Every Tuesday, Italian expat Emiko Davies is taking us on a grand tour of Italy, showing us how to make classic, fiercely regional dishes at home.
Today: A fresh, summery dish from Puglia that's ready in the time it takes to boil pasta.
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Typical of Puglia and its neighbor, Basilicata, orecchiette and strascinati are made in essentially the same manner: by dragging the pasta across a table or board with a few fingers or the tip of a butter knife. Both shapes have a smooth outer side, thanks to the contact with the table, and a rough inside, where the fingers have dragged through.
This is the genius of this particular shape of pasta: That rough, slightly concave inside is the perfect vehicle for catching and holding sauce, guaranteeing a saucy bite with every single piece of pasta. Orecchiette (which translates to “little ears”) and strascinati (“dragged”) are perfect for pairing with vegetable-based sauces -- some of my favorite pairings are cime di rapa (turnip tops); broccoli; and this combination of zucchini, fresh tomatoes, and ricotta.
Pictured: Strascinati, left, and orecchiette, right.
This recipe almost always calls for strascinati made with a mixture of buckwheat flour, regular wheat flour, and water (you rarely see eggs used in fresh pasta from the south of Italy). Strascinati take a bit of practice to make at home, and are usually made one by someone with quick and able hands. Thankfully, to make up for the effort of making the pasta, you can whip up the sauce in a matter of minutes, all while you wait for the pasta to boil. You can always use dry pasta to make this dish in a snap -- using orecchiette, as I have here, strascinati, or cavatelli.
Minimize the number of pots to wash -- and the amount of water you boil -- by blanching the tomatoes in the same water you use to cook the pasta and zucchini together. You end up with an incredibly fresh and fast pasta dish, held together by melting tomatoes, sweet blobs of ricotta, and tender zucchini. Don't forget the basil: Tear a few leaves over each plate, and your summer staple dinner is ready.
5 to 6 plum tomatoes, such as Roma or San Marzano 11 ounces (320 grams) orecchiette pasta 2 small zucchini, sliced into thin rounds 3 tablespoons olive oil 1 garlic clove, peeled and chopped finely 2 to 3 pinches of salt 7 ounces (200 grams) fresh ricotta Handful of basil leaves, picked, rinsed, and patted dry
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.