There are a lot of things Italy does really well. For one, they really respect their ingredients. You don’t have to speak their language to see that it is deeply ingrained in their heritage. You only really eat what you grow yourself, or what is grown in your immediate vicinity. You’re buying from the person who grew/made your food. Even the packaged items at the grocery store are all produced in this region (which is sort of like a county or state in the U.S.).
The other thing they do really well here is to allow their ingredients to shine in their recipes. Nothing overly fussy. Not too many ingredients. Nothing is overly seasoned. The goal is so taste and experience the flavors of the ingredients without mucking them up with too much of this and that and going crazy with salt and pepper. Simple food prepared well is great food.
This recipe for Pasta with Zucchini and Ricotta is technically from the Campania region, which is father south than we are living, but the zucchini here has been quite good so we gave it a try and we loved it. There are really only about 5 ingredients, which means you need to make them count. Let me break it down for you…
Ricotta: You can’t hide behind a crummy ricotta in this dish. You need the best one you can buy (which is really easy over here, but back home–not so much). If you can’t buy a good, smooth, creamy ricotta (I beg of you not to bother if you’re going to use a dry, grain ricotta with no flavor.) then please take the little bit of time and make your own Creamy Homemade Ricotta. It is super easy, and you will want to eat it all with a spoon. And you’ll never want store-bought again. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. That ricotta recipe made Michael and I into shameless Ricotta Divas and we’re not sorry.
Parmesan: As far as the Parmesan goes, in a perfect world we could all afford to stock our cheese drawers with the good stuff: Parmigiano-Reggiano. Truthfully, that can be cost prohibitive, especially in the U.S. I save the good stuff just for the recipes that I know it will really stand out, like this one that doesn’t have a lot of ingredients. Whatever kind of Parmesan you do end up buying, I HIGHLY recommend you buy it by the wedge and grate or shred it yourself. You’ll save money, and it stays fresh longer. Not to mention it tastes so much better because it doesn’t need all the added preservatives and whatnot that they add to the stuff in the green can or the bagged varieties. That being said, I have been known to break that rule for the sake of convenience from time to time. I’m not here to judge.
Zucchini: Pretty straightforward. Buy it as fresh and as local as you can get it.
Pasta: The kind of pasta used in this recipe is called “ditali”, which is a short tube-shaped pasta that is often used in Minestrone recipes. It’s easy to find in most grocery stores. Barilla makes it, and so do several other international brands. Dont accidentally buy “ditalini” though…it is WAY too tiny, more like the size of a grain of rice. Ditali is about the size of those colorful plastic beads that used to be so popular that you would arrange in patterns on little plastic boards with pegs and then iron them so they would melt into a coaster or whatever you were making. I loved those things.
Pasta with Zucchini and Ricotta
- Total Time: 35 minutes
- Yield: Serves 4-6 1x
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small onion, sliced thin
- 1 1/2 pounds zucchini, finely diced (about 4 cups)
- 1 pound ditali pasta
- 1 1/4 cups ricotta (either really good store-bought or homemade)
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
- Sea salt, to taste
- In a heavy-bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add onion and saute until transparent.
- Add diced zucchini, season with salt, and cover the pan. Leave the lid on and let zucchini cook over low heat for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil.
- After 15 minutes, remove the lid from the pan and raise the heat to medium-high. Saute, stirring frequently until all the liquid has evaporated. Do not overcook the zucchini to the point that it gets mushy.
- Cook the ditali pasta in the boiling water until al dente. Drain and add to the pot with the zucchini.
- Toss the pasta and the zucchini together in the pot, and add the ricotta and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Gently fold all the ingredients together until the cheeses are evenly distributed.
- Serve hot with additional Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Adapted from: La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy by The Italian Academy of Cuisine