Category Archives: courgettes

on a whim


I’m not sure how best to translate sfizi. For the sake of straightforwardness and my index, I could suggest they are snacks or appetizers; something tasty to fill a gap or begin a meal. Fine, but both words miss the point. Treat is another translation I’ve come across. But that too doesn’t quite capture the nature of sfizi and their cheeky, uncompromising nature.

If we look at the dictionary we find sfizi is the plural of sfizio which isn’t a thing at all, but a whim or fancy that may or may not be related to food. It’s an urge, want or craving that simply has to be satisfied. Sfizi then is the informal, colloquial term for the things you eat when struck by a craving, whim or fancy. It’s a term that comes from Naples I think, but one often adopted by Romans. Sfizi are delicious things that are mostly fried until golden, or leavened until plump. There are also sweet sfizi, but more about that another day. Savory sfizi were one of first (food) things I loved about Rome.


I’d only been in a Rome a few months. I’d already fallen foul of every tourist trap an English woman with almost no Italian, an out of date guide-book and the habit of visiting major tourist sites at midday might encounter. I’d already discovered that despite popular belief, it’s all too easy to eat badly in Rome, especially if you are an English woman with no Italian, an out of date guide-book and the habit of visiting major tourist sites at midday. I was also keeping quite particular and solitary hours, so not searching for long lunches and memorable suppers. At least not most of the time. It was also hot, the kind of beating, seething hot that makes meals less appealing and the succumbing to whims and fancies more so. I stumbled inadvertently into a life of sfizi.

It started with a slice of pizza bianca at an unassuming bakery called Guerrini on the corner of Galvani and Mastro Giorgio in Testaccio. A bakery I now – eight years later  – live more or less above. A slice of pizza bianca (which is best described as a soft foccacia or flat bread that is baked, brushed with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and served still hot in squares) which was split and then filled with a slice of prosciutto and a ripe fig. A combination of soft, crisp, oily, salty and sweet that should be tasted at least once.

I gestured that I wanted my pizza left open, to eat straight away. I took a bite before I’d even paid. ‘Finalmente, ti sei levata lo sfizio di mangiare una bella pizza’ said the man behind the counter. Which I now understand as ‘Finally, you’ve satisfied a whim to eat a good pizza.’ Of course back then, I didn’t really understand. I got the jist though. Which wasn’t surprising, after all I was full of whim and fancy and clearly sfizi were the answer.


A suppli: a croquette of tomato flavoured risotto rice and with a piece of mozzarella at its heart, egged, breadcrumbed and then fried, eaten while walking along Lungotevere Testaccio, looking at the river and wondering how such a glorious city became so litter-ridden and skanky. Two polpette di ricotta; deep-fried balls of soft cheese flecked with spinach and mint from the Jewish tavola calda. A slice of pizza bianca here, another of pizza rosso there. Panzarotti: fried turnovers with prosciutto and mozzarella while walking from one ruin to another. A deep-fried, battered filet of salt cod consumed on the grubby steps of a church near Campo di Fiori. I still have the stained shirt to prove it. There were also zucchini flowers, dozens of them – the ephemeral golden things you find in bunches at the market at this time of year – stuffed with a piece of mozzarella and a sliver of anchovy dipped in batter and then fried.

Of course these aren’t just sfizi, they are snacks, merende, intermezzi (in-betweens) stuzzichini and of course antipasti, which literally translated means before the meal, a tasty morsel or five that pleases and paves the way for the food to follow. In fact nowadays – give or take the odd whim –   I mostly eat the above as antipasti and only at places that really know how to bake or fry. Here for example, or here. Or now I have the courage, here at home.


I’m not sure what on earth possessed me to fry on possibly the hottest day of the year so far! What am I saying, of course I do! It was a sfizio, a fancy, a whim for something. A something that just happened to be fiori di zucca. It was hours before my favorite places started frying. But not too late to zigzag my way – dodging the late morning sun –  along via Galvani to the market to buy myself two bunches of golden flowers, a ball of mozzarella and a bottle of oil.

