Category Archives: Italian Regional

HOW TO PICKLE OLIVES

Olive trees have become very common in many Australian gardens. In South Australia where I used to live, olive trees grow wild and prolifically, and I miss not being able to collect and marvel at the range of shapes, sizes and tastes of olives I had for free. I used to enjoy looking at my collection of different jars of olives, collected from different trees and in different locations. I remember once finding a tiny, round olive in Botanic Park and after some research found that it was a descendant of one particular French variety introduced in very early times of Adelaide’s history.

A friend contacted me recently and suggested that I publish something on my blog about how to pickle olives. She is ready to pick hers and had looked through her collection of recipe books and was able to find many suggestions for how to marinade olives, but not how to pickle them.

There are many ways to preserve olives in all their stages of maturity – green, black and those that are turning colour from green to violet. Because I only have one small tree growing in a pot on my balcony, it is those in-between colour olives that I collect to preserve.

Water and salt seem to be a common ways to leach out the bitterness.

I place them into a crock pot after the leaching process and cover them in brine. As you can see I place a weight on top to keep them submerged and then cover them with a sturdy lid and leave them there until they are pickled.

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Green olives can be soaked whole in salt water or be cut with a sharp knife across on one side or cracked with a brick (called olive schiacciate).

Very ripe black olives can be dried outdoors in the shade and then packed in jars in salt. My father placed black olives on rock salt in shallow trays with a layer of open weave made of plastic (available from the hardware and used to prevent leaves from getting into gutters) suspended close to the bottom of the trays. The juice of the olives dribbles down to the bottom of the tray (to collect the juice, he used to place newspaper there, discard and replace it regularly) and eventually the olives dry out and they can be packed in oil, fennel seeds and oregano.

Some people use ash, others place green olives in water with caustic soda – the soda preserves the firmness, but it is not environmentally friendly and not a process I favour. This method is a common procedure used in commercial pickling and can change the colour of the olive from green to black.

I have one small tree on my balcony and the easiest thing I can do is collect my small crop when my olives are turning colour from green to pink and preserve them in brine till I am ready to use them.

PROCESS

Submerge the olives into fresh water in a large bowl or bucket. Change the water every day for a fortnight. I place a clean plate or mesh on top to keep the olives under the surface.

The olives are now ready to be placed in jars into a strong solution of brine.

Estimate how much brine you require (salt is cheap and maybe you will waste some brine or you can measure the last lot of water you pour off the olives).

Dissolve salt in boiling water, I use about one cup of coarse rock salt to 8 cups of water. (My father used to boil the water and keep on adding salt till an egg floated on top). Allow the water to cool.

Place olives in clean jars (with good lids). I scatter some fennel seeds in between the layers and then pour the brine over them until the olives are completely submerged. Once again that gutter wire comes in handy and I cut some to size to place on top of the olives to keep them submerged. Alternatively coiled branches of dry wild fennel stalks are also effective for this purpose.

Topping up the bottles with up to one centimeter of olive oil to seal and stop air getting to the olives is not thought to be essential, I do it. Screw on the lids and store for at least 6 months in a cool place.

When you are ready eat your olives take out as many as you want, drain them and taste them. If they are too salty, soak them in fresh water, till they are ready to dress.

Unlike the Greeks, I do not use vinegar to pickle or to dress olives. Unless I am pretending to be Moroccan rather than Italian, my olives are mostly dressed very simply with extra virgin olive oil, dry oregano, bay leaves, fennel seeds and chili flakes.

******This post  was published in Mar 23, 2009 and it us still one of my most popular posts.

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BUT

Having said that ‘Unlike the Greeks, I do not use vinegar to pickle or to dress olives’, check out what I have said in a post written in Jan 11, 2015

More about pickling olives

Various Ways to Pickle Olives

 

ALCHERMES/ALKERMES (The liqueur used to make Zuppa Inglese)

It is interesting how some dessert recipes never die, for example Trifle.

Recently I ate a very nice trifle at a friend’s house. Our Californian friends were also guests and I was surprised to discover that they were not familiar with our common dessert made with sponge-cake, flavoured with wine or spirit, and served with custard and whipped cream.

Zuppa Inglese is the Italian version of an English trifle and literally translated it means English soup. This renowned Italian dessert contains sponge fingers, liqueur and crema inglese (crème anglaise). It may well be a tarted-up adaptation of English trifles introduced by the many wealthy English residents either living or visiting Italy in the  late 18th – 19th century (World War 2).

Zuppa  (meaning soup) could refer to the moist consistency of the dessert. But zuppa could also be derived from inzuppare, meaning to soak, and in the Zuppa Inglese, Italians replaced the jelly and jam (often red in colour) with a strong liqueur called Alchermes (or Alkermes).

