I know someone was tweeting or posting about zucchini tendrils a few weeks ago. I can’t remember if it was Judy or Nancy. Or maybe Ed Behr at Art of Eating? (acutually I think it was a facebook thread where we all chimed in) At the time I thought, sadly, “That’s the kind of thing you NEVER see in the market in Rome. Maybe in Sicily or Calabria. Or go out and trim your own from your garden." So, imagine my surprise - and pleasure - to see a basket full of zucchini tendrils in Campo dei Fiori yesterday!
They were gorgeously and expertly trimmed. Not one blemish, and each of the itty bitty baby zucchinis still attached were carefully cut down the middle so that they would cook at the same time as the thinner tendrils and leaves. There were even miniscule zucchini still attached, no bigger than my fingernail.
According to Nancy they are called tenerumi in Sicily. And Judy says they come from the cucuzza squash down south. When I asked the lady selling them what they were called, she replied - in true Roman fashion - "beh", with a shrug of her shoulders.
I asked the woman how she would prepare them, and she said either boiling them and then sauteing them quickly in olive oil with a bit of garlic. Or, alternatively stewing them with a bit of tomato and very little water. Either way, it sounded like too much cooking for something so incredibly vibrant.
I took a lighter hand, and they turned out extraordinarily good. Here’s my recipe:
2 pounds zucchini tendrils, trimmed
2 Tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves of garlic
3 scallions, whites only
red pepper to taste
Bring large pot of water to boil. Add about 1/2 tablespoon of kosher salt. Put in all of the zucchini. Add a handful at a time, so it all fits in as it wilts. When the water comes back to a boil, stir a few times and let boil for a few minutes. Not too long, since you don’t want to over cook. Just enough so that the tendrils are easy to bite through (this depends a bit on the age of the tendrils. They should ideally be form a pretty young plant, very new young shoots and itsy bitsy zucchini)
In the mean time, heat olive oil in big saute pan. Add chopped onion, garlic and pepper. When it starts to soften and become fragrant, lift the zucchini out of the hot water and saute with oil. It’s ok if a bit of water is still attached, but let it cook off. This helps finish cooking the tendrils. Add salt to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.