Cor, Courgettes! (Seriously?) How to Make a Tasty Pasta Sauce with the Boring Kind of Courgettes

Definition of “Cor”:

British informal 

  • Expressing surprise, excitement, admiration, or alarm.

    ‘Cor! That’s a beautiful black eye you’ve got!’

Also:

A slang word used by the British, often as employed by those with a cockney accent. Meaning God. (Possibly “god damn” as “cor blimey” is believed to be derives from “god, blind me.”)

“Cor, wot a bloody wanker you are.”

Translation: “God, what a fucking jerkoff.”
or “God damn, you’re a wack job.”

End of quotes.

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Last week, we were spending some time with my husband’s parents in a small hilltop and very beautiful town in the Marche called Monterubbiano.  My mother-in-law was born and raised there and my father-in-law ended up buying a summer house smack in the middle of town, underneath the tall tower of San Francesco, when he retired.  Many are the summer holidays we spent in Monterubbiano with our young kids, until they grew up and it became no longer ‘cool’ for them.  The town’s population gets smaller and smaller with each passing year and many shops closed as a consequence.  There is no longer a butcher, and last Winter even the pasta maker closed.  This was quite a blow to us because we also loved their olive all’ascolana, their creme and the town’s famous tagliatelle fritte.  All that remains is a well stocked, family-run grocery store, a small supermarket if you will, and a tiny fruit and veg shop.  For some reason, I decided I would make pasta with courgettes for lunch that day and asked my father-in-law to pop out and get me some.  “Please, the light green ones if they have them.  Otherwise the dark ones will do”.  When he returned with the dark green ‘hospital’ zucchine I can’t say I was too surprised.  And so all that was left for me to do was engage in Operation Courgette-Tart-Up.  I had a secret up my sleeve: guanciale. That and a few other small ‘tricks’.  Little details can make all the difference in a dish.
Ingredients: extra virgin olive oil, garlic, diced guanciale/pork jowl (pancetta will do), garlic, courgettes, tomato paste, fresh basil leaves, parsley, parmesan, a blob of butter, salt and pepper.
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I began by putting some water on the boil in a medium-sized saucepan.  When the water came to the boil, I added two courgettes and left them, covered, to simmer.  I needed them to be thoroughly cooked through.  I was going to mash them into a purée later on.
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In another wok-kind of pan, I put some extra virgin olive oil to heat up and welcome some cloves of garlic.   When the cloves turned golden, I transferred them.  Sorry, I forgot to take a photo of the garlic in this pan.
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See?  Courgette chips.

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And this is the white and utterly boring part of the courgette that I would normally throw away.

7Instead, genius idea aha!, I added them to the water cooking the whole courgettes.  They would serve to flavour the water.  This water could then be used to make a vegetable soup.  Waste not, want not.

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Back to the wok-pan.  I added some more evoo, a tiny bit of red chilli and the courgette chips that I had cut into dices.  Well, when I say ‘dices’ I mean what you see above.  Do sprinkle quite a bit of salt at this point.

9Operation tart up was coming along nicely now.  The pasta water at the back, to the right, being brought to the boil.  Diced courgette chips being sautéd over a high heat in the middle.  The crisp guanciale to the right.  And the courgettes simmering to the left at the back.

10I squeezed some tomato paste (concentrato di pomodoro) into a mixing bowl.  Tomato paste is all about umami and reinforcement of ‘other’ flavours, and I tend to use it rather a lot.  Think of it as a team builder.

11The simmered courgettes.  Thoroughly  mushy at this point.

12A little of their cooking water.

13All mashed up.  And not looking very attractive either but never mind, we’ll fix that later.  Add a pinch of salt, taste, make sure it tastes okay and then set aside.

14Now that the pasta water started boiling, and I added the coarse see salt as well as the pasta, things can start coming together in the wok pan.  At 12 o’clock we have the courgette purée, with a blob of butter that will soon melt added to it, at 3 o’clock a chiffonade of fresh basil leaves as well as parsley, at 6 o’clock we have the guanciale and, finally, at 9 o’clock we have the sautéed diced courgettes.  Turn the heat up high. Combine all the ingredients.  Freshly milled black pepper, if you like.  I like.

16Drain the pasta directly into the wok pan.  Keep the heat high.

17Toss the pasta if you are able to or use two wooden spoons to combine all the ingredients.

15Add some of the pasta water to the pasta.  One or two ladlefuls.

