My husband and I decided to spend a day on the beach at Porto Ercole. It’s on Tuscany’s Monte Argentario coast. That’s what I like about living near Rome, we’re never too far away from a really nice beach.
Lovely clear, clean water and – for a wimpy wuss like me who can’t bathe in normal ‘cool’ water – there was the added advantage of the temperature being warm enough for me.
This was late August, and the beach still quite busy. But not overcrowded as beaches tend to be in many parts of Italy during the June-September holiday season.
A few days before, at work in the kitchen at the Casale Minardi wine estate, I watched as chef Luigi went about making a very simple pasta dish. Hmmm. Simple but delicious, so I just had to try it out for myself.
INGREDIENTS: courgettes/zucchine, olive oil, an onion, some pork jowl (guanciale) – I suppose pancetta or bacon would do, lemon zest, grated parmesan or pecorino cheese, almonds. P.S. Remove the guanciale and this is easily a vegetarian recipe.
I snapped the courgette blossoms off and placed them in a bowl of fairly warm but not hot water. By the way, if you can’t find courgette blossoms, this pasta will still taste good. And, as a piece of perhaps not very vital information, I can also tell you that these were female flowers. The male flowers have a little stem to them.
I removed the flowers after about 15 minutes and left them to dry out for a bit. Notice how they have plumped out by a good soak in the water. Set aside.
Chop up some almonds. You could toast them first if you liked. I couldn’t be bothered. Set aside.
Grate some pecorino cheese. If you can’t find pecorino, parmesan will do very nicely. Set aside.
Get a packet of pasta ready. Set aside.
Slice some guanciale very thinly, set aside.
Enough with all this setting aside! Time to get cooking.
Put the water onto boil.
Roughly chop an onion and cook it with some olive oil. It must not brown, okay? Low and steady heat. Go for a blond colour.
Now add the slices of guanciale.
Give the guanciale enough time to render its fat and then add the courgettes.
Cook the courgettes until you are happy with their texture and now add some lemon zest – in slices, not cut up finely. Because you will remove the lemon zest before serving the pasta. If you are a lemon zest fiend, as Luigi the chef most definitely is, you could chop it very very finely and leave it in.
Time to add the almonds. Combine the ingredients.
Tear the courgette blossoms and add them too.
Mix them in and turn the heat off until you are ready to drain the pasta directly into the saucepan. Next time, I would add the blossoms last.
Here we go.
Turn the heat on and add some of the cooking water. Finish cooking the pasta. Then take the saucepan away from the source of heat.
Add some of the pecorino and mix it in.
Add some more. Taste.
Add a little bit more cooking water if necessary. And yes, it was necessary. It helped to make everything come together.
Remove the lemon zest and serve. Keep some for leftovers.
Enjoy some the next day on the beach – an essential secret ingredient for this recipe.