Pasta con le zucchine
Maybe you know someone who really has fallen in love over a plate of spaghetti and meatballs or been swept away by an aphrodisiacly absurd chocolate cake. And I’m sure it’s possible. I just think I’m one of those people who would be too distracted by the cake to notice anything else. Which is why it makes perfect sense that I fell in love over a plate of pasta with zucchini. I know that for some just hearing the word zucchini is equivalent to a cold shower, and maybe that’s why this story still resonates with me.
Way back when I first met him, Francesco was…how should I put this?…a gentleman bachelor. Raised to value his independence and Tasmanian cashmere, he denied himself of nothing and was proud of it. But independence – being able to pick up his fine Italian suitcase and go at any moment – meant that his apartment looked like a very fancy, very white prison cell and the inside of his fridge looked like a hotel minibar except without all the candy and booze.
That’s right, friends. Empty. Except for – and I still remember this very clearly – a bottle of dijon mustard, milk, two beers, a huge chunk of parmigiano, 2 small zucchini and a green apple. When I expressed my shock and horror – how do you survive?! – he assured me that he liked it that way. His definition of independence, apparently, included freedom from feeling obliged to use rotting fruits and vegetables. Less clutter, less mess, less choice when it came to dinner (When faced with the inevitable: Go out or have pasta with cheese? I’m fairly confident he chose the former every time.)
But, you see, his little plan of spotless, efficient, independent living meant that when he invited me over for the impromptu dinner that started it all, he had absolutely nothing to offer me besides pasta with zucchini (and lots of red wine, which, looking back, is probably what did the trick). The point of this story, though, is not that his pasta with zucchini made my toes curl. To be honest, I didn’t really like it. He grated the zucchini then cooked it down to an unseasoned mush. I was less than impressed. And so I offered him a deal: if I came back the next night, I’d show him how pasta with zucchini is done. And so I did.
And we lived happily ever after. But I guess the real point is that he ate my version of pasta with zucchini (which is, I must stress, far superior to his), and I managed to fork down his, but in the end, we still like our own versions best. And that’s ok. For those of you who know us well or have ever happened to be within a 10-block radius when we’re discussing circumcision, you know that we are very, very different.
Though I think his pasta with zucchini is only appropriate for those under 8 or over 80, and he thinks I add too many ingredients, we’ve since come to a happy medium (as we have on so many things): a pasta that involves zucchini, garlic, chili flakes, black pepper, pecorino romano and basil or mint. Not my onion, garlic, cheese fest, not his mush; extremely delicious and simple; and there’s no need to keep much of anything in the fridge. Besides a big hunk of cheese and a couple zucchini of course.
PASTA CON LE ZUCCHINE
This is one of the pastas we make most often because it’s so easy to make and satisfying to eat.
This makes enough for about 4 or 5 people and can be made – start to finish – in under 30 minutes. Because really? There are a lot more important things in life than pasta with zucchini.
500 grams (1 box) pasta such as penne or rigatoni
3 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
1 tsp chili flakes
5 medium zucchini, chopped into moons or half-moons
1/2 cup fresh basil (or mint) leaves, torn
1 cup grated pecorino romano (or parmigiano)
plenty of freshly ground black pepper
Set a large pot of water to boil for the pasta. Meanwhile, in a large, wide-bottomed pot, heat some olive oil over medium heat and add the garlic, cooking for about 5 minutes until they are quite fragrant. You can remove them or, if you love garlic, leave them in.
Add the chili flakes to the oil and after a minute or so turn up the heat under the oil and add the zucchini slices. Stir once, then don’t touch them for a few minutes so that they brown. Keep an eye on them, stirring only to allow all the pieces to brown evenly but not burn. You may need to add more oil or a splash of water (careful of splatter) to keep the zucchini from sticking. Season with lots of freshly ground black pepper and throw in a bit of the basil. Turn off the heat under the zucchini when it’s cooked through and brown but not too mushy.
Meanwhile, salt the pasta water and boil the pasta until very al dente (at least 2 minutes less than the time on the package).When pasta is cooked, reserve a cup of pasta water, then drain it. Add the very al dente pasta, most of the remaining basil and half the cheese to the zucchini, and stir to combine over high heat for a couple minutes.
Serve in individual bowls topped with remaining cheese and basil, and a drizzle of olive oil if desired.