In truth my sfizio had been rumbling for days, ever since reading my friend Jo’s post about batter. Batter matters. In truth, I thought I’d settled on a batter for fiori di zucca, a light and lovely one made with just egg whites that produces crisp cocoons that shatter and then melt. Jo’s batter is a softer more comely affair which – if fried correctly – produces properly crisp fiori but with something forgiving about them. Like a sharp, handsome man with a slight belly. A fitting contrast with the melted cheese and salty fish within. Jo’s batter has the same amount of flour as water and one egg for every 100 g / 100 ml. There is no yeast, beer or fizzy water. In fact it is as simple as batter can be, and so good. At least I think so.


It’s all very straightforward, you beat the flour, salt, water and egg yolks into a smooth, thick cream with a whisk (Jo used an electric one but I used my balloon.) Then in a large clean bowl you beat the egg whites so vigorously they look like Mont Blanc before folding them into the pale cream. Then a rest – both you and the batter – for at least an hour, as this will do you the world of good and chill the batter enough to really contrast with the hot oil which will give you a crisp finish.

Of course you have prudently washed and dried your zucchini flowers. Once dry, you trim away some of the green tendrils, tuck a little piece of mozzarella and sliver of anchovy inside each flower then pinch and twirl the tip so it closes. Your hot oil must be ready as the stuffed flowers need to be fried quick haste. Using the stem of the flower as a handle, you drag the flower through the batter this way and that. Then still using the stem, you drop your battered flowers into the hot oil and fry them until golden and crisp. I wish I could give you a temperature for this, but I can’t as I don’t even possess a thermometer.


Once the flowers look like puffy, golden cocoons and are bobbing excitedly, you lift them from the hot oil – with a slotted spoon – onto a plate lined with kitchen towel or brown paper. Once blotted, slide the fried flowers onto another plate and sprinkle with salt. Call your companions into the kitchen and – while you get on with frying the next batch – dispatch any whims or fancies by eating the first fiori while they are still tongue scaldingly hot.


Fiori di zucca   Deep-fried zucchini flowers filled with mozzarella and anchovy

Adapted from Jo’s recipe.

serves 4 people (so three each) with a craving for something tasty.

  • 200 g plain flour (Jo suggests that 50 g of this is corn starch)
  • 2 eggs (separated)
  • 200 ml cold water
  • salt
  • 12 fresh and pert zucchini flowers with stems
  • 250 g mozzarella
  • 6 anchovy fillets
  • Sunflower or peanut oil for frying

Make the batter by beating the flour, salt, water and egg yolks into a smooth, thick cream with a whisk (electric or hand.)  In a large clean bowl whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks and then fold them into the rest of the batter. Allow the batter to rest in the fridge for at least an hour.

Soak the flowers in cool water for a minute. Remove them, blot them gently and then leave them to dry completely on a clean tea towel.

Once the  batter is chilled, start heating the oil and stuff each flower with a piece of mozzarella and half an anchovy. Pinch and twist the flowers so they close.

Using the stem of the flower as a handle, drag a flower through the batter so it is well-coated and then drop it into the hot oil. Depending on the size of your pan fry the flowers in batches of 2, 3, 4 even five but ideally no more.

Nudge and turn the flowers with wooden fork or spoon so they fry evenly. Once crisp and golden scoop the flowers from the oil onto a plate lined with brown paper or kitchen towel using a slotted spoon. Once blotted, slide the flowers onto a clean plate, sprinkle with salt and serve immediately.



Filed under antipasti, courgettes, rachel eats Italy, rachel eats Rome, Rachel's Diary, recipes, Roman food

a little discretion


During the last two weeks I’ve watched four cooks in four kitchens do exactly the same thing. That is, pull two cloves from a bulb of garlic, peel them, fry them gently whole in plenty of olive oil until soft, golden and fragrant, then remove them. The answer as to why was – give or take a gesture – exactly the same: insaporire. Which literally translated means to flavour or make tasty. Which on these four occasions meant allowing the garlic to impart its savory and earthy perfume into the oil then – like a good guest, neither dominating or outstaying his welcome – take leave.

I’ve come to understand – finally – that this process, insaporire, is key to countless Italian dishes. The process can be more involved: garlic, herbs, spices, vegetables and cured meat, but mostly it’s as simple as garlic cooked until mild, fragrant and sweet in olive oil. Of course there are occasions when a potent roar of chopped, smashed or crushed garlic is required. Rarely though! Most of the time it’s this attentive sizzle of garlic in olive oil that provides the deeply but discreetly flavoured start to a dish.

