A dish that brings back memories of home..
As a southern Italian, I grew up eating plenty of vegetable dishes using locally grown aubergines, peppers and courgettes. One of the dishes which recently I have often recreated in our London summer is a classic pasta dish whose origins are said to be from Nerano, on the Amalfi coast. Of such dish, many variations of course exist, but the main star of the show is always the courgette, with its beautiful flavours complemented by types of cheeses or variety of pasta formats.
Here is my take on it, and any variations can be made, as long as you use plenty of courgettes! My ratio is 2 per person, which is a lot but that’s the way I like it and in my view, that’s how the flavour really works.
Pennette alle Zucchine
for two people
4 courgettes, possibly without seeds
100gr an aged / flavoured hard cheese such as Auricchio provolone
30gr Grana Padano
30gr Pecorino romano
Extra virgin olive oil
Sunflower seeds oil
1 garlic clove
Fresh basil leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
Salt, to taste
250gr pennette (but spaghetti or rigatoni work just as well). Used Divella in this instance
First of all, slice three of the 4 courgettes into thin roundels (with a mandolin or similar); in a pan, add a little olive oil, a clove of garlic and once the garlic is golden, add the courgettes, adding a little water, and covering with the lid on medium fire. Let the vegetables cook, adding more water from time to time to prevent drying and burning. Add a pinch of salt, and once they are very soft and a bit mushy but still green, remove from the heat.
Slice the other courgette in similar roundels, just a little ticker than the previous lot. In a shallow pan, add the sunflower oil and heat up on a vivid flame until pretty hot. Fry the roundels on both sides in batches until they are golden with some brown edges (careful not to burn them or they will taste bitter); dry in a bowl with kitchen paper to absorb excess grease.
Separately, cut the hard cheese in small cubes, and grate the Grana Padano and the Pecorino.
Boil a large pot of water, salt as required, and add a spoonful or so of the steamed courgettes to the boiling water. Cook the pasta, making sure you drain it al dente, so about a minute or two before its specified cooking time. When draining it, add about a third of the fried courgette slices to the colander, to be basically rinsed with the pasta and its water (this brings back the courgettes consistency and softness); reserve some of the cooking water to use when mixing the pasta (mantecatura process). Put the drained pasta back into the cooking pot, add the steamed courgettes, the cubes of provolone, a few basil leaves and about half of the grated cheeses, mixing the whole lot very well and adding a little bit of the cooking water while mixing as well as some good quality extra virgin olive oil.
Serve into two pasta bowls, adding the rest of the fried courgettes on top, with the rest of the fresh basil and the rest of the cheeses and the grated pepper. Enjoy!