
There were three items on the menu that proved to be irresistible to me: the fried zucchini, served with lemon wedges, the spinach-ricotta manicotti in a rosé béchamel and the insalata fantasia. It so happened that the chef was kind enough to divulge his perfect fried zucchini recipe to my family for a cooking magazine/book/marketing project, but it never occurred to me to request the other two recipes. It seems a tad presumptuous to go about asking restauranteurs for the secrets to their success.
All the same, while in Abruzzo, at the Villa Maiella in Guardiagrele, the wonderful flavour of the insalata led me to ask the executive chef/owner Giuseppe Tinari for the secret ingredient. Why does this salad have such an excellent flavour? With a wink and a nod I was promised the truth. A wineglass was brought to our table with an ounce or two of rosé vinegar. We were asked to savour the aroma slowly as it would gain interest over time. So we did, with pleasure.
Everyone knows about balsamic vinegar and how age matters. It hadn’t occurred to me that regular wine vinegar could be as precious as wine. Giuseppe proudly told me of his families 60 year long tradition of producing their own vinegar- on top of all their own products, for their award winning restaurant. The secret to a scrumptious salad is in the freshness and quality of each ingredient. Olive oil is best used quickly after opening, thus it should be purchased in small quantities.
- Escarole or other types of lettuce, torn into bite sized pieces
- 1/2 radicchio, torn into bite sized pieces
- 1 endive, cut into 3/4 inch strips
- 1 cup arugula
- 1 carrot, julienned
- 1-2 celery sticks, peeled and sliced on an angle
- 1 large cucumber, peeled and sliced
- 2 medium flavouful tomatoes, cut in wedges
Adjust the simple vinaigrette dressing to your taste
- 3 T excellent extra virgin olive oil
- 2 T excellent rosé wine vinegar, (ask for a recommendation at either Milano’s or Atwater Market’s – Les douceurs du marché – gourmet store)
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
Options: Giuseppe’s insalata had several fruits cut into cubes as well as quartered walnuts, rather than cucumbers, celery and tomatoes. You can improvise and include what looks and tastes best to you.
So, if you are ever in Guardiagrele, Abruzzo, dining at the Villa Maiella, order the insalata and don’t be shy to ask Giuseppe about the vinegar. When I asked if I could purchase some he looked at me with dismay, returning five minutes later with a complimentary improvised bottle full. Oh joy!
Thanks to my good friend Joanne for selecting Abruzzo as our travel destination – off the beaten path and well worth investigation for the outstanding yet unbelievably reasonable wine Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, the antipasto, cheeses and the spectacular views. We were so impressed with the surrounding mountains and patchwork vistas in numerous shades of green. If you find yourself in the region don’t miss the war museum in Ortona which illustrates their fascinating WWII history and the role of the Canadians.
As for the Fried Zucchini at the Trattoria Trestevere (serves 4):
- 6-8 firm, medium sized zucchini
- 1/2 c milk
- 1 c flour
- vegetable oil for frying
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 T parsley, finely chopped
- lemon wedges
Slice the zucchini like thin french fries. Sprinkle with a little salt. Spread on paper towel for 1 hour to dry out. Put in a shallow bowl and sprinkle on milk. Let it sit for 2 minutes, stirring a few times. Squeeze out excess milk.
Heat oil to 300 degrees. Toss the zucchini in flour, then shake off the excess flour in a large strainer before putting them into the hot oil. Use a frying basket for easy removal.
As the zucchini turn a golden brown colour they rise to the surface, in about 2 minutes. Strain off excess oil on paper towel. Sprinkle on salt, pepper and parsley and serve with lemon wedges.
There are no pictures as I’m not partial to frying. A craving for this recipe simply sends me to Trestevere.
Thanks to Joanne for tossing off this title “In vino veritas” in conversation and for all the Abruzzo planning, touring and tasting. Thanks to Marvin and Mark for indulging our cravings for all things Italian.