There is something playful and delightful about fusilli pasta, it’s short twisted spirals. After all, they are just a little bit silli, as in silly – the gentle, amusing, childlike kind of silly, the nicest kind of silly. Fusilli make me smile in the same way as those pink and white twisty marshmallows, corkscrew aniseed sweets, a helter skelter at the funfair or that slinky coil that you push down the stairs.
We haven’t had fusilli in the cupboard for a while – we have been rather serious with our linguine lately which I blame on the return to work – so when I saw a recipe for these happy twirls I went to the market to buy three packets. Not to eat all at once you understand, that would be greedy and we are never greedy!.
This is another of the perfectly simple, honest plates of pasta the Italians excel at, nothing fancy, nothing clever, just a plate of deeply flavoured, simple and nourishing food, everyday food, that I am happy to eat….well….everyday. It is as simple as fusilli is twisty.Just pasta with zucchini (courgettes) which have been cooked slowly in butter and their own juices until they are soft and creamy - dare I say a little mushy – maybe you can add a few torn basil leaves and most certainly lots of parmesan.
You need really good, fresh zucchini, with which I am having a serious fling at present, slim, pale green ones with their delicate, tender, flowers which you should really fry in a light batter and have as an antipasti…..I didn’t, I really thought about it, especially after this but in the end I didn’t.
You chop the zucchini into rounds the size of a thick coin, like a £1, which is not very helpful if you are not English, you get the idea I hope. Now here is the nice bit, you fry the rounds gently in a little oil with a couple of cloves of garlic you have crushed with the back of a knife. Then, when that are just turning very pale golden, you add a big knob of butter to the pan, some salt and a little water and then let the zucchini bubble and braise in the buttery juices for about 15 minutes until they are soft, creamy and starting to disintegrate in the nicest possible way. Now you add more butter before you toss the zucchini with the pasta – you have been cooking – along with a ladleful of the water you cooked the pasta in to loosen everything up. You add basil if you so wish, at the last minute so it wilts gently. You finish it all with parmesan freshly grated from a big hunk.
Then you eat.
Zucchini cooked in this way are a revelation, soft, sweet and creamy enough to coat the pasta and convince you that you never want to eat al dente zucchini again.
Of course you could use just about any shape of pasta for this; long, short, fat, thin, curls or butterflies. Fusilli is particualry good though.
The original recipe was inspired by lunch at a trattoria called Lo Scoglio a small seaside town not far from Positano in Italy and recreated at the River cafe and then included in a nice series on Italian food in the reliable Guardian newspaper.
On a practical note, the original recipe suggests 120g of butter, this is an awful alot, even for a butter lover like me. Having made this half a dozen times now we have settled on 60 – 75g you may like a little more or a little less.
Fusilli pasta with zucchini and butter.
- 350g zucchini
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and squashed with the back of a knife
- 60 – 75g soft butter (depending on how much you like butter)
- 420g fusilli
- a dozen basil leaves torn into pieces (optional)
- 50g freshly grated parmesan
Wash and dry the zucchini, then cut them into 1cm thick discs. Pat the discs dry.
Warm the oil in a frying pan which is large enough to accomodate all the discs in a single layer. Add the garlic to the oil and then, once the garlic is soft, add the zucchini. Season with coarse salt and stir until the zucchini are just beginning to turn golden brown
Add half the butter, stir and reduce the heat. Continue cooking, adding ladleful of water to loosen the bits stuck to the pan. Stir and scrape until the zucchini are soft, creamy and starting to fall apart, which takes about 15 minutes.
Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining butter.
While the zucchini are simmering away cook the fusilli in boiling salted water, according to the packet instructions, until al dente. Drain, reserving a little of the cooking water. Stir this into the zucchini to loosen the sauce.
Add the fusilli to the sauce, add the ripped basil leaves if you wish and toss very well. Serve with the grated parmesan.