olive leaf pasta with zucchini and pesto

After 20 years of working in vacation-constrained American industry, ani took a sabbatical year off and finally was able to realize her dream of living in Italy for a while with bob instead of rushing through the days of a few weeks' summer visit or less. We spent two and a half months in summer 2009 in a top floor apartment rental of an old Roman building built in 1929 overlooking a cute little square with a market, and a terrific view of both the Castelli Romani in one direction and the mountains where Tivoli is found in another from the not one but two terraces overlooking the square. It took a while to explore the neighborhood and its supermarkets which for the first time we could actually patronize rather than view as a foodie tourist attraction. Buying Italian food products and trying new recipes for the first time in Italy itself! Our first invention was fettuccine with ani's favorite ingredient fiori di zucca (zucchini flowers),  a real simple dish made with two small zucchini chopped up  and sautéed in a bit of olive oil, then a handful of fiori di zucca (pistle removed) chopped up and sautéed briefly with the zucchini, then mixed with the drained pasta and a small carton of Italian panna da cucinare (not available in the USA) and grated parmigiano. Yummo, to quote a famous American Food Network personality.

Instead this very simple Puglia pasta dish of the present recipe was made for us by Laura down in Naples during our ten day tour of Rome and its nearby beaches, and of Florence, Padova, Venice, Naples and Pompei with ani's sister's two unaccompanied kids kyle (14) and lenna (11) who flew in from the east coast in early August when Italy is at its hottest to put their aunt and uncle to the test. We barely survived Pompei. Laura had just returned home to Naples from a vacation in Puglia and had brought this olive leaf pasta back with her. bob had also seen it somewhere in one of the many Roman supermarkets we had explored, so we managed to score two bags to take back to the states just before leaving (Standa Supermercato had it under the upscale Coin department store on the shopping street via Cola di Rienzo not far from the Vatican). The olive leaf pasta is sort of a stretched out orecchietta, very flat and just in the shape of an oval olive leaf. Zucchini and pesto and all the Puglia pasta shapes are favorites of ours, so this dish really hit the spot. Even lenna liked it so much she wanted the recipe, although when we had first asked about doing pesto pasta at home in Rome she had said no, without really knowing what pesto was. Kids are like that. Down in Naples we didn't ask first and everybody was happy.

ingredients

3 or 4 medium zucchini, chopped
1 lb foglie d'ulivo (olive leaf pasta from Puglia, maybe we have to substitute orecchiette in the USA)
                           (this works with any short pasta: strascinati, strozzapreti, half rigatoni, see illustrations)
1/2 c grated parmigiano
2 T butter
2/3 c pesto

instructions

  1. Start the pasta water boiling.
  2. Prepare the zucchini, cleaning and chopping them coarsely. Laura sort of thick julienned them. Check out the illustrations for how ani cuts them up.
  3. Boil the zucchini in the salted pasta water a bit until partially cooked, wing it here.
  4. Then add the pasta and cook until al dente.
  5. Drain the pasta zucchini mixture and return to the pot to mix in the butter (which should melt in the hot pasta), pesto and parmigiano.
  6. Serve.

notes

  1. Foglie d'ulivo pasta available on-line. Olive tree in Italian seems to be spelled both "ulivo" and "olivo", while the fruit is "oliva" (as in olio di oliva). Apparently "ulivo" is used more in the literary context, while "olivo" is the more technical term. For most of us in the USA, we better substitute orecchiette for this relatively obscure pasta shape.
  2. Piazza Crati 11. Two short blocks from an entrance to Villa Ada, with a small park right across the piazza, well connected to both the university and the main train station by bus, not far from central Rome. The google maps street view can be rotated from which the inital view in which the piazza is framed to show our building.
  3. Laura was responsible for pushing bob to create the limoncello cheesecake.
  4. We did this recipe quite a few times in our small Roman apartment, with various Puglia pasta forms: orecchiette, or a stretched out version called strascinati, and even a combination of strascinati and another open cavatelli type pasta packaged together. Fattora, i sapori della tradizione, produces the foglie d'olivo (with spinach and tumeric) and foglie di carciofo (artichokes, with poppy seeds, spinach and tumeric) that we found in Italy. It seems to impress even Italians, at least the ones we made it for. It is one of our pasta favorites now.
  5. You can even sauté some cleaned chopped up zucchini flowers and add them to the sauce as an option if you happen to be in Italy where these are easy to come by.
  6. ONE YEAR LATER. 2010 Update. Wegman's supermarkets have found the green foglie d'ulivo! It is in their Artisan Pasta lineup of specialty pastas imported from Italy. Along with the higher class orecchiette.
  7. Illustrations available.

bonus recipe: fettuccine with zucchini and fiori di zucca

We once did risotto with fiori di zucca at home in the US but the zucchini flowers were imported from Israel at about 50 cents apiece, and although it was good, we never went through the hassle of trying to order them again. In Rome, in season (around June!), these suckers are everywhere, even prepackaged in the supermarkets. Joy. We did three pasta/rice dishes altogether with this basic recipe: fettuccine, tortelloni and risotto (for the risotto we also used shallots with the zucchini). Here is our first attempt for 2 people.

ingredients

1/2 lb good quality dry or fresh fettuccine
2 small zucchini, crosscut into thin little disks
about a dozen zucchini flowers (fiori di zucca)
2 T olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
200 ml package of panna per cucinare, heavy cream in the US?
1/2 c grated parmigiano
 

instructions

  1. Start the pasta water boiling and cook the pasta al dente.
  2. Meanwhile prepare the zucchini, cleaning and cross-cutting them.
  3. Sauté the zucchini in olive oil until softened.
  4. Meanwhile cut off the stem end of the flowers and remove the pistil or is it the stamen? That little rod inside with the pollen. Chop them up.
  5. Add to the zucchini and briefly sauté, then add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Drain the pasta and combine with the zucchini-flower mixture in the pan off the heat.
  7. Stir in the cooking cream and then the freshly grated parmigiano.
  8. Check the salt and pepper and adjust if necessary.
  9. Serve immediately.

notes

  1. We were really proud of our first Roman meal. And liked the sauce so much we repeated a few more times with different carbs. Check out the illustrations for ideas.
  2. This summer we also did an Italian mom workshop on light fried zucchini flowers. The first time bob ever had fried zucchini flowers had been long ago in Naples with Laura at some friends' party.
  3. Illustrations available.
olvlvpsta.htm: 24-sep-2012 [what, ME cook? © 1984 dr bob enterprises]