Whether you’re a professional chef or an amateur home cook, there’s nothing quite as inspiring as cooking with garden or farm-fresh ingredients. Last Saturday, in the bucolic countryside of Manoppello, Country House Casale Centurione, Abruzzo4foodies and I co-hosted an event called Abruzzo Country Cooking, at which our guests picked vegetables from the plentiful, organic garden of the lovely Casale, which is owned by my friend Giulia Scappaticcio and her family, and together, prepared a delicious farm-to-table meal.
Of the dishes we prepared, for me, the velvety spaghetti alla chitarra with zucchini and pine nuts was the highlight. Giulia’s mother-in-law, the energetic Francesca, a talented cook who also happens to be a marathon runner (she ran the New York City Marathon in the late-90s), taught the group how to make this fresh summer dish using just-picked zucchini and a few other basic ingredients. Similar to a pesto, but much creamier, the zucchini are pureed with oil, toasted pine nuts and fresh basil. If you’re able to prepare the dish with fresh homemade spaghetti, as we did, you’re in for an extra-special treat, but good-quality imported spaghetti is a fine substitute.
Spaghetti con zucchine e pinoli
Recipe by Majella Home Cooking © as adapted from Country House Casale Centurione-Manopello
- 1 lb fresh or dried spaghetti
- 1 lb zucchini, ends trimmed, sliced into ½-inch thick rounds or semi-circles (depending on the thickness of the zucchini)
- 3 large cloves of garlic, sliced
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, or more, if needed
- 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted*
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 6-8 basil leaves, stems removed
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In a wide sauté pan, add the olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the garlic to the pan and sauté for 1-2 minutes, until the garlic begins to color. Add the zucchini, season with a large pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper and raise the heat to medium-high. Stir frequently and cook until the liquid released by the zucchini has evaporated and the zucchini are quite soft. Transfer the zucchini, oil, garlic , half of the toasted pine nuts and the basil leaves to a blender or food processor and purée until smooth and velvety. If the mixture appears too thick or lumpy, add additional olive oil, one teaspoon at a time. Adjust seasonings to your liking with more salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, add the pasta to the pot of boiling water and cook until al dente. Drain well and toss the pasta with the zucchini purée and the remaining toasted pine nuts. Serve with grated Parmigiano or Grana Padano. Buon appetito!
*To toast pine nuts, place them in a dry skillet and cook over medium-low heat, stirring often, until they are golden in spots, about 3 minutes. Immediately transfer the pine nuts to a bowl to cool.