Pasta with Zucchini
Servings: 4 as main course, 6 as first course
- 2 lbs. baby zucchini; no more than 1¼" in diameter
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Seasonings to taste:
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1/2 cup fresh mint (smallest leaves only), thyme, rosemary
- Saffron threads, a pinch
- Fresh cracked pepper
- Ground red pepper
- Coarse sea salt
- 1 lb. uncooked dried mezzi rigatoni—shorter, ridged rigatoni
Note: Paola always uses dried pasta made with a bronze mold; better quality, more consistency
- 1/4 cup coarse sea salt to season pasta cooking water
- To pass at the table:
ricotta di bufala*
- **Buffalo milk ricotta is less sweet than cow’s milk ricotta. It's creamier and has a smooth and delicate texture. If not available, use best-quality salted ricotta cheese.
Wash and drain the zucchini. Slice into ¼-inch-thick “coins” and set aside. If using larger zucchini, slice lengthwise, core out the seeds, then slice.
Place a large, nonstick sauté pan over low to medium-low heat. Glaze the pan with olive oil. Add crushed garlic, herbs and saffron to the pan to flavor the oil. (Reserve a small handful of the herbs for garnish.) Stir and cook until the garlic just starts to color and become fragrant. Do not let the garlic burn. Remove garlic.
Add the zucchini to the pan and season with ground pepper and sea salt. Sear the zucchini until slightly soft and the zucchini begins to brown and caramelize. Remove from heat.
Remove ½ of the zucchini mixture; place in a food processor and purée.
Add a small drizzle of olive oil to the sliced zucchini still in the pan; gently fold in puréed zucchini. Add more olive oil to taste, but sparingly. The consistency of the sauce should be creamy, not thick.
Fill a large pasta pot ¾ full with cold water and place over high heat. Add ¼ cup** of coarse sea salt to water and bring to a rolling boil. Add dried pasta and cook according to package directions for al dente.
Drain pasta (reserving a cup of the pasta cooking water) and place in large serving bowl. Drizzle with a small amount of olive oil.
If needed, thin zucchini sauce with a bit of the pasta cooking water. Add zucchini sauce to pasta and toss gently. Garnish with fresh herbs and serve immediately. Pass ricotta di bufala for guests to stir into their pasta, to taste.
**Do not be alarmed at this amount of sea salt. The pasta water will taste “of the sea” but will not produce overly salty pasta.
Orange and Fennel Salad
- 2 tablespoons salted capers (Paola requested Roland’s Tiny Capers in salt)
- 4 fresh fennel bulbs and fronds
- ½ sweet red onion
- 4 large navel oranges
- Juice of: 1 additional navel orange, 2 lemons
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Several hours ahead of time, drain and rinse salted capers. Place capers in a bowl and cover with water. Refrigerate.
Prepare the fennel. Cut off fennel fronds and set aside. Cut off tough outer leaves of the fennel bulb with a paring knife. Set aside small, tender bulblets for garnish. With a mandoline, thinly slice fennel bulbs. Slices should be as thin as possible—almost transparent. Place fennel slices in cold water and set aside. Pinch off the tender tips of the fennel fronds (2–3 "branches" each) and set aside for garnish.
Peel and thinly slice the sweet red onion, crosswise, on a mandoline. Again, slices should be as thin as possible. Place in separate bowl of cold water; set aside.
Prepare the oranges. Cut off a thin slice from the stem and opposite end of the orange. Make one thin, vertical cut through the remaining orange peel and pull the rest of the skin from the orange. Slice each orange horizontally in ½-inch slices, carefully removing any seeds; do not worry about removing pith. Set aside.
Whisk together the juice from 1 orange and 2 lemons. Whisk in olive oil. Set aside.
Remove capers from the refrigerator and drain well. Set aside.
Assemble the salad. First, pour the combined orange and lemon juices in the bottom of a low bowl or platter with a lip. Arrange ingredients in beautiful layers, beginning with the fennel slices, followed by the orange slices and, finally, a small amount of sliced red onion. Drizzle orange-lemon juice vinaigrette to taste. Sprinkle with capers and garnish with fennel bulblets and fennel sprigs.
Shrimp with Cannellini
- 1/2 lb. dried cannellini beans
- 24 fresh shrimp, in the shell, not frozen (approx. 1/3 to 1/2 lb./person)
- 1 onion, chopped in half, skin on
- 1 carrot, rough chop
- 1 celery stalk, rough chop
- 2–3 bay leaves
- Ground pepper, ground sea salt
- Extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup fresh dill, washed and finely chopped, leaves only
- ¼ cup fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley, washed and finely chopped, leaves only
A day ahead of serving, rinse and sort through cannellini beans. Place in a large bowl and cover with water. Set aside.
Next day, shell and clean shrimp, reserving shells. Place shells in stock pot, cover with cold water. Add chopped onion, carrot, celery, bay leaves. Bring to a boil and cook for 2 hours to make a concentrated stock. Strain stock and cool. This can be made 1 day before.
Drain beans. Add beans to cooled shrimp stock and bring to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper; cook until beans are tender, about 20–30 minutes.
Just before serving, briefly sauté shrimp in a large pan with a little bit of extra virgin olive oil. When shrimp are opaque add beans and herbs to the pan.
Add cooked beans and shrimp to a low serving bowl or platter; drizzle sparingly with olive oil. Arrange shrimp on top of beans. If needed, add a bit of water to loosen the beans.
- 4 medium eggplant (about 3 1/2"-4" in diameter)
- Ground sea salt and pepper
- Vegetable oil
- ½ lb. Greek plain yogurt
- Finely chopped: Mint (reserve smallest sprigs for garnish), dill, rosemary, thyme
Slice eggplant into ½-inch rounds. Place in colander, salting each layer as you go. Salt and drain for a couple of hours to remove bitterness.
Layer eggplant on a large sheet pan lined with paper towels and dry thoroughly.
Season flour with salt and pepper and place in a shallow dish or pan. Dredge individual eggplant slices in the flour and gently shake off excess. Set aside.
Add about 1 inch of oil to a large sauté pan and sauté eggplant slices until brown on each side. Do not crowd the pan, or eggplant will steam, not brown. If you have a deep fryer, you can use this to fry the eggplant.
Drain sautéed eggplant on a sheetpan lined with paper towels; set aside to cool overnight.
In the meantime, combine Greek yogurt with fresh mint, dill, rosemary and thyme in a food processor.
Layer yogurt and cooled, sautéed eggplant in a baking dish, beginning with yogurt. Fit eggplant slices together snugly but do not overlap. End with a layer of yogurt, about 3–4 layers total. Garnish with one small mint sprig. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate several hours, preferably overnight. Dish will solidify in the refrigerator.
Slice into pieces to serve.
- 1 pint each: strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries
- Fresh red grapefruit (white are OK, if red is not available)
- Sugar, to taste
Wash and sort berries. If using strawberries, cut in quarters.
Juice grapefruit and add juice to the bottom of a low serving bowl or platter.
Beautifully arrange berries: first a layer of strawberries, then blueberries and raspberries; finish with blackberries. Do not stir.
Have sugar available at the table for those guests who wish to add more sweetness.