Fusilli aux courgettes

Fusilli with zucchini

This succulent pasta dish features zucchini in two guises — as a sauce and as golden julienne strips — and also includes dry-cured ham, parmesan and a touch of fresh basil. For a vegetarian version, simply omit the ham.

Preparation takes place in two stages — the first may be done in advance — and involves a lot of cookware. You’ll need a large skillet, a medium skillet, a nonstick saucepan and a pasta pot, as well as a grater, a cutting board and a sharp knife..

The key to success, as with many pasta dishes, is reheating the cooked pasta in the sauce instead of simply spooning the sauce on top. This allows the sauce to cling to all surfaces of the pasta. A spiral form of pasta, such as fusilli (rotini in the States), works best.

My Sicilian friend Gisella, who created the recipe, uses either speck or proscuitto depending on what she has on hand, although she prefers speck — a dry-cured ham that, unlike proscuitto, is lightly smoked. In other words, either is fine.

For best results, use ultrafresh zucchini and grate the parmesan yourself. Accompany the pasta with a hearty red. The quantities below will serve 3 as a starter and 2 as a main dish.

4 medium zucchini (courgettes)
1 medium onion
3 tbsp. olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
1 cup water

2-4 thin slices speck or prosciutto
4 heaping tbsp. freshly grated parmesan
2-1/2 cups (250 g) fusilli, more or less
1 stem fresh basil

Rinse the zucchini and cut off the ends. Cut one zucchini in half horizontally, cut the halves in half vertically, set the four quarters flat on your board and slice into thin julienne strips. Grate the remaining three zucchini, using the larger holes of your grater.

Peel the onion, cut in half and slice as thinly as possible.

In a medium skillet, heat 1 tbsp. olive oil to sizzling. Add the julienned zucchini. Turn the heat down to medium and sauté, tossing occasionally, untiil the strips are golden and starting to brown. Turn off the heat, sprinkle with salt, grind on some black pepper and toss once again. Leave the strips in the pan — you will reheat them later.

In a large skillet, heat 2 tbsp. olive oil to sizzling. Add the sliced onion and sauté, stirring, until the slices have wilted, about 1 minute. Add the grated zucchini. Turn down the heat to medium and sauté 3 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Add the water and cook until the zucchini is tender, about 5 minutes more. Add 1 tsp. salt, grind on some black pepper and turn off the heat.

Transfer the zucchini-onion mixture to a blender. Pulse until smooth. Transfer to a clean, nonstick pot.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

While the water is heating, prepare the speck or prosciutto. Cut away any fat, set the slices on top of each other and cut into small squares — about 1/2 inch (1.5 cm) per side.

Measure out the pasta. This is not an exact science — I usually count one coffee mug of dry pasta per person. When the water is boiling merrily, add the pasta. Cook for two minutes less than the time indicated on the packet, so that the pasta is just short of al dente — it will continue cooking once you’ve added it to the sauce.

While the pasta is cooking, reheat the julienne slices and the zucchini sauce. Grate the parmesan. Snip 3-4 large basil leaves into thin strips.

When the pasta is ready, drain it through a colander. Important: do not rinse. Tip the pasta into the pot with the zucchini sauce. Stir to blend well. Add the grated parmesan.

When the pasta is hot and the parmesan has melted, add the julienne strips. Stir to blend well. Turn off the heat. Add the speck or prosciutto squares and the snipped basil.

Serve piping hot in shallow bowls, decorated if you like with extra basil. Serves 2-3.

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