Of course opinions differ as to the precise moment you should remove the garlic, the ideal shade of golden and if it’s appropriate to return the cloves to the pan (as was the case with the third cook and her pan of fresh tomato sauce in which the returned clove; soft and sweet provided a prize on one plate.) But the principle remains the same and one thing absolutely clear: never burn the garlic or it will be bitter.


We are staying in an agriturismo in the Sabine hills just of north of Rome. I know the area relatively well having spent lots of time with my friends Ezio and Ruth, their house being situated just a few curves of the road and an olive grove away. In fact we walk the curved road each morning at about 7 30, the sun already omnipotent, the air thick with the scent of honeysuckle, the peace interrupted only by three horrid little dogs snarling and snapping at our ankles on the first curve. Having run the gauntlet of the canine onslaught and in the safety of the second curve, I’ve been trying to teach Luca to say cock-a-doodle-doo. Chicchirichi he squeals. I’ve tried to explain that cocks go cock-a-doodle-doo not chicchirichi to which he replies chicchirichi.

Ezio was the fourth of the four cooks. Making lunch for Ruth, Daisy, Felix, Luca and me while we cleared up wearily after a hot and hectic morning in the English garden: our rogue English summer school, he poured far more extra virgin olive oil than any recipe would dare to suggest – cold pressed from their own olives – into the bottom of the well seasoned pan. He then put the pan over a medium flame and added two peeled cloves. The cloves sizzled gently – shimmied really, in their coats of tiny bubbles –  for the whole of our conversation. So, about five minutes. The kitchen smelt of good things. He then removed the garlic.


For this particular lunch Ezio first added cooked chickpeas and their broth to the garlic infused oil, then pasta, for an elemental pasta e ceci of sorts. It was simple, satisfying and delicious, the garlic, like well-chosen background music, enhancing but never intruding.

Then back at the agriturismo, eager to practice my attentive sizzle in Mario and Beatrice’s golden olive oil, I did as Ezio and the three cooks before him had done; I took two cloves. To my well-flavoured oil I added local courgettes cut into thick coins. I let them fry for ages, until they were golden, unfashionably soft and oil sodden. I added courgette flowers and several basil leaves (torn not chopped) to the pan before pulling it from the heat so the leaves and flowers wilted – like an English woman in the Sabine hills in June –  and their sweet, spicy scent bloomed in the residual heat.

I left them to sit for a while so the flavors could settle and the oily juices thicken. I ate them just warm with a ball of weeping mozzarella di bufala and bread, a supper so nice it made up for the unilateral mosquito attack.


Not really a recipe rather a way to cook. Practice and then apply as you feel fit.

Courgettes cooked in olive oil

serves 2 as a main, 4 as a starter.

  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 large or three small cloves of garlic
  • 6 – 8 courgettes (ideally the pale creamy green and ribbed variety with flowers still attached)
  • salt
  • basil leaves

Pour a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil into a heavy based sauté pan. Peel and add the whole cloves of garlic to the pan. Warm the olive oil over a medium flame allowing the garlic to sizzle gently – turning the cloves every now and then – for about 5 minutes or until it is soft, golden and fragrant. Do not let it burn. Remove the garlic.

Remove the flowers and set them aside and then slice the courgettes into thick coins. Add the courgettes to the pan along with a generous pinch of salt. Turn the courgettes in the oil until each coin is glistening with oil. Allow the courgettes to sizzle gently – turning them occasionally – over a medium low flame until they are very soft and just a little golden. This will take about 15  — 25 minutes depending on the courgettes.

Tear the basil and the courgette flowers into small pieces and add them to the pan. Pull the pan from the heat and stir, allowing the flowers and basil to wilt in the residual heat.

Season and serve as a antipasto with mozzarella, stirred into pasta or as a vegetable side dish.



Filed under courgettes, food, rachel eats Italy, Rachel's Diary, Uncategorized, vegetables

The Other Half.

Always one for too much of a good thing, I was tempted to make another batch of gnocchi with the remaining half of my green mound. An absence of ricotta put an end to that idea. An absence of milk nearly put paid to my second spinach plan – a savory courgette and spinach cake – until I remembered the small stout carton of cream sitting, squatting really between the Campari and the Tanqueray in the door of the fridge. Surely something made with milk would be even nicer if made with cream? It is! But I will come to that presently.

