I'm always looking for tasty little nibbles to serve before dinner with a glass of Prosecco or white wine. These darling little grilled zucchini rolls stuffed with ricotta and mint make a perfect summer cocktail snack. They take a little bit of time - making the pesto, grilling the zucchini strips, mashing up the filling, then assembly - but they won't suffer at all from an hour or two in the refrigerator between when you make them and when they appear on your table.
Sadly, and happily, I am the only member of my family who really likes zucchini. Sad for them. As for me - I'm delighted. The last time I made these, I ate half the batch right then and there, standing at the kitchen counter.
I used a mixed-herb pesto heavy on the mint, but a traditional basil pesto would work well too. (Yes, a store-bought one will work in a pinch.) Basil and mint marry well, so use mint leaves if you've got them, or basil leaves if no mint appears. You'll end up with extra pesto for sure, but you'll find a hundred uses for it: pasta, crostini, grilled cheese sandwiches, salad dressing....
Oh, and one word for those trying the low-carb thing: LUNCH.
Grilled zucchini rolls stuffed with ricotta and mint
- 4 cups mixed herbs, including mint, parsley, chives, tarragon, oregano, basil, and whatever else you like, washed and dried as well as possible
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/2 cup roasted, salted almonds (I prefer Marcona almonds from Spain)
- 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, Romano or Grana Padano cheese
- juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
- 1/2 cup olive oil, plus more for grilling
- 5-6 small zucchini
- 1 cup ricotta cheese
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- about 30 fresh mint leaves
First, make the herb pesto: In your food processor, put the herbs (minus any woody stems, as from the oregano or tarragon), garlic, almonds, grated cheese, lemon juice and lemon zest. Process until all the ingredients are finely chopped. With the processor running, add the olive oil through the feed tube in a slow stream; process until the mixture is relatively smooth. Set aside.
Heat a grill pan or your outdoor grill until medium-hot. Slice the zucchini lengthwise into strips about 1/4-inch thick. I use a mandoline because my mandoline skills are better than my knife skills, but use your own judgment. Note that the ends will not roll as easily as the middles, so whether you keep them or throw them away is also a judgment call.
Brush the zucchini strips on both sides with a tiny bit of olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Grill the strips about 1 minute on each side, just until they are softened and starting to get char marks. Don't walk away; I made that mistake and incinerated a few. They go quickly. As the zucchini strips are grilled, place them on a plate to cool down.
In a small bowl, mix the ricotta with a good dollop of the pesto, then season with salt and pepper. Taste; you should definitely feel the herbs on your palate, so if it still tastes mostly like ricotta, add more pesto. Stir until well blended.
On a work surface, lay out one strip of zucchini. Spread some of the ricotta mixture over the strip, then lay on a mint leaf. Roll up the zucchini strip and secure with a toothpick. Repeat until you've used up all the zucchini strips. Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled.