It’s January and most of us are recovering from the holidays. Everybody is thinking about being more active and trying to eat little bit healthier; although with never ending cold and cloudy days I find this challenging to say the least. This recipe is a happy medium as it brings together comforting pasta with a healthy combination of zucchini, mint, and lemon. I absolutely love this combination and it is super fast to put together. Just my kind of meal on busy week night.
This recipe is an adapted version from a pasta recipe I learned while attending cooking classes in Rome. I decided that it was a good idea to get some instruction from a bona fide Italian cook on how to properly cook pasta. I always thought I knew how to cook al dente pasta, but upon arriving in Italy I quickly learned that, in fact, I did NOT know how to cook pasta in the proper Italian way. My solution…go to cooking classes! It apparently worked since my husband doesn’t tell me anymore that I have overcooked the pasta…well maybe every now again, but it’s a far cry from a couple of years ago!
For this recipe, I like to cut the zucchini into matchstick size pieces which is made even easier with this neat little gadget that I was introduced to at my cooking school and subsequently bought at our local food market in Rome. It is called a puntarelle cutter (taglia puntarelle) and it is used to prepare puntarelle, a type of chicory, that is used to make a traditional Roman salad with the same name. It is prepared by stripping the leaves from the chicory or puntarelle from the shoots which are then pressed through the clever gadget. It also works great for zucchini and other veggies such as carrots, eggplants. It is even great for potatoes if you want to make a hash or potato pancake. If you are in the U.S. and are interesting in acquiring this nifty gadget, Fante Kitchen shop sells it and you can order it from them on-line: www.fantes.com. The price is 12.99.
This pasta dish is one of my go to meal since it is super easy and not too heavy. It is a great quick go-to weeknight meal any time of the year since zucchini and lemons are always available in the supermarket year round. An optional twist to this recipe is to add a couple spoonfuls of fresh ricotta. It makes the dish a little creamy and a bit more rich in flavor without it being too heavy. I like it both ways; it just depends what I am in the mood for and if I have ricotta in the fridge.
- 1 package (500 grams) of penne
- 2 or 3 medium sized zucchinis cut into matchstick pieces
- 3 or 4 garlic cloves smashed, but kept whole
- zest of 1 large lemon or 2 small (roughly 1 Tablespoon)
- small handful of mint leaves roughly torn
- 1 to 2 T olive oil
- salt and pepper, to taste
- *1/3 cup fresh ricotta cheese (optional)
- Put on a large pot of water to boil.
- Cut the zucchini in to matchstick size pieces. I usually cut the zucchini into thirds or fourths, then make long slices and put them into a stack and cut through them horizontally to make the matchstick size pieces. There is also a great tool here in Italy that does this for you!
- Zest the lemon so you have 1 heaping Tablespoon.
- In a large skillet, heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil on a medium heat. Add the crushed garlic cloves as the oil is heating up. When the garlic just starts to color around the edges remove. Add the zucchini and cook for a few minutes until just tender. Make sure not to overcook it so it does not get mushy. Add salt and pepper to taste. Towards the very end of cooking add the lemon zest and mint.
- Meanwhile cook the pasta (1 minutes less than what it says on the package). Before draining, reserve about ¼ cup of the pasta water.
- Add the drained pasta to the zucchini. Add a little of the pasta water and stir to combine. If adding the ricotta, do so now. You might need to add a little more of the pasta water to incorporate the ricotta well. Add salt to taste and a good dose of crushed black pepper.
- I like to serve this pasta with a good dusting of freshly grated parmesan or grana padano. If you like a sharp, saltier taste you could also use pecorino romano.