i needed a pasta detox for a hot minute, but i’m slowly returning back to my carb-obsessed self. i’m fondly remembering bowls of farfalle with ragu, piles of lasagna with homemade béchamel, conchiglie with pancetta, fresh tomatoes and olives and the cravings for pasta have come back with vengeance.
when i was in abruzzo, i was lucky enough to eat at a beautiful farm-to-table restaurant called terre del tirino, where everything served is made from produce grown on the farm. everything right down to the flour is made on the premises. we went for dinner one night, and i ate a dish of the most beautiful fettuchine covered in a rich, velvety sauce made from zucchini. the sauce was so rich, i was certain there was cheese in it – nothing tastes that good without cheese! i asked the chef what kind of cheese she used in the puree and she let me know that nope, no cheese was harmed during the making of this sauce – she simply emulsified the zucchini with good olive oil and salt. i’m convinced that it’s only in italy that the simplest of things can taste that impressive, but i knew i had to try when i got home. i also had the amazing experience of returning the next day to see how the head chef makes their fresh chitarra pasta (the shape typical of the abruzzo region), but more on that in a separate post!
i used this spelt flour gnocchetti that’s been calling out to me every time i opened my cupboard, because i thought the nuttiness would lend a nice compliment to the soft zucchini and mint of the sauce. this gnocchetti also comes with a story that makes me smile: i actually go to a dentist a couple of cities over, about a 45 minute drive from the city, and i’ve been visiting this dentist for at least 3 years now. just earlier this year, my dad was in town and dropped me off at a cleaning and had to wait for me to be done, and as he’s waiting in the truck, he looks in his rearview mirror and discovers this amazing little place, literally right next door to my dentists’s office. when i was done my appointment, i hopped back in the truck and he was eating these italian cookies, and i was like, where did hell you get those?! and he was so surprised to find out that i had never noticed this little shop before. BLESS MY DAD’S SOUL. of course he finds the perfect little italian shop in the most random strip mall, just because he was hungry. since i had never been inside, he took me in to show me all of the amazing imported italian good, and we picked up stuff to make sopressata and provolone sandwiches and ate them together. so since then i’ve obviously made it a habit to pop into the store after any dentist appointment to browse around and buy a few things, and every time i’m in there i smile because it reminds me of him! the last time i was there, i picked up this box of spelt flour gnocchetti (and probably some cookies and a few cannoli lol), because i’m really into tasting and experimenting with different flours.
for the zucchini puree, i tried to keep it as traditional as possible – homegrown zucchini, a small white onion, some garlic, salt, pepper and good quality olive oil. i used my best bottle of imported olive oil that i picked at alimentary, which i usually reserve for finishing, but i reasoned that this was important and i wanted to treat that zucchini the way she deserves to be treated, you know? lots of fresh mint was added when the mixture was being pureed, and couldn’t help myself but to top it with a bit of cheese – just a bit! the flavour tastes what i imagine a soft green colour would taste like – light and fresh with the aftertaste of the mint on your tongue. admittedly, it wasn’t as good as the agriturismo in italy (nothing will ever compare to anything in italy), but i’m 100% confident that it’s at the top of the game in canada. like, the very very top.
spelt gnochetti with zucchini & mint
*serves 2 (makes extra sauce, just enough for 2 more bowls the next day)
2 zucchini, chopped into 1 inch pieces
1 small white onion, minced
2 small cloves garlic, minced
2 cups dried spelt flour gnochetti (or 2 cups of other small shaped pasta)
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon good quality olive oil
1/4 cup packed fresh mint leaves
salt & pepper
put a large pot of well salted water on high heat. in a medium sized pot, add the tablespoon of olive oil, onions and garlic and cook over medium heat until onions are translucent. season with salt and pepper. add zucchini pieces and cook, stirring occasionally until zucchini is very soft.
once water is boiling, add gnocchetti to the water and cook until just al-dente, about 10-11 minutes. add the zucchini mixture and fresh mint to the bowl of a food processor, and start to purée, adding reserved oil in a thin, steady drizzle though the top hole. add a bit of pasta water as necessary to thin. drain the pasta reserving 1/2 cup liquid just in case. add the pasta back to the pot and add some of the purée and toss to coat (is sauce is too thick, add a bit more of the pasta water and continue to toss until blended and creamy).
spoon into bowls and add a little cheese over top.