The spinach and courgette cake I was plotting was to be a variation on David Tanis’s very good, very green spinach cake. Now the first time I made this spinach cake, it was rather disappointing. This had everything to do with a misreading of the recipe and my distracted, careless, scurrying execution of said cake and nothing to do with David Tanis’s recipe. Having learned my lesson, I made it a second time, reading diligently, sautéing attentively, seasoning the green batter generously, adjusting cooking times to compensate for my oven and keeping a watchful eye as my cake puffed up proudly in oven. My reward was, as promised, a quite lovely green round.

Like the song in which a love-sick teenager finds truth and solace, spinach cake was on heavy rotation for a while – I’m not sure why I didn’t tell you about it here – and I soon discovered that you can indeed have too much of a good thing. Fortunately neither of us wanted things to turn nasty, so we agreed not to see each other for a while. Then last summer when we were all gathered  in Branscombe for the week of my best friend Joanna’s wedding, Joanna’s mum Rosamund made a delicious starter one evening, a pale green, delicate bake which seemed very like a slightly softer, creamier relative of my spinach cake, but made with courgettes. Nostalgia was felt, plans hatched and notes were scribbled.

As usual, I dragged my cooking heels and it wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago, in possession of a half mound of spinach (of which I used only half, the post about the final quarter is still to come) that I finally deciphered my notes about Ros’s dish, grabbed two courgettes, a handsome leek and half a pint of cream and set about making a spinach and courgette cake.

As with David’s Tanis’s recipe, I began by softening leek in little oil and butter over a medium flame. Once the leek was suitably soft, I added rounds of courgette, nudged them around the pan until they were nicely coated with oil and butter before adding a little water, lowering the flame and then letting the leeks and courgettes to bubble and cook gently – half frying/ half braising, for about 15 minutes or until all the liquid has evaporated the courgettes were tender and collapsing. Then I left the green panful to cool.

My spinach (as you know) was already cooked and well-drained (I repeat, water is the enemy) so once the courgette and leeks were cool and transferred to a bowl I added my pile of chopped spinach. Then using my trusty immersion blender, I blitzed the vegetables into a smooth green paste that begged both to be tasted and smeared upon my face. I resisted smearing and simply tasted before adding 5 eggs, cream, grated parmesan, a good grating of nutmeg, an equally good grinding of black pepper and a flick of salt. As I poured the pale creamy- green batter into my reliable non-stick pan I made a mental note  ‘This is the colour I’d like to paint the living room‘ before maneuvering the pan into the oven for about 25 minutes in which time the batter set and puffed gently into a very green cake.

I let the cake settle and cool for a while before cutting it into wedges and serving it with sliced tomatoes – the deeply ribbed ones with thick skins and sweet spicy flesh – and Roscioli bread.

I know I’m courgette biased, but they lend something lovely to this green cake, complimenting the deeply satisfying flavor of the spinach. Tanis’s recipe calls for milk! Cream, as you can probably imagine is another thing entirely, it’s a perfect foil for the green grassy vegetables. The cake is creamier obviously, deeply dairy, luscious and luxurious,. In using cream though, the nutmeg – maybe my favorite spice – becomes even more important, as not only does it perk up the greens no end, but cuts through the dairy, making it less cloying.

I think the cake really does need to rest for at least 40 minutes (and up to 5 hours) after coming out of the oven so it can firm up a little and it’s flavors settle. It is a most delicious wedge, the happy collision of a frittata (which is, as you probably know, an Italian open-faced omelette), a soufflé, a mousse and a savory custard. Lunch.

Last thing, regarding cooking times. David Tanis suggests 40 minutes at 200° for for his spinach cake. In my oven I found this too hot and too long for such a delicate egg and dairy laced thing. I find that 25 minutes or so at 170°is about right so your cake is  gently puffed up and set, but still tender and with a very slight wobble. I love a slight wobble.

Last last thing, a well buttered dish/pie plate will do but a non-stick ovenproof 12″/24cm frying pan is best (I find.)

Spinach and courgette cake

Inspired by Rosamund’s recipe and adapted liberally from David Tanis’s recipe in a Platter of figs – I can’t seem to find a site for the publisher and I am boycotting bloody monopolizing amazon, so please excuse the lack of a link.

Serves 4 as lunch, 8 as a starter.