Alchermes is a highly alcoholic, Florentine liqueur, red in colour and specifically used for making zuppa inglese. It is reputed to have been a secret recipe of the Medici family. The modern Alchermes is likely to be the development of an eighth century tonic which as well as rose-water, cinnamon, sugar and honey, was said to contain ground pearls, leaf gold, raw silk, musk, ambergris (produced in the digestive of system of sperm whales and used in perfumes).

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When I was a child living in Italy in the late 1950’s, Zuppa Inglese was a very in-style, traditional dessert and served in Italian restaurants.

Generally Italians living in Italy do not make desserts at home; if we had guests, my mother bought tortes or small cakes (as is the practice to buy from the experts, in this case from the pasticceria). This was not the norm in Australia and my mother made Zuppa Inglese for special occasions. I have continued to make this to the present day.

Alchermes was unavailable for many years and I had to use Maraschino – the zuppa inglese was a pale imitation of the Italian original and in the 1980’s I began making my own Alchermes.

Alchermes is reminiscent the Sicilian rosaliu – the generic name for a homemade liqueur – the flavourings are steeped in alcohol for a time, then sugar and water are added. Rosaliu possibly dates back to the 15th Century and was originally a pink cordial, made from rose petals (hence the name), it may have been an adaptation to rose sharbat (still popular in the middle east). Progressively and by the mid 18th Century it became an alcoholic drink generally made with lemons, oranges or mandarins and these became favoured over rose as flavourings. My elderly Sicilian aunt, zia Niluzza is a champion rosoliu maker and I make Alchermes by using a very similar procedure.

Pure grain alcohol is sold freely in Italy but in Australia I make Alchermes with grappa or vodka. Generally I do not measure quantities of spices – the following amounts are an approximation.

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INGREDIENTS

vodka or grappa (bottles are 700ml, I use about two-thirds of a bottle)
cinnamon sticks, 3,
orange peel from 1 orange,
fennel, cardamom pods, coriander seeds and cloves, 1 heaped tablespoon of each (cracked/bruised),
mace or nutmeg, shavings or powder, equivalent to 1 tablespoon
saffron, 1 large pinch of and/or ½ vanilla bean (spilt)
cochineal, ½ teaspoon or more
rose water, 1 tablespoon
Use a large wide mouth jar with a screw on lid. Place the alcohol into the jar and add all of the above flavourings, except for cochineal and rose water.
Leave undisturbed to steep in the alcohol in a cool dark place for at least 14 days.
Dissolve about 500g of sugar in 1 litre of hot (boiled) water. When cooled add some cochineal (to colour) and rose water. Add this to the to the alcohol and spices.
Strain through a piece of cheesecloth into a large jug or jar.
Transfer the contents into bottles (with a strong seal).

It keeps indefinitely.

Quannu ‘na cosa piaci, nun fa dannu (Sicilian proverb).
Quando una cosa piace, non fa` danno (Italian translation).
When one likes something, it can’t do any damage.

Zuppa Inglese continues to be glorified in my present household. For Christmas, we sometimes go to Albury where my partner’s family live and one year I was asked to make a trifle. I made a Zuppa Inglese and was nervous about presenting this variation.

But I needn’t have worried and I have been asked to make Zuppa Inglese again and again – it is the homemade Alchermes that does it, and keeps everyone happy!

See: How to make Zuppa Inglese, a famous Italian Dessert.

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PAPPARDELLE Continued…..

On 26/2/09, Fred wrote:
Dear Marisa,

I read your bit about pappardelle. We had pappardelle sulla 
lepre alla cacciatora at La Pentola dell’Oro in Firenze. It includes cinque cucchiai di aceto rosso ( 5 spoons of red wine vinegar).
 Fred





Dear Fred,
your recipe which includes five spoons of red vinegar does not surprise me. 

There are recipes where the hare, rabbit and boar are soaked in water and vinegar before it is cooked to remove the wild taste – my mother always did this with rabbit. It bleached the meat and left some of the taste. I think that Anglo-Australians soaked wild rabbit in salt water. 

I bought a rabbit at the butcher’s in Greve in December 2008 and was given three parcels, one with the rabbit, the other had the head and the third, the liver – these enrich the sauce. The other variation is the use of herbs – the addition of parsley, sage and rosemary.
There is of course the recipe for hare cooked with bitter chocolate. Now there’s a good taste!

Marisa

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WHAT TO DO WITH A ZUCCA (An overgrown zucchini – a marrow).

