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Genova Delicatessen zucchini torta

The Genova Delicatessen in Oakland, CA makes something they call "torta" -- similar to a frittata but somewhat denser. They make two versions, one with zucchini and one with artichoke hearts, and they have passionate fans among East Bay hounds. I mentioned that my mother for many years tried to duplicate the recipe, and people asked me to post her results, so here goes:

1 lb. zucchini
1 medium onion, chopped
3 eggs
1 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 tbsp olive oil

Wash and trim zucchini; steam in hot salted water for 10 minutes; drain and cool. Saute onion in olive oil. Dice the cooked zucchini. Beat eggs and mix in bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, and seasonings. Add zucchini and onions and mix well. Turn into greased 8x8 baking dish and bake at 350 for 45 minutes or until knife comes out clean. Cool well.

My mom was never very happy with this recipe -- although this was the result of some experimentation and tweaking, it didn't come close enough to the original. Looking at this recipe (which I've never made myself), 30+ years later, I see some possible explanations. For one thing, 30 years ago mom had never heard of EVOO, and parmesan was something that came in a green can. The finished product tends to leave oily spots on things, so I think there should be more olive oil, and that the zucchini is sauteed with the onions (you know how zucchini soaks up oil!). I'm thinking there should be some oregano in there, and that it probably makes a difference what kind of breadcrumbs you use -- mom probably used canned, but Genova probably uses fresh, in addition to EVOO and real parmesan. I assume (although it may be dangerous to do so) that the artichoke version is the same base, but with canned artichoke hearts.

I'm going to try this tonight and report back. Meanwhile, if anyone is familiar with this dish, please add your comments. Maybe the chowhound collective mind can solve the challenge that has obsessed many of us for years!

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  1. Great! Let me know how it goes.... I've been using many more eggs in my recipe, but this has been the problem (too "eggy,")...

    26 Replies
    1. re: panevino

      Okay, here was what I did tonight:

      1 lb. zucchini
      1 medium onion, chopped
      1 tbsp fresh basil, finely chopped
      3 eggs
      1 cup fine breadcrumbs (made from frozen leftover baguette)
      2 ounces grated Parmagiano Reggiano
      1/2 tsp. salt
      1/4 tsp. pepper
      2 tbsp olive oil

      I sauteed the onion in 2 tbsp EVOO until soft, then added the zucchini and basil, covered it and let it cook over medium heat until the zucchini was tender. Then followed the recipe above. The proportions are still off slightly. I think I'd try it again with one more egg (I was using large eggs, and IIRC mom always buys extra large), and if I'm still not happy with it, maybe decrease the amount of zucchini. I think the basil was a step in the right direction flavor-wise. I snipped some fresh oregano, and then I looked at the big basil plant I bought a couple of days ago at TJ's and thought Genova = basil. Duh.

      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        Have you tried a dry heat method of cooking the zucchini? I usually roast it in slices or halves and it has a great intensified, caramelized flavor. Of course it shrinks and loses the extr liquid before it goes into the final dish. Would that improve the proportions?

        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          I was going to suggest some fresh herbs after looking at the OP's recipe above.

          Anna Thomas does a zucchini quiche which has similar ingredients, and bakes it in a two crust pastry shell.

          the filling:
          2 T c grated parmesan
          2 T c grated cheddar
          1/2 c dry breadcrumbs
          1 1/2 to 2 # fresh zucchini
          2 eggs, separated
          1 1/2 c sour cream
          2 T ch chives
          2 T flour
          1/8 tsp cream of tartar
          S&P
          butter

          Slice the zukes into 1/4" even slices. Boil in salted water for 5 minutes, drain and pat dry.

          Separate the eggs. Beat egg yolks and sour cream, add flavorings. Beat whites w/ cr tartar till stiff but not dry, fold into egg yolk mixture.

          Arrange a layer of zuke slices in pan, cover with a layer of egg mixture, repeat. Sprinkle with cheese and breadcrumbs. Dot w/butter and bake at 450 for 10 minutes, then at 325 for 40 minutes (based on a pie pan.You may need less/more cooking time in a different container)

          Does this sound at all like the filling of the Genova dish?

          1. re: toodie jane

            The Genova torta is very dense, not custardy and doesn't have a crust, so the ingredients don't look right. However, I'm thinking there may be something to that layering methodology. The dry roasting idea may have merit as well.

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              Have you done a recon mission, Ruth? Seriously, stop by Genova, buy a piece of zucchini torta, take it home, and see if checking out the finished product in your own kitchen doesn't help you decipher it. I'd try to help with brainstorming, but I'm afraid I'm not much good to you in the zucchini-cooking or proportion departments, because I only ever buy the artichoke version. But it's pretty well-packed with artichoke hearts.