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 30g butter
  • 1 medium-sized leek
  • 2 medium courgettes
  • salt
  • 100ml white wine/water
  • 300 g spinach
  • 5 eggs
  • 250 ml fresh cream
  • 50 g grated parmesan
  • freshly grated nutmeg
  • black pepper
Preheat the oven to 170°
Trim the leek and peel off the tough outer layer. Cut the leek into small dice, fill a bowl with water and add the leeks. Agitate the leeks with your hand. Let the dirt and sand settle in the bowl and then scoop the leeks from the water and pat the dry in a clean tea towel. Warm the oil and butter in a heavy based frying pan and then sauté the leek until it is soft and translucent.
Top and tail the courgettes and then slice them into 1/2cm thick rounds. Add the courgette to the leek and stir so each round is well coated with butter.
After a few minutes, raise the heat a little and add the wine/water. Allow it to bubble enthusiastically. Now reduce the heat again and allow the onion and courgettes to bubble and cook gently – half frying/ half braising, giving a stir and nudge every now and then and adding a little more water if the pan looks dry – for about 15 minutes or until the courgettes are very soft tender and collapsing and all the liquid has evaporated. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool.
Soak the spinach in several changes of water and discard any wilted or bruised leaves and trim away any very thick, woody stalks. Put the spinach in a large pan with nothing but the water that clings to the leaves, cover the pan and cook on a low flame until the spinach has collapsed and is tender. This should take about 2 minutes depending on the freshness and age of the spinach.
Drain the spinach and once it is cool enough, squeeze and press it gently with your hands to eliminate as much water as possible. Chop the spinach roughly and transfer to a bowl.

Add the cooled leek/ courgette mixture to the spinach and then using a hand blender blitz the mixture into a smooth green paste.

Add the cream and eggs to the bowl and blitz again before stirring in the parmesan, a grating of nutmeg, salt and black pepper.

Pour the batter into in ovenproof sauté pan, buttered baking dish or 10-12 inch deep-pie dish and then slide into the oven. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes or until the cake is set but still with a slight tremble/wobble at the center.

Allow the cake to sit, cool and settle for at least 40 minutes before serving in wedges.

I really should learn to not make promises I can’t keep! I apologise, It’s the optimist in me, she’s extremely unrealistic sometimes. A promise I am trying to keep though, is not inflicting too much babyboringness on you all! However as I write about what I’m cooking and eating, and now that Luca is my prefered lunch date, it feels appropriate to mention that alongside breastfeeding (we have surprised ourselves, we are total enthusiasts, quite boring proponents and in it for for the long haul) he’s started eating some proper food. Neither of us could face those purees and all that spoon-feeding and so following in the footsteps of my sister Rosie and my niece Beattie and properly inspired by this brilliant book and site we are having a lot of extremely messy fun


Filed under antipasti, courgettes, cream, Eggs, food, picnics, Rachel's Diary, recipes, spinach, spring recipes, vegetables

7 years and lunch

It’s been seven years, almost to the day, since I absconded to Italy. Rash, wayward and troubling it may have been, but my departure in March 2005 was, and remains, one of the better decisions of my life. After all, if I hadn’t come to Italy I might never have discovered (that amongst other things) I like, with a certain passion, courgettes. Which are zucchini to many of you,  and indeed me after seven years. It wasn’t that I disliked zucchini before arriving in Italy! Dislike suggests strong feelings, judgment and an opinion, whereas my feelings about the tubular baby marrow Cucurbita pepo were – like football, most gadgets, inner soles and Celine Dion – those of indifference.

I’d spied vast, tumbling heaps of zucchini most a familiar forest green either shaped like baby zeppelins or stout grenades, some bright yellow, others golden, many a seductive pale green – at markets on my chaotic travels round southern Italy and Sicily, most notably at the notorious and fascinating La Vuccaria market in Palermo. But it wasn’t until I arrived in Rome, settled comfortably in Testaccio and began going to the Market each day that I really took note, particularly the striking zucchine romanesche.

Zucchine romanesche are pale creamy-green mottled with white. They are slim, elegant things that often curve this way and that and are fluted like the Corinthian columns inside the Pantheon. If they are properly fresh they come crowned with a golden headdress, a fragile, rich-yellow flame-like flower.  Their creamy white flesh is compact with tiny seeds, sweetly tender, seemingly the collision of a good cucumber, the sweet stem of brocoli, a piece of pumpkin and yellow melon. When cooked, the flesh is even more delicious, tender, sweet – but undeniably savory – and beguilingly creamy.

