It’s often hard to convince children to eat their veggies: anything green in colour is looked at very suspiciously. But dinner time doesn’t need to be a nightmare. Sometimes, especially with children, but often also with adults, all boils down on how you present the “hated” vegetables.
In Italy we prepare some vegetables so that they look like polpette (a polpetta can describe any food – usually meat – that has been ground/minced/grated, mixed with eggs and other ingredients, and shaped into a ball).
- Spinach frittata, a true Italian classic
- Peperoni imbottiti, Italian stuffed peppers
- Bake your own rosemary focaccia
Easy and quick to make, courgette (zucchini) and ricotta balls are delicious, with a delicate taste that will please everybody. My 22-month-old son absolutely loves them.
Courgette and ricotta balls are also ideal for lunch boxes and picnics, as they delicious either warm or cold.
- One kilogram of courgettes
100 grams of ricotta cheese
100 grams of grated Parmesan (or Grana Padano)
50 grams of grated pecorino cheese
One large egg + one yolk
A few tbsp. of breadcrumbs
Salt and pepper to taste
Sunflower oil for cooking
To prepare the polpette di zucchine, or courgette and ricotta balls, start by thoroughly washing and drying the courgettes. Grate them on the coarser surface of your cheese grater (the largest holes).
1. Salt the grated courgettes and put them in a fine-meshed sieve, over a large bowl. Make sure the sieve is balanced securely over the edge of the bowl (it doesn’t have to touch the bottom of the bowl), then put a little plate over the courgettes and something to weigh it down: it will act as a press to squeeze the water out of the vegetables. Leave it for at least one hour.
2. Once the hour has passed, rinse the courgettes then press them with the back of a spoon to squeeze more water out. Then put them in a clean muslin cloth (you want one specifically for food straining), wrap them tight and squeeze again: you want the courgettes to lose as much water as possible.
3. Tip the vegetables in a clean bowl, and add the ricotta, the grated cheese (if you don’t have or can’t find pecorino romano, just use parmesan), the eggs and some pepper. Be very conservative with salt, as the cheese will add quite a lot of flavour to your dish.
4. Mix the ingredients well, and if the mixture is a little too runny, add some breadcrumbs to thicken it up.
5. With a spoon, take enough mixture to make small balls, about the size of golf ball, then roll them in the breadcrumbs. If you wish to make a much crunchier coating, you can roll them quickly in a lightly whisked egg, before covering them with breadcrumbs.
6. The courgette balls can be fried or baked: to bake them, preheat the oven at 200˚C/gas mark 6 (fan oven 180˚C), and bake for 30 minutes, or until they take a nice golden colour. Otherwise, fry them for a few minutes each side in boiling vegetable oil.
If you prefer to bake the balls, remember that the oven will dry them ut more: to avoid making them too dry, either don’t add too much breadcrumb to the mixture, or put a small heat-proof bowl filled with water in the oven with them.
Silvana Lanzetta. Photo: Private
Silvana Lanzetta was born into a family of pasta makers from Naples and spent 17 years as a part-time apprentice in her grandmother’s pasta factory. She specializes in making pasta entirely by hand and runs regular classes and workshops in London.