My dad makes a version of this dish. His is very rich, made with lots of cream and cheese. He also shreds the zucchini so it melts down completely into a creamy sauce – this appeals to my many picky brothers who ordinarily wouldn’t eat zucchini. And it is good, but very heavy. When setting out to recreate this family favorite in my own kitchen, I wanted to make my version a bit lighter. Having no need to camouflage the zucchini, I cut them in rounds and cook them long enough so that they are somewhat soft, but still are texturally distinct from the pasta and sauce. For the sauce, rather than use cream, I mix pasta cooking water and grated parmesan to coat the pasta like when making pasta carbonara or cacio e pepe. —Elena Giannella
zucchini, sliced into thin rounds
cloves garlic, minced
extra virgin olive oil
salt, more for pasta water
pepper, more to taste
orecchiette (shells or rigatoni also work well)
Fill a large pot with water and generously add salt. Leave to boil over high heat.
Heat the olive oil in a separate pot or deep pan over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and cook until fat starts to render, about 3-4 minutes.
Add garlic and cook till fragrant, about 1 minute. Do not let brown or burn!
Add the zucchini, salt, and pepper. Stir to coat with the rest of the ingredients and lower heat to low. Cook for about 20 minutes uncovered, stirring occasionally until zucchini are all soft, some having disintegrated.
Once the water is boiling, cook orecchiette according to package directions.
Before the orecchiette is finished cooking, ladle out .5 cup of the cooking water and add to the zucchini pot along with the .5 cup of grated parmesan and handful of basil. Mix well. Ladle out additional cooking water and set aside.
Drain the pasta and mix in the zucchini pot, adding splashes of additional pasta water if it seems too dry. Add additional black pepper to taste. Serve with grated pecorino romano or more parmesan cheese.