My zucchini indifference was short-lived once I settled in Rome. Romans prize their zucchini especially zucchine romanesche and do marvelous things with them. Cut into rounds, slices, diced or grated they are sautéed lightly in olive oil until tender and served just so or used as a sauce for pasta. Fat match sticks of zucchini are dipped in batter or flour and then fried until tantalizingly crisp in hot oil and served like potato chips in waxed paper bags, a clandestine snack best eaten with your fingers: soon shiny with oil, while walking in the sun along via Galvani. Zucchini are grilled, baked, braised, make a fitting filling for a frittata or ideal ingredient in risotto. Long thin strips are roasted and charred on a griddle pan then left to lounge in olive oil with fresh basil leaves before being served as an antipasti.

At many of our lunches at Volpetti Alice and I have eaten zucchini stewed gently with fresh tomatoes and basil, mopping up the juices with crusty bread. Left whole, zucchini are stuffed with seasoned meat or breadcrumbs and then baked, or better still,  braised in tomato sauce. Small, particularly tender specimens are boiled or steamed and then served with good olive oil, salt and maybe a little lemon juice or sliced as thin as paper and the tucked in warm pizza bianca with mozzarella. Thinly sliced zucchini are also dressed with oil and lemon and served as a salad. And then there are the flowers, i fiori di zucca. I fell for the flowers first, beautiful to look upon but even better to eat: torn into a salad, snipped into an omelette, stuffed with ricotta or best of all, with mozzarella and anchovy, dipped in batter and then fried until crisp and golden in very hot oil and eaten while tongue scaldingly hot with a glass of prosecco.

Having fallen for its charms, I took to cooking zucchini with a degree of over enthusiasm which is well documented here, in a kind of cabonara, Fusilli with courgettes,  Frittata, Fiori di zucca, and now this Pasta con salsa di zucchini e pancetta – Pasta with courgette sauce and bacon. A particularly clumsy name in English I know, but don’t let that deter you.

This recipe has much in common with both Fusilli with courgettes and another of my favorites, a weekly lunch and fixed point in my otherwise chaotic routine: pasta e broccoli. Like broccoli, zucchini when cooked until extremely tender in garlic infused olive oil – collapse, and with a little assistance from a fork, potato masher or cautious blitz with an immersion blender, create a soft creamy sauce for the pasta. This sauce also happens to be my favorite colour.

I am very happy to eat my pasta wearing just a green coat. The pasta that is, not me, unfortunately I don’t possess a green coat. But lunch is even more delicious when the green sauce is dotted with some diced pancetta or prosciutto that has been fried until tantalizingly crisp: the salty pork giving a kick to the good but undeniably mild and gentle (arguably insipid if not seasoned correctly) zucchini sauce.

This recipe, like so many of the nicest everyday pastas is pleasingly straightforward to make, but depends on good ingredients: nice olive oil, plump garlic and young, fresh zucchini are key. You could, as with pasta and broccoli, boil or steam the zucchini until soft, drain them and then finish them off in a frying pan with olive oil and garlic before mashing them. However as zucchini have a tendency to become water-logged and soggy especially when boiled, I think it’s best that you cook the zucchini in a frying pan, first with oil and butter before adding a little wine and water, This way the zucchini half fry/half braise and by the end of the cooking time are beautifully tender and much of the excess water has evaporated away.

I use an immersion blender – cautiously – to reduce the zucchini to a creamy sauce, but if you prefer a coarser more textured sauce I suggest using a fork. Is there anything else I need to tell you? Probably, but this post is already far too long for such a simple recipe and my son is eating the computer cable.

True to the Oxford English dictionary, my roots and as so as not to confuse my brother, I have referred to zucchini as courgettes in the recipe below. Best served with a glass of white wine obviously.

