Fall has arrived and while I love cool, crisp, autumnal weather, I am not a huge fan of many of the vegetables found during fall and winter. I don’t care for winter squash and although I don’t mind broccoli (unlike the first President Bush) and cauliflower, they aren’t my favorites. Kale, despite all of the hype about its fabulousness doesn’t ring my bell either. I should be embarrassed, but I’m not. Sue me.
Consequently, at summer’s end and even now with the advent of fall, I’ve been cooking lots of late summer vegetables, storing the memory of their flavors in the taste buds of my mind. Several meals a day are likely to feature tomatoes in some form—usually just sliced and served with a crunchy sprinkle of fleur de sel. Since I am not a gardener fatigued from an overabundance of summer squash, I am still enjoying deep green and mustard gold zucchini several times a week. (I prefer zucchini to other varieties of summer squash because I like the uniform shape and the relatively smaller number of seeds compared to yellow squash with its oblong shape and numerous seeds).
One of my new favorite zucchini recipes is Fusilli with Zucchini, a simple pasta dish that Lucia Ricci Curbastro served as a first course when I had dinner at her home in Italy earlier this year. Lucia is the wife of Riccardo Ricci Curbastro a well-respected winemaker and wine official from Franciacorta. Riccardo was the President of FEDERDOC, the Federation of DOCs (Denominazione di Origine Controllata)—the Italian body governing the country’s wine industry. After a successful run in that position, he was appointed the first president of EFOW The European Organization of Origin Wines. EFOW is the organization responsible for wine regulations throughout Europe. He served as EFOW’s president from March 2010 until January 2016. Riccardo is a fascinating person, dedicated to his winery, his region, Italy and Europe as a whole.
Located in Northern Italy on the southern banks of Lake Iseo, Franciacorta produces sparkling and still wines. The region emphasizes organic viticulture. In fact, almost half of the region is organic and there is a movement afoot to make the whole region organic. While Riccardo recognizes the importance of the organic movement, he is most concerned with the effect of global warming and is committed to reducing the carbon footprint of his winery, Azienda Agricola Ricci Curbastro, using various methods including low-impact agriculture and solar electricity. Since 2010, the winery has had a zero carbon-footprint rating and in 2011 their rating was negative 5.7298 lbs. per bottle. That means they have captured the equivalent of planting 5,000 new trees.
It’s fascinating speaking with Riccardo. He is a font of knowledge about not only wine designation regulations but protected product designations as well. A protected product is one whose origin and process are protected by the European Union. For example, Prosciutto di Parma, a well-known protected product is a dried ham that can only be made in specific areas around Parma and under certain conditions.
A charismatic forceful individual, Riccardo is a wine historian, a hunter and a gifted photographer. In addition to the winery, there is also a wine museum, an antique store, an agriturismo and a lounge where you can relax with a glass of wine on the property. His current project Equalitas is an initiative he has recently launched with the Italian Department of Agriculture to establish a certification for ethical winemaking, taking into account ethical behavior towards the environment, employees and the economy. Needless to say dinner conversation at the Ricci Curbastro house is quite engaging.
Elegant and intelligent, Lucia Ricci Curbastro is reserved compared to her outgoing husband. Her style of cooking is one I like immensely. She cooks using local ingredients and prepares them simply and very well. The night I was there, after our first course of Fusilli with Zucchini we had Roasted Pheasant in a Pancetta, Black Olive, Vinegar Sauce. Riccardo had hunted the pheasant himself (definitely a locavore behavior in keeping with his low-carbon footprint philosophy). I really liked the tang of the vinegar combined with the briny olives, the porky pancetta and gamey pheasant. The flavors were complex without being overpowering.
The pasta was great! It wasn’t a complex recipe at all but rather an exemplar of the effortless simplicity that I favor. Fresh zucchini and al dente pasta lightly dressed with olive-oil sautéed garlic, red pepper flakes and parsley and tossed with Parmigiano Reggiano (yet another protected product). Lucia served it with the confidence of someone who recognizes that good products when well prepared don’t need a surfeit of techniques or extraneous ingredients to make them memorable. The dinner conversation may have been heady and at times quite technical with detailed discussions of carbon footprint measurements and ethical treatment of employees, neighbors and the environment, but the meal was straightforward and delicious and it went perfectly with Riccardo’s still Curtefranca wines. That is what Wine Table Cooking is all about.
FUSILLI PASTA WITH ZUCCHINI
Yield: Serves 6 as an appetizer, 4 as a main course
Wine Pairing: Curtefranca Bianco, Soave or Pinot Grigio
Ease of Preparation: Easy
1 pound of fusilli pasta
5 medium green zucchini
2 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese + ½ cup
What you’ll need:
Large pot for cooking pasta
14-inch sauté pan
Hand-held strainer to remove the pasta from the cooking water
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: Approximately 15 minutes (enough time to boil the pasta water and cook the pasta according to package instructions).
Heat 6 quarts water until it boils. Salt the water generously (approximately 1 to 1-1/2 Tbsp. of salt) once it has come to a boil. It should taste salty like the sea. Add the fusilli pasta to the boiling water, stirring to make sure it doesn't stick together.
While the water is heating, slice the zucchini in half lengthwise and then slice into ¼ inch half moon slices.
Heat the olive oil in the skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, zucchini and the red pepper flakes. Cook several minutes until the zucchini and garlic are softened. Be careful not to brown the garlic. Add the fresh parsley and reduce the heat to low. By now, your pasta should be almost finished cooking.
It is very important to check the pasta frequently. Fusilli has a tendency to overcook quickly. It is always better to undercook it rather than to overcook it as it will continue to cook when you add it to the zucchini. Use the strainer to lift the pasta from the water while it is still quite al dente and add it to skillet with the zucchini mixture. Raise the heat to medium high. Add a quarter cup of the pasta cooking water and stir the pasta and zucchini. Add ¼ cup of grated Parmigiano and continue to toss or stir until the pasta is lightly coated with the oil and cheese. If the mixture looks dry, add an additional tablespoon of olive oil, a little pasta water and a small amount of additional Parmigiano and stir to incorporate it. Taste for seasoning and serve. Offer additional grated Parmigiano to guests should they desire it.
#1: If you do not have fusilli pasta, you may substitute another short pasta like penne but you will need to cook it a bit more as penne does not overcook as easily as fusilli.
#2: I never throw my pasta water away until my dish is completed because it can be added to the sauced pasta in the pan to achieve the correct consistency.