18Grated parmigiano reggiano.

19Sprinkle the parmigiano liberally and keep stirring with the wooden spoon and adding water as required.

20Almost ready.

21Ready.  Ready to be served.  And enjoyed of course!  Why else bother …

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Loosey Goosey Mozzarella Topping for Fried Aubergine Slices

The queen of summer dishes is the Parmigiana di Melanzane, of course.  Slices of aubergine fried in olive oil and then baked in the oven with mozzarella, basil, parmesan and a tomato sauce.  It is, however, a dish that requires an attitude of reverence and plenty of time for its production.  One evening a few weeks ago, I decided I would settle for an aubergine recipe that would use the same ingredients basically but at the same time offer the bonus of taking less than an hour to prepare.

I also decided to go for this recipe because … the aubergines and tomatoes I had to hand weren’t exactly the best quality.  I am a bit of a bore when it comes to where to do one’s food shopping and I have been avoiding/boycotting supermarkets for many years now, ever since I read the book by Felicity Lawrence “Not on the Label”, circa 2005/6/7 … can’t remember exactly which year.  I realise I am at risk of coming across as a terrible snob, with supercilious standards, especially with regard to people who go to supermarkets for reasons of economy.  So I hasten to add that Frascati, which is where I live, is a very short distance to many markets: our own Frascati covered market open Monday to Saturday and a Slow Food Market every Saturday morning, both of which I can reach on foot; then there are farmers markets in the area (Ariccia), and weekly markets (Grottaferrata on Mondays, Cocciano on Wednesdays), as well as a couple of farms (Capodaraco in Grottaferrata and Iacchelli not far from Nemi). And not only do the prices of their wares compete very favourably with supermarket prices but … their produce is infinitely better on the whole, it really is, no contest! I am nearly always disappointed when I buy veg from a supermarket.  Which fortunately does not happen very often.

Anyway, it just so happened that I had some dodgy looking aubergines and tomatoes sourced from, you guessed it, the supermarket.  Their look wasn’t exactly a come-hither one and the only answer for me to such a strait (that perhaps only I deem to be dire) was to go down the tasty camouflage route, i.e. to take recourse to frying.  As they say in Italian, even the sole of a shoe would taste good if it were fried.

INGREDIENTS

Aubergines, tomatoes, basil leaves, breadcrumbs, eggs, mozzarella, good quality extra virgin olive oil, oil for frying (either olive oil or groundnut/peanut oil).  Salt.

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The first thing to do is rip the mozzarella and put it in a sieve or colander so as to dry it up a little, remove the excess of its liquid.

1These tomatoes looked pretty enough but … their taste left a lot to be desired. I had a little bit of tweaking to do in order to amp up their flavour.  Cut the tomatoes in half, and then half again, place in another colander and allow them to drip away.

2And here is the prepping station.  Some beaten eggs in one plate.  Some breadcrumbs in another.  The unprepossessing aubergines.  I peeled them, cut them into fairly thick round slices.  I then coated them with the egg wash before breading them on both sides.

3Be sure to press quite hard.  Fingers get to be incredibly sticky and require frequent rinsing (especially if the phone rings – now why is it that the phone tends to always ring or the neighbour call in when I am in the process of frying food?  Maybe the anti-frying police is after me.).

4Off I went and shallow fried the aubergine slices.  Turning them over only once.  I removed them with a slotted spoon and set them over a plate with kitchen paper to welcome any unwanted oiliness.

6And now back to the mozzarella rags.  I put them in the food processor with a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil.  I used the pulse feature to process them. I seem to remember adding 1 tablespoon of very cold water, to ‘loosen’ the mozzarella as it were.

7I stopped the blitzing and tasted the mozzarella.

8I decided it required a little more olive oil.  A good sprinkle of salt and white pepper and some fresh basil leaves.  A little more blitzing and it was done.

9And here, dear reader, is my loosey goosey mozzarella topping: easy peasy!

It was time to put the ingredients together and serve the dish.

1011I added a little dribble of olive oil to the tomatoes as well as a tiny sprinkle of salt (sea salt, always sea salt).

On the platter.

1314And for all my lamenting and decrying over the quality of the aubergines and tomatoes, this recipe turned out to be very good indeed.  All of the aubergine slices got wolfed down and a sense of summer satiety obtained at the dinner table.  Frying can work miracles, I tell you.