Also called maccheroni with zucchini. Or, as it was dubbed last night, zucchini carbonara.
This recipe is from my hero, Lidia, whose suggestions I almost always take. But when she says “Get yourself a chitarra!,” I balk. Apparently you can’t make maccheroni without a chitarra (which sounds like a riddle rather than a serious edict). A chitarra is, as it sounds, a guitar-like thingy that makes pasta strands. You even have to tune it to make sure the strings are taut. Because I’ve never had real maccheroni I don’t know what I’m missing, so I was perfectly happy to use the spaghetti attachment on my Kitchenaid. This is the first in a series of executive decisions that I am sure would get me kicked out of Italy.
The next was my decision to mess with spaghetti carbonara by introducing it to this humble, vegetarian, zucchini-based pasta dish. As far as I can tell this is a grave mistake, and to make it worse I used pre-cubed pancetta–that’s right, pancetta!–from Trader Joe’s. I have learned in recent months that the meat of choice is guanciale but I live in a major city and have never seen it at a store. And I go to a lot of food stores. So there’s that mistake.
I saw an episode of No Reservations where Anthony Bourdain was in Rome, eating spaghetti carbonara, and some hot shot prep cook at the restaurant wanted to make a version of the dish with a couple zucchini flowers in it. Let’s remember for a moment that zucchini flowers have next to no flavor, and are quite pretty. The owner freaked. I don’t really know what the guy said–his angry eyes were too scary for me to focus on the subtitles–but the jist seemed to be that, ok, fine, you can do that, but if you do I will passive-aggressively stare at you the whole time, silently judging your lax disrespect for the institution of my restaurant, and then if you dare to call it anything that sounds like “carbonara” I will immediately correct your massive mistake.
So I’m sure that what we ate for dinner last night would offend Lidia, that guy, and probably most of Italy. But it was really, really tasty.
You clearly do not have to make your own pasta. (If you do, here’s the ratio: 2 C, or 10 oz., flour, 4 eggs, 1/3 t kosher salt.) You also don’t have to bastardize this dish with the addition of pancetta, though if you are a meat-eater it’s a nice addition.
Otherwise, my edits were minor. I used whole eggs instead of egg yolks for the sauce enrichment, because I don’t like egg whites hanging out the fridge. They’re a bad influence. I dialed back the oniony ingredients a bit–there’s saffron in the recipe and I wanted to keep the flavor competition to a minimum–and I added a little more parsley.
serves 4 as a main dish
1/4 t saffron threads
4-5 small zucchini (about 1.5 lbs.), or 1 lb. zucchini and 24 zucchini flowers
2 T olive oil
1 large or 2 small shallots, chopped finely
4 oz. pancetta, diced into small cubes (optional)
3 scallions, sliced thinly
2 t kosher salt
1/4 C chopped parsley
1 lb pasta, or one batch maccheroni
1 C grated pecorino, plus extra for serving
Put the saffron in a spoon and hold it over a low flame. Moving the spoon around, toast the threads until you can smell the saffron. Put it in a small dish with 2 T hot water and let steep.
Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add a handful of kosher salt along the way.
In a big skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and pancetta and a pinch of salt. Cook for a few minutes until the shallots start to get soft and the pancetta renders some of its fat and starts to brown. Add about 1/2 C of hot water from the pasta pot, and let the shallot keep cooking in the simmering liquid.
Turn the zucchinis into matchsticks. To do this, I sliced them on the biggest setting of my mandolin, and then cut the slices into matchsticks. If you don’t have a mandolin, slice the zucchinis lengthwise into thin strips, the cut the strips into thin matchsticks that are about 2 inches long, says Lidia.
Add the zucchini matchsticks (and the sliced zucchini flowers, if you’re using them) to the skillet, along with the 2 t kosher salt. Stir it all together, and then add the scallions and parsley. Increase the heat to high. The zucchini will start to release water, which will boil off. As this happens, add more water from the pasta pot–up to 2 C Lidia says. I added 1 C at the beginning and it was plenty. Add the saffron water at this point too.
Start cooking your pasta now. If it’s fresh, just do 3 minutes or so.
Meanwhile, whisk the two eggs with the 1 cup of pecorino and a few grinds of fresh pepper. If there’s still liquid in your zucchini pan at this point, ladle it into the eggs to temper them and whisk vigorously. If the zucchini pan is dry now, take 1/2 C from the pasta water and whisk it into the eggs.
When the pasta is done, lift it out of the pot with tongs and add to the zucchini. Toss together. Once the zucchini is distributed among the pasta, take it off the heat, add the eggs in a thin stream, and continue tossing continuously. The residual heat will cook the eggs and turn them into a glossy sauce. If this doesn’t happen, turn the heat on low and keep tossing. Take it off the heat as soon as the eggs start to coalesce into a sauce.
Serve immediately with extra cheese.