When we were in Italy last fall, I fell in love with these wonderful little rolled zucchini bites that Rosella, our Agriturismo host, whipped up. I remember asking her what kind of cheese was in the center… Goat cheese? Ricotta? Imagine my surprise when she said, “No! Cream cheese! Philadelphia!” There you go – a worldwide wonder, apparently!
I couldn’t wait for zucchini season to arrive and, well, here we are! About a week ago I was asked to bring an appetizer to dinner with friends. I wasn’t going to have a lot of time to put something together once I got home from work, so I decided to give these a try. Start to finish, they took about an hour – perfect timing! Best of all, everyone enjoyed them, which always makes me happy!
All you need are zucchini, cream cheese, milk, grape (or cherry) tomatoes, fresh basil, olive oil, salt and black pepper.
While your grill heats up, slice the zucchini into lengthwise slices. Thinner slices are best, since they will be more flexible and easier to roll. I used my mandolin (V-slicer), to give me about 1 mm slices.
If you don’t have a mandolin, just use a good, very sharp knife to make your slices as thin as possible.
Next up, make the filling. By mixing the filling now, it will give the basil a chance to infuse some flavor into the cream cheese, before you roll it with the zucchini.
Starting with the cream cheese at room temperature, put it in a bowl and cream it with whatever is easiest for you: a stand mixer, hand mixer or a fork. If you want to thin it out (just a little!) add some milk, a tablespoon or so at a time, until it is a smooth, spreadable consistency.
Now chop the basil. Basil is so pretty when cut as “chiffonade”: thin strips, or ribbons.
First, stack the basil leaves.
Then, roll them up lengthwise.
Next, make thin slices across the roll.
And here is your chiffonade!
Using a spatula, mix the basil (to your taste) with the cream cheese, adding just a bit of salt and pepper.
It’s important to remember that you’ll be seasoning the zucchini with salt and pepper, so just a bit in the filling will go a long way. If you choose, you could even skip the salt and pepper here, just let whatever you put on the zucchini do the job!
Now go grab those zucchini slices, olive oil, salt, pepper, tongs and a basting brush – and get to grilling that zucchini.
A big grill won’t fit on our balcony, so we just have a small one – but it works for us, and we love it!
Here’s a video showing you how quickly the zucchini grills – it takes literally all of about 3 minutes!
Just to recap, lightly brush your hot grill with olive oil and lay the zucchini slices on the grill. Then lightly brush the zucchini with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. This is the side that will go INSIDE the rolls, it will be right next to the filling, giving it a nice little zing! Once you see grill marks showing through, turn the zucchini slices. Give them another minute or so and then transfer them to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb any excess olive oil or moisture.
Now you’re ready to fill and roll the zucchini. Lay a few slices out on a board – salt and pepper side up! – placing about a teaspoon of cream cheese filling at the bottom of each.
Roll them up, starting from the bottom. Here's another video to demonstrate that technique.
You'll end up with perfect little zucchini rolls – just look at how pretty those grill marks look on the outside!
To plate the rolls, I thought a drizzle of balsamic vinegar glaze on the plate would help them remain standing as I walked to our friends’ home for dinner. Yes, I could have reduced some balsamic vinegar, but at The Chopping Block we have this amazing creamy balsamic vinegar glaze that pours beautifully from the bottle and is a staple in my refrigerator – it was perfect for this!
Then I just stood the rolls on end & topped them with a slice of tomato. These Zucchini Rolls are an appetizer that just shouts, "It's Summertime!"
If you want to make the most of your grill this summer, consider taking a class on The Chopping Block’s outdoor grilling patio at the Lincoln Square location! There are grilling classes for everyone during July and August. Check out our complete list of grilling class offerings.
If you happen to have an abundance of zucchini from your garden, August 8th is the day to share. Celebrate National Sneak Some Zucchini on Your Neighbor's Porch Day by sharing your zucchini with others!