Pasta con salsa di zucchini e pancetta

Pasta with Courgettes and bacon

Serves 4

  • 6 medium / 9 small young, fresh, firm courgettes (about 800g)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • A small knob of butter
  • salt
  • 100 ml white wine
  • 100ml water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 100g pancetta or bacon
  • 500g spaghetti, penne, fusilli or pappardelle
Wash the courgettes thoroughly in cold water. Drain them, trim away both ends (saving the flowers!) and cut the courgettes into  rounds a little less than a cm thick and pat them dry.
Warm the oil and butter in a heavy based frying pan over a medium-low flame. Peel the garlic then squash each clove with back of a knife, add to the frying pan and sauté gently until the garlic is fragrant and just – but only just – starting to colour. Add the courgettes and a pinch of salt to the pan, moving and turning them so each piece is coated with oil and butter.
After a few minutes, raise the heat a little and add the wine. Allow it to sizzle and evaporate a little before adding the water. Now reduce the heat again and allow the courgettes to bubble and cook gently – half frying/ half braising, giving the courgettes a stir and nudge every now and then and adding a little more water if the pan looks dry – for about 15 minutes or until the courgettes are very soft tender and collapsing
Bring a large pan of well salted water to a fast boil and add the pasta.
Tip the courgettes into a bowl – remove the garlic if you like – and then using a fork, potato masher or immersion blender (cautiously) mash the courgettes into a rough sauce.
Dice the pancetta.I n the frying pan you cooked the courgettes in, warm the oil and then fry the pancetta until it is crisp. Add the courgette sauce to the pancetta, stir, check seasoning.
When the pasta is al dente, drain – reserving a little of the cooking water – and tip into the pan with sauce. Toss the pasta and sauce together adding a little of the reserved cooking water if you think the sauce needs loosening.
Serve immediately with plenty of freshly grated parmesan.


Filed under courgettes, food, pasta and rice, recipes, spring recipes, vegetables

A suggestion

As I write this, I’m thinking about my sister Rosie and my brother-in-law Paul, who thanks to Paul’s metamorphosis into a veritable Monty Don, have a vegetable patch brimming with the most lovely, pale-green courgettes, each one crowned, like a Las Vegas show girl, with a golden-yellow flower. They’re excellent courgettes, quite unlike the dark-green spongy fleshed specimens you find in English supermarkets. As a matter of fact, they’re very like the courgettes, le zucchine romane, we find here in Rome, sweet, with tender flesh and an almost creamy texture when cooked.

Hardy surprisingly, there have been rather a lot of courgettes consumed in a certain house in West London this summer. When I visited a couple of weeks ago, Rosie and Paul were still enjoying their home-grown bounty, there was soup I think, pasta with buttery courgettes, courgette fritters, courgette carbonara, delicious stuff all of it. But there were also telling signs: a look, a sigh, a slightly weary ‘Oh really, again, lovely’. Saturation point was clearly not far off. After I left, courgette plants thriving, the situation assumed slightly comic proportions as Paul – who has taken on all garden and cooking duties since their little girl arrived – trapped in a sort of courgette groundhog day, continued to produce a succession of courgette themed suppers until eventually – we’d seen the signs – my sister snapped. The inevitable courgette meltdown. I can’t be sure, but I fear long green vegetables may have been sacrificed. A break from homegrown produce, and a real holiday, ensued.

I’m glad to report that it was only a temporary courgette hiatus, and that Rosie, Paul and Beattie are now back home with renewed enthusiasm for their garden bounty. So this is for them, a suggestion, a large open faced Italian omelette with vegetables and cheese: a Courgette and Ricotta Frittata. I was all set to E mail my sister, but then it occurred to me that some of you might like this recipe. It’s hardly groundbreaking I know, but it’s a useful and tasty one. It also crossed my mind that I’m in the middle of an extremely long and rambling post about tomatoes which I’m not sure anyone is actually going to read and that this might provide some light relief before I press publish on that tomato epic.

We make a frittata of one sort or another most weeks: Onion and potato, Leek and goats cheese, Asparagus, Salt cod -I must write about this frittata one day because it’s delicious, Pea, potato and spring onion (any more than three ingredients in a frittata and Vincenzo looks puzzled) and now this, a discovery this summer, Courgette and ricotta frittata. I’ve made various courgette frittatas in the past, but I’ve always found them to be rather watery, even when I’ve sautéed the courgette slowly and patiently to try and evaporate some of the water away.