              1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                You know, it is "packed". In fact, I'm thinking the secret may be that some of the veggie is pureed and added to the egg/breadcrumb mixture. I'm going to try that tonight.

                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  i've never been to the genova bakery (live in NYC) but is it possible the zucchini is grated (shredded) for the torta. Most of the zucchini tortas I have seen used grated zucchini. grate and then leave salted in a colander, rinse and pat dry before sauteeing with the onion.
                  The grated zucchini would make a big difference to the texture.

                  1. re: missmasala

                    I think that's it: finely grated, salted and drained! I haven't had time to make another batch, but I'll try that this weekend.

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      Okay, take two:

                      1 lb. zucchini
                      salt
                      1 medium onion, chopped
                      1 tbsp fresh basil, finely chopped
                      fresh ground black pepper (about four grinds)
                      3 tbsp EVOO
                      4 eggs
                      1 cup fine breadcrumbs (made from leftover sourdough round)
                      2 ounces + 2 tbsp. grated Parmagiano Reggiano

                      Grate half the zucchini (I used a medium microplane); salt and set into a lined colander. Slice the remaining zucchini into thin (1/8- 1/4 inch) half rounds, salt and set in a strainer. Let the zucchini drain for about 20 minutes.

                      Heat one tablespoon of EVOO in a pan. Squeeze the excess water out of the grated zucchini and add it to the pan. Toss zucchini in the oil and then cook partly covered over low heat for five minutes or until just tender. Remove from pan and set aside to cool. Add two tablespoons of EVOO to the pan, heat, add the onions and cook as above until tender; add the sliced zucchini, basil and pepper and continue cooking partially covered over low heat until tender. Remove from the pan and set aside to cool.

                      Preheat oven to 350. Beat four eggs until foamy. Fold in 2 oz. of parmesan, then the cooked grated zucchini and the bread crumbs. Remove one cup of this mixture and reserve, then fold the zucchini-onion mixture into the remainder.

                      Oil an 8x8 baking dish. Spread half the reserved grated zucchini mixture in a thin layer on the bottom of the dish, then layer in the sliced zucchini-onion mixture, then smooth the remainder of the grated zucchini mixture on top. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons of parmesan and bake for abut 25 minutes or until a knife blade comes out clean. Cool until completely firmed and set.

                      Wow. This is really, really close. I think if I grated 3/4 of the zucchini it would be even closer. Salting and removing the water from the zucchini and replacing it with egg definitely got it closer to the right density. I might add a little more breadcrumbs, too, although IIRC the zucchini version is a little moister and softer than the artichoke version. Next time I'll have to buy some and do a side by side comparison.

                      Thank you all for your great suggestions!

                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                        Yum. Thank you for taking on this project. I agree with you that duplicating the texture/density is the really tough part. And as you say, it should be saturated with enough oil to leave grease on the paper. Can't wait to try it!

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          I just made this recipe (not exactly, but close enough), using three small Mexican gray squashes. I chopped the basil along with the bread in a mini food processor. I was quite pleased with the result.

                          paulj

                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                            Ok guys... I've found the "secret ingredients"!!! I doubled the above recipe + an extra 2 eggs and instead of using 2 cups of bread crumbs I used:

                            1 cup bread crumbs
                            3 cups of cubed french bread 3/4 inch cubes including crust.
                            Moisten the bread with water and squeeze out excess water by hand.
                            Instead of basil I used chopped parsley.
                            One more change, I used 2 ounces of parmesan and 2 ounces of Pecorino Romano.
                            Did not make the Zucchini though, made the Artichoke.
                            Steamed 2 large chokes and used a knife to scrape the leaves plus chopped the heart into 3/4 inch chunks. Then add 1 can unmarinated chopped hearts.
                            Mix it all together and bake as above. When just about done switch from bake to broil and lightly brown the top.

                            Enjoy!!!

                            1. re: aadragna

                              How funny that you pulled this old thread up today! I was just going to make this and pulled up the thread to retrieve my recipe (gotta keep up with the zucchini in the garden)!

                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                That is so weird, *I* was going to pull this thread up today too! I made a version of it today with the zucchini: one sliced zucchini sauteed with onion, then one shredded and drained, I beat the shredded zucchini in with three medium eggs and some shredded parmesean, then baked it all in a small cast iron pan for about 20 minutes at 350. It was good, but I think it would have been perfect with one more shredded zucchini in there, and a little more shredded parm. I also added feta since I had it, which was good.

                                1. re: JasmineG

                                  Well, not so weird in that it's getting to be zucchini season!

