I love this time of year. The cold, hard frosts of winter are finally behind us and we are edging into the warm, bright days of summer. And this year it couldn't come quick enough! This is the first time I've really been able to do anything in a garden of my own and I am most definitely learning - not that I've planted a lot yet but the jasmine I planted at the end of last summer survived the winter and is really flourishing now.
We also acquired an allotment plot down in the village. It was so overgrown and we were so lucky that Michael's dad has been here to help dig it up (translate as: did most of the work) but it's too late now to plant anything for the summer. We may be lucky enough though to get some winter veg planted in it. If there are a lot of parsnip and potato recipes in this blog's future, then you know why!
But next year I'm really looking forward to growing a lot of veg. Especially courgettes. I never used to like courgettes. They were only ever the watery, mushy vegetable that we used to stuff for mahshi. It was only really when I lived in Italy that I found out you could use them for other things. For example, Deb Perelman (aka The Smitten Kitchen) has a great recipe for leek fritters that I will adapt for courgettes too.
One way Loretta taught me how to cook them was with pasta. She used to make a spicy tomato sauce and add cooked down courgettes to it to have with penne pasta. This is very different to her recipe and one I've been trying to make for a while. You can't make this as a quick fix dinner. Well, you can, but it's not super speedy. You have to let the courgettes cook down in the oil until they're soft and succulent. No quick fried charred courgettes in this recipe - although, that is also another nice way to eat them.
Spaghetti Con Zucchine e Menta
2 1/2 tbsp good quality olive oil
1 white onion, finely diced
5 cloves of garlic, minced
100ml white wine
6 heftily laden sprigs of mint
500-700g of pasta (depends on how many you are feeding and how much they eat. I did 600g for 4 adults and a toddler)
Start by boiling a full kettle for your pasta.
Heat the oil in a frying pan and then add the diced onion and let it cook nice and slowly until translucent, stirring often. While the onion is cooking, mince up the garlic and prep your courgettes.
I want to take a second here to say: always wash your fresh produce. I think it goes without saying which is why I don't include it in the recipes. But please, stay safe, wash your produce.
Once you have washed your courgettes, cut the ends off and cut them in half. Then cut them into matchsticks (cutting them in half makes this easier). Once you have nice thin matchsticks, cut across so that they're diced really small.
Add your garlic to the pan, give it a bit of a stir for a minute or so then add the chopped up courgette. Cook low and slow, stirring often. The size of the courgettes here will help them cook quicker but will also give them a nice texture at the end. Add the wine to the courgettes and stir. It will soak in and the alcohol will cook off.
Once the courgettes are looking more translucent, pour your boiling water into a saucepan, add a tsp or 2 of salt (personal preference), bring it to the boil, add the pasta and cook according to the packet instructions. If you buy from a dry goods shop and it doesn't come in a packet, check it after 7 or 8 minutes. You want it ever so slightly softer than al dente. Ever so slightly. I used spaghetti because I love it but pici, bucatini and tagliatelle also work very well here.
Meanwhile, strip the mint leaves off the stalks and chop them up very finely. Once you've put your pasta on to cook, add the mint to the courgettes and keep stirring. You should, by this point, have an unctuous concoction of olive oil drenched summer goodness.
When your pasta is a couple of minutes away, take a ladleful of the pasta water and pour it into the frying pan. When your pasta is done, don't drain it! Don't get rid of that glorious water. Use a spaghetti scoop to lift it from the pot to the pan and mix the courgettes and the pasta together. Pour in a drizzle more pasta water to help the binding and then you can throw the rest of the water away.
Serve with plenty of parmesan and, if it floats your boat, some chilli flakes or shatta for a kick.