Thursday, 13 March 2014

Doing Things By Halves

Fusilli con Zucchine & Pomodorini
Fusilli with Zucchini & Cherry Tomatoes

Everybody loves the way that Italian food is so delicious whilst at the same time being so simple and unpretentious... everybody including me :-) Exquisite, elaborate and expensive dishes are nice to look at and to enjoy if you can afford them, on occasion... But you know, on a day-to-day basis, real simple food can be delicious using the most modest of ingredients and a minimum of time and money to make. 

It is not as if I am on a mission or trying to convert anyone- heavens forbid! But I have to admit that I sometimes find myself rolling my eyes or groaning when I see the lengths some people go to to spend as much money on the most expensive and exclusive products to prepare a delicious meal at home. It is not a matter of being able to spend the money, having the knowledge that such delicacies exist or even the skill to prepare them... it is just that it does not fit in with my concept of "real life". Nope, we Italians and especially us Sicilians... we like to keep it real, use down-to-earth ingredients and make something yummy out of them to impress the neighbors, rather than just spend money for the sake of it. 

Take this evening supper for example- and here are the ingredients for you- a zucchini, a Spring onion, 3-4 cherry tomatoes, some parsley and a couple of handfuls of pasta. Add a little olive oil, garlic, nutmeg, salt and pepper and you have a lovely pasta dish to dig-into in just 15 minutes or so. And what's more... it only took a half of a zucchini to prepare 2 nice platefuls of pasta. Does that surprise you? I hope not! I hope it makes you want to get into the kitchen and realize you can make the most of what you've got, even when it's not a lot!

The only prep-work involved in the making of this is the grating of the zucchini, the slicing of the Spring onion and the chopping of the parsley. An optional extra in this dish would be garlic- but I am sure you can manage that extra load of work should you choose to add it! I tend to hold-back on the garlic as so many friends of mine have a problem with it- which I can relate to... because as much as I think it IS an integral part of Italian and indeed all Mediterranean cuisine, more often than not, people overdo it and use too much of it when they prepare food. Garlic should perfume and compliment a dish but not be the main flavor in it, overpowering the other ingredients. But that's just my take on the matter ;-) 

So- let's get cracking! Start the water boiling for the fusilli and at the same time, pop a frying pan onto the stove, crank up the heat and add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Whilst they are both warming, grab yourself a coarse grater and grate half of the zucchini. Start the zucchini and onion frying and once you have stirred them around and got them shiny with oil and beginning to soften, add the garlic if you have chosen to use it and season with salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg.

By the time the zucchini begins to brown slightly, the water should be boiling away and ready to start the fusilli- so in they go, along with plenty of salt, and off goes the heat on the zucchini. 

What now begins to happen is this- as the zucchini starts to cool down a little, the olive oil that the zucchini soaked up, (as it does), will "ooze" back out of the zucchini, along with the zucchini's own juices and flavor- which by now are nicely infused with garlic, onion and nutmeg flavor too... yummy!

The pasta takes about 8 minutes in all, so after 6 minutes, pour off MOST of the water and then add the fussili to the frying pan with the zucchini and onion. Stir the pasta together well with the zucchini, so that it is all nicely coated and let it simmer away until the excess water renders down and evaporates whilst the pasta finishes cooking and soaks all of those flavors up.

Whilst the pasta is simmering away, heat up another tablespoon of olive oil in a small frying pan, cut the cherry tomatoes in half, sprinkle generously with salt, pepper and sugar and place them face-down in the hot oil. Let them sizzle for just a minute or so before flipping them over and continuing to fry, brown and soften up nicely whilst you finish the pasta.

By now the pasta will also have absorbed all the liquid in the frying pan- which of course means all of the flavors too! At this point it is ready to serve- but not before adding a good, generous pinch of finely chopped parsley, a last extra drop of olive oil (if necessary) and tossing to make sure that everything is nicely and evenly coated.

Serve the hot, tender, juicy and lightly caramelized tomatoes on top and finish with a light sprinkle of grated salted Ricotta cheese and parsley... terrific!

Again- the thing I like about dishes like this is that they are wonderful, whether you are counting your pennies or not- simply because the taste good, are healthy and are almost guaranteed to appeal to everyone- and I think for a cook, that is more important at the end of the day than working too hard to impress. 

In any case I hope you give them a go and will be impressed yourselves!

Buon Apetito!


  1. It MUST definitely taste yummy, all main actors pretty halved, but I'm sure YOU never do things by halves. Thanks for your recipe, dear Francesco.
    Best wishes
    Barbara :)

  2. Only when it comes to getting the balance right dear Barbara :-) I have learned that when you are cooking, it is better to use "just enough" of something than to use "just a bit too much", even the really simple things ;-) I am glad you like this! The most simple food is sometimes the best :-) xx Francesco