                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                    I know, but it was so funny that I was eating it thinking "I have to search for that thread, to post about this in, hmm, what's the best way to find it?" and then I go to chowhound and it's popped up to the top. Great minds thinking alike :) Now I have to try your actual recipe and see how it compares. I definitely think that shredding some of the zucchini is the key to the right texture.

                              2. re: aadragna

                                Thank you! Living in Seattle I miss the torta I grew up with from Genova's SO MUCH! I'm going to make this right now.
                                thanks.

                2. re: Ruth Lafler

                  Ruth

                  Try a batch with dried Basil instead of fresh. Restaurant recipes can be suprisingly simple.

                  1. re: rcspott

                    You could be right, although they also make fresh pesto, so I know they have fresh basil around. But really, it's the texture that's proved hard to replicate, not the flavor.

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      I love all of the ideas! I started off making more of an artichoke frittatta...yummy, but too eggy to compete with the torta. I am going to try a new recipe this weekend based on some of the ideas here. I will keep you posted!

                  2. re: Ruth Lafler

                    Re: Trader Joe's basil and Genoa's torta.

                    Ruth: How is that TJ basil. I didn't buy it because I had a couple of bad experiences (not THAT bad) with herbs and green onions from them - no taste at all). I suppose what I should have done was to pick off a little piece of leaf and taste it.

                    Also, re torta... I used to have a catering business in the mid 60s and we attempted to replicate the torta with mixed results. One time we had a wedding on top of Mt. Tam and the torta came out all wrong. So we went to Genoa and bought a bunch of it. It was a HUGE hit and they asked for the recipe. My partner hemmed and hawed and then said we'd send it to them. We never did and they never asked again.

                    This was almost a disaster job. They wanted an apple cake from their old family recipe, which turned out fine. The cream cheese frosting, however, cracked and brownish areas appeared on the edges. They looked really ugly and disgusting. I finally got some nasturtiums from my back yard and stuck them all over the cake tops.

                    Anyway, this brings back good and bad memories. Am trying the torta tonight.

                    1. re: oakjoan

                      I've always been happy with the TJ's basil -- this is the second year I've bought the big basil plant.

                      I'll be interested to hear about your torta making experiences. Now that I think I'm close, I'm going to pick some up this weekend and do a side-by-side comparison. I think the breakthrough was salting the zucchini to remove excess water -- now it's just tweaking the proportions.

                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                        I have never had the original Genova torta but ever since I first saw this thread I've been craving what I imagine it's like! I look forward to seeing your final version and whipping up one for myself. It looks like the perfect spring lunch!

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          Ruth, how did your side by side comparison go? Have you done any more experimenting? I think I'm going to try one of your versions soon, with all the good zucchini coming into the markets.

                          1. re: JasmineG

                            I was running around and didn't get to Genova. I did put together another batch where I grated 3/4 of the zucchini, and it was closer still. I actually dried out the zucchini more than I intended to (got busy doing something else while it was draining) and it came out very dense in not quite the right way. I'm still thinking it might need more breadcrumbs (and wetter zucchini than this batch).

                            1. re: JasmineG

                              Finally did the side by side at my Mom's last night. The Genova version was a bit eggier than mine, and the zucchini was in larger pieces -- I think they probably grate a smaller proportion of it. However, my (possibly biased) family said they liked my version better.

                    2. Once you work this out, will you do the same for the artichoke one? ;-) That always was my favorite, although I loved both.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: MazDee

                        Yes, Ruth, and bring some to us at our homes, please! Now that the heatwave is over, I'm going to try my hand. Zukes and summer squash have been showing up in my CSA box for the past few weeks.

                        I haven't had the artichoke one in quite a while and can't remember if they just use the canned/jarred artichokes?

                        1. re: oakjoan

                          I had my favorite artichoke frittata sandwich a few weeks back and I'd bet they were canned or frozen. I could be wrong but they have them year found so I assume that they aren't fresh. I'm not complaining - the Italians are pretty good with the canned or frozen stuff. They aren't marinated. I was deciding between BBs Fried Chix sandwich and the frittata and the frittata won out. I wonder what they use for their fried chokes.

                      2. Being from the Bay Area and living in the East Bay for 25 years, I recognize this appetizer. Hayward has a zucchini festival every August, and over the years I was able to gather quite a few different recipes. I think you're right, there is a recipe using oregano, and there are many other recipes out there.

