“This recipe brings me back to my childhood.”
Italia fondly recounts her memories of growing up in an immigrant neighbourhood in Sudbury connected by endless backyard vegetable gardens.
“People often talk about the ‘cucina povera’ in Italy. My parents were peasant farmers from Italy with no formal education, but they took what they had and what they grew themselves to cook wonderful meals.”
Her father would come home after a long day at work and spend hours tending to their own backyard garden, without so much as a rototiller. It was a labour of love but also critical for feeding their family of seven.
They didn’t have a lot to spare but there was always food on the table for unexpected visitors. When visiting others, they were always sure to bring a jar of preserves or a handful of greens because if caught leaving the house with nothing, Italia’s mother would scold, “What? You’re going empty-handed?”
Without access to the social agency supports for newcomers that are available today, neighbours looked out for each other. They shared their knowledge, produce, seeds and supported each other in so many ways.
Italia laughed as she shared a story about the last time she and her siblings were all together. Her sister had come back from Italy for the first time in 15 years. Such a special visit required a special meal so they dined on the infamous petelli, which her sister made almost exactly like their mom used to. When there was only one left on the plate, her brother joked about auctioning it off to the highest bidder.
“So the petelli bring back memories of a bountiful garden, of the knowledge and wisdom my parents had about growing food and using the produce to cook amazing dishes. Meals were a time of gathering together and sharing, whether it be food, companionship or stories.”
Zucchini flowers (20-25) and/or one small zucchini (if flowers are not available, shredded zucchini can be used)
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups of water (room temperature)
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
Fresh basil (chopped)
Salt and pepper to taste
Sunflower oil for frying
Prepare the zucchini flowers by lightly brushing off any dirt and then slitting each flower and removing the pistil or stamen inside. Chop the flowers. If using shredded zucchini, add a bit of salt to the shredded zucchini and drain for a few hours. (Or just shred the zucchini and pat dry with a paper towel.)
In a bowl, beat the eggs. Add the flour, baking powder and water. Make a batter.
Add the parmesan cheese and mix.
Add flowers and/or zucchini to batter and mix. If necessary, add more flour or water. Don’t make the batter too thin. (You should end up with a pancake-like batter.)
Add a bit of salt and pepper and fresh basil.
Heat the sunflower oil in a pan on high heat testing it with a small drop of batter. The oil is ready when it bubbles with the batter. Drop the fritters into the hot oil by tablespoon. They will take a few minutes on each side to puff up and turn golden and crisp.
Once browned on both sides, place them onto a dish lined with paper towels and serve immediately.