A culinary delight on a recent trip to Italy was an innovative pairing of twisty pasta and zucchini. This dish — the creation of my friend Gisella, a superlative cook — is not as simple as it sounds. The zucchini is cooked two ways so that the pasta is both bathed in a silky zucchini sauce and embellished with strips of sautéd zucchini. Grated parmesan, small squares of dry-cured ham and snipped fresh basil are added at the end.
Fusilli aux courgettes / Fusilli with zucchini
This dish can be made with any pasta but works best with the twisty form known as fusilli in Italian, torsades in French and rotini in the United States. Why? Because the spiral shape makes it easy for the sauce to cling to the entire surface. The sauce is made by sautéing grated zucchini with onion and then blending the mixture. Separately, julienne strips of zucchini are fried in olive oil until golden. This may all be done in advance.
The next stage involves immersing pasta cooked until it is just short of al dente in the (reheated) zucchini sauce. This technique, known in Italian as la mantecatura, binds the sauce to the pasta and produces a creamy, homogenous dish. The same method may be used to excellent effect with tomato-based pasta sauces such as arrabiata or bolognese — the results are far superior to simply placing the sauce on top of the pasta.
When Gisella made zucchini con fusilli, she added small squares of prosciutto, but apologized, saying that speck was better but she didn’t have any on hand. There was no need to apologize — the dish was spectacular. But when I made it at home, I made a point of using speck, a lightly smoked Italian cousin of prosciutto — not to be confused with Germany’s speck (pronounced SHPEK), which is closer to bacon. I honestly can’t say which I preferred, so if speck is unavailable in your area, not to worry. Just use prosciutto. And for a vegetarian version, simply omit the ham.
This dish is worth a try if you’d like to add a touch of green to your table in the midst of what, at least in Paris, is turning out to be a glorious spring. We’ve had a run of mild sunny days, the roses are in bloom and the little herbs out on my balcony are flourishing. Everything would be perfect if we could forget about climate change and war.