Those zucchini grow rapidly and before you know it, they become zucche (plural of zucca,) The marrows I am talking about are no longer than 22 cms, still tender and have flavour – any larger than this they become tasteless and dry and are good for the compost. Usually, zucche are stuffed, but these can also be used successfully to make a salad.

I use a mandoline (kitchen utensil used for slicing and cutting) to cut the marrows into matchsticks and then use a method similar to the one for making Italian vegetable preserves.

Sicilians (and southern Italians) are fond of preserves – the most common are made with eggplants or green tomatoes, sliced, salted, squeezed dry (the next day), then placed in vinegar for a day, squeezed dry and finally placed in oil and oregano.

I treat marrows in a similar way, but because I want to eat them fresh it is unnecessary to go through the lengthy process I have described above – the salting process takes about 30 minutes and the rest is completed in no time at all. If I am using zucchini, I slice them long-wise and very thinly (a potato peeler can be good).

The following amounts are for processing 1 marrow…..and not too large or seedy.

INGREDIENTS

marrow, 1

salt, 1 teaspoon

white, wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon

extra virgin olive oil, 1/3cup

oregano, ½teaspoon dried is more pungent,

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

PROCESS

Cut marrow  into half, remove seeds. Cut into match sticks or use a mandoline or a turning slicer which cuts into spirals.

Place in a colander with salt. Leave to drain for at least 30mins. Squeeze dry.

Dress with the oil and vinegar and crushed oregano.

Leave for about 10 minutes for the flavours to infuse.

CIOCCOLATA CALDA (Hot chocolate)


One of my friends is enjoying drinking cocoa – the English way, as genteel ladies once drank it, made with good quality cocoa, water and a dash of milk. And in a fine cup.

I too like my cocoa unsweetened and made with good quality cocoa. During my many visits to Italy I have drank many hot chocolates in bars and each one I ordered was different in taste and thickness.

As a child living in Trieste, I grew up with drinking hot chocolate. It was my breakfast, it was drunk at childrens’ parties and at bars while the adults drank coffee. Trieste is close to Austria and the hot chocolate I was used to was always presented in a fine tea cup with a blob of whipped cream. It was always made with a generous quantity of quality cocoa powder and with milk. My mother always made it in a pentolino (we had a special small saucepan that we only used for heating milk) and she would stir the mixture until hot. When in bars the same ingredients were used, but the milk was foamed like in a cappuccino or caffé latte.

When my family travelled to Sicily (each summer), my relatives gave me milk with a dash of coffee for breakfast – hot chocolate did not seem very popular and I remember the hot chocolate in bars being rather watery and very sweet.

I tasted my first, thick hot chocolate when I first went to Mantova. It was almost the consistency of custard. Those of you who have ordered hot chocolate anywhere north of Rome (except Trieste) would know what I am talking about – milk, sugar, thickening (usually corn flour or potato starch), and chocolate (often cocoa powder). No thickening seems to be used anywhere south of Rome.

Traditionally, thick chocolate was made in the top of a double boiler, over boiling 
water – good quality, dark chocolate (not cocoa) is melted in water and stirred until it is dissolved. Still over heat, it is then whisked by hand for at least 3 minutes (in a modern kitchen, an electric wand can be used).

Another recipe for making a good tasting, thick, hot chocolate also contains some shaved good quality bittersweet chocolate (high level cocoa-70-80%) as well as the good quality cocoa, milk and sugar to taste (Italians like sugar). In a milk saucepan, mix the sugar and cocoa with a little bit of milk till smooth. Add milk and stir over medium heat. Add the bits of chocolate to taste (and preferred thickness). Keep on stirring till melted.

It can be an alternative to dessert.

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PAPPARDELLE (Pasta with Hare or game ragù)

My friend Kate has left a comment (see Spaghetti con pesce e pomodorini) about her liking pappardelle (the widest ribbons of pasta).

I am not surprised by this, she loved Tuscany, drinks red wine and she and her husband are marvellous cooks so I am including a recipe for a typical sauce usually associated with this shaped pasta.

Pasta shapes are synonymous with certain sauces. Generally, thin sauces which contain a lot of oil (for example made with seafood or with a few vegetables) are better suited to long thin pasta shapes (spaghetti, spaghettini).

Thicker sauces, made with meat or with larger vegetables are better suited to shapes with large, uneven surfaces (rigatoni, penne). Their shapes help to trap the ingredients in the thick sauce.

Pasta shapes are also regional. While the south of Italy may prefer small pasta shapes for thicker sauces (fusilli, casarecci, orecchiette) other parts of Italy enjoy long, flat ribbons of pasta (tagliatelle, fettucine). Fresh ribbon pasta made with a large number of eggs is enhanced by sauces