This recipe was, this recipe is, a little revelation: you grate the courgette into a clean teatowel or cheese cloth and then you squeeze out – really squeeze – as much water as you can. This means the courgette is drier when you saute it, more flavoursome and more inclined to absorb the butter infused with savory spring onion. In short, it makes for a much tastier frittata. The addition of ricotta – the soft, white, granular cheese made by re-cooking the watery residue left over from cheese making – makes for a nice addition to proceedings. The slightly tart sheep’s milk ricotta  – ricotta di pecora is especially good if you can find it. We like this ricotta on hot toast with chestnut honey.

Back to the fittata. It’s all very straightforward, I’m sure you know how to make a frittata, but just in case: you soften the spring onion in butter and olive oil, then you add the grated courgette and saute it gently until it’s wilted, tender, and any water that wasn’t squeezed away has evaporated. Now you mix the courgette and onion mixture with beaten eggs and ricotta. Now you pour the mixture back into the frying pan and cook the frittata gently over a low flame until it is nearly set. You finish the fritatta under the grill (if you don’t have a grill you can invert in onto a plate and then slide it back into the pan.

Now as much as I like carefully made frittata/ frittate – pesky plurals, I do tend to think of them rather dismissively; a kitchen standby, a Tuesday lunch, oh that old thing. Well. I did. A month or so ago we went to a pretty formal celebration lunch where, amongst other things, we were served a fantastic antipasti, simple, delicious and in such good taste. There were plates of bruschetta di pomodori –  toasted bread rubbed with garlic, topped with chopped cuore di bue tomatoes, basil and extra virgin olive oil, vast platters of home cured prosciutto and last but not least, six Courgette and sheep’s milk ricotta frittate  – deep, yellow circles flecked with green – punctuating the long tables. Delicious stuff. We helped ourselves to a slice of bruschetta, a curl of prosciutto, a wedge of frittata. I made a mental note: do not underestimate the frittata.

Last thing, I’m sure you know, it’s really important you season this frittata properly,  both the courgettes and the ricotta are mild tasting: they need seasoning. A good pinch of salt in with the courgettes when they are cooking with the spring onions, and another generous pinch – along with a good grind of black pepper – to the egg and ricotta mixture. Remember, ‘Where would we be without salt.’ James Beard.

Courgette and ricotta frittata

  • 200g courgettes – the pale, slim zucchine romane are particularly good
  • 3 or 4 (about 150g) spring onions
  • knob of butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 7 large free range eggs
  • 120g of ricotta (sheep’s milk ricotta is ideal but cow’s milk ricotta is fine)
  • more butter for cooking the frittata

Wash the courgettes really throughly – they have a habit of collecting grit in the ridges, Then top and tail them saving the flowers for a salad or to fry in batter. Now grate the courgette on the coarse side of your grater into a very clean, linen teatowel.

Now twist the ends of the tea towel, creating a ball of courgette and squeeze as much liquid as you can out of the courgettes into a bowl. I think some people might recommend drinking this disturbing green juice, advocating its heath giving properties, I didn’t.

Wash the spring onions and slice them into fine rings. Melt a small knob of butter and a tablespoon of olive oil in your non-stick frying pan and saute the spring onion over a gentle flame until it’s soft and translucent. Add the grated courgette and a pinch of salt and saute gently for about 4 – 6 minutes or until the courgette is soft and very tender. Meanwhile in a large bowl gently beat the 7 large eggs.

Now gently whisk in the ricotta into the eggs – it will be lumpy, this is fine – and generously season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. By now the courgette should be ready, so tip them into the bowl with the egg mixture and stir. Put the frying pan back on the heat – a low flame – add another very small knob of butter and once it has melted roll the melted butter around the pan before pouring in the egg and courgette mixture. Use a fork to even out the surface a little and then allow the frittata to cook gently for 6 – 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the grill. By now the frittata will have set underneath – you can see when you shake the pan from side to side very gently – but will still be runny on top. Put the frittata under the hot grill for about a minute – keep an eagle eye – it will puff up slightly, set firm and turn golden brown on top. Pull the frittata from under the grill and slide it onto a serving plate

Wait at least 15 minutes before serving the frittata so the flavours can settle.

Serve with sliced tomatoes dressed with salt and olive oil or a green salad. We ate the second half of our frittata for lunch with Bruschetta di pomodori.


Filed under courgettes, Eggs, food, Frittate, recipes, summer food, vegetables