                        However, here is one I do remember. This one in particular has fresh garlic, but you can take it or leave it. Instead of bread crumbs they used Bisquick.
                        I've only had this recipe and the zucchini fritta served as an appetizer, small little cubes about 2x2, never bigger.
                        The recipe:
                        3 cups of grated zucchini- squeeze the liquid out
                        1 onion finely chopped or a scallion or two
                        1 Cup Bisquick
                        Fresh parsley - Italian- 1 handful chopped
                        1/4 cup olive oil
                        salt and pepper
                        1/2 cup parmesean finely grated
                        4 eggs beaten well.
                        red pepper flakes to your liking
                        Mix it all together until blended. Spread in an 8X8 buttered dish. Bake for 25 mins at 350 or until a knife inserted comes out clean.

                        Personally, I would add garlic and red pepper flakes. Sometimes oregano or fresh basil
                        I've had this with scallions only,and also artichokes. Anyway you make it, its always a nice appetizer.

                        You could get this at Lucca's Deli in downtown Oakland on San Pablo Ave, (if I remember right) and many times we'd order our sandwiches, and have the fritta on the side or go over in the morning and buy a piece or two. I remember being pretty young, and thinking it was quiche.... haha! My Italian friend sure straightened me out. Her mom had made it for years, and we tried to copy her recipe. I swear she didn't give it all to us and I still to this day think there is white wine in it. In her case I don't know if she used bread crumbs or Bisquick...something tells me she did not use Bisquick.

                        1. This all sounded so good that I made a torta? or appetizer??
                          I didn't have enough zuchinni, so I cut the zucchini into planks, added about 6-7 fresh garlic cloves, cremini mushrooms and scallions all grilled. As they were grilling I salted and peppered. Added red pepper flakes and then chopped it all up. I was able to get about 2 1/2 cups of veggies. I added the cup of unseasoned bread crumbs, a splash of olive oil, two splashes of vermouth, and 1 splash of milk to the already beaten 4 eggs. A few more shakes of red pepper flakes, and then a 1/2 cup of grated parmesean.

                          Baking as I type.

                          Let's cross our fingers. I don't know what I'll get, but all this talk about the zucchini torta remided me of how much I loved it back then...

                          I'll forward a photo or two if I can.

                          Thanks Ruth, I had a tremendous amount of fun going back down memory lane today...

                          1. i used your recipe all but that I changed the veggies, the wine and the cream.... and let me tell you, this turned out very yummy!!!!

                            It's been out of my circulation for a quite a while now and after tasting it again today I'll be putting this back into my appetizer repetoire. As an fyi, I happen to like this app better colder than room temperature by the way..
                            Be happy to post a picture or two in just a shake.

                            Thanks again Ruth, good call on this one!

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: chef chicklet

                              The torta Ruth (o.p.) was talking about comes from Genova Deli on 51t and Telegraph in Oakland.

                              1. re: oakjoan

                                Well, Ruth, I made this (actually it was sort of this) last night and it was quite delicious but not the original Genoa torta.

                                One of the reasons was that I had only yellow crookneck squash and lots of it (CSA box). I also misread (or didn't pay attention) the recipe and shredded all the squash so I had no nice slices in mine.

                                Otherwise, I followed directions and even used crumbs from my homemade sourdough bread from Nancy Silverton's book. Very good. My husband loved it and took it off to work with him this morning.

                                I'll try this again with zukes and will pay more attention to the directions! Thanks for your sleuthing work on this great dish!

                                1. re: oakjoan

                                  Thanks, Joan! I made some this weekend, too -- I was too lazy to grate the parmagiano reggiano and used pre-grated "parmesan" from TJ's and it definitely wasn't the right flavor. I also experimented with an extra egg, and the texture wasn't right. So the "take two" recipe above is still the best approximation. I hate buying summer squash since it's so easy to grow, but I went a little overboard planting it (I have two regular zucchini plants, two "ball" zucchini plants, two crookneck squash plants and two pattypan squash plants, or approximately enough to feed the entire neighborhood), so I have plenty to tinker with.

                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                    I just tried your "take two" recipe Ruth, and it was delicious! I was a little uneasy about the consistency initially (I have never been to Gevova or eaten a zucchini torta), but resisted the urge to add an egg and threw it into the oven. We loved it - my kids (4 and 5) too! I can't wait to try it with artichokes. I was also wondering how a combo of zucchini and thinly sliced potato would work.

                                    1. re: tartetatin

                                      Do add the potato - cooked and sliced. We have something very similar to this torta for dinner regularly and my favorite variation has both zucchini and potato (with onion). Although, if you do this, I'd also like to suggest marjoram in place of the basil - a good bit of the fresh stuff - it transforms the dish.

                                2. re: oakjoan

                                  I know, I did not make the the original Genova torte recipe, too bad I'd not had the pleasure. The recipe she posted for the torte, reminded me of the one at Lucca's in the 70's and early 80's. They seemed very similar and almost like the recipes that were circulating the Eastbay during those years.

                                  Thought she might have been able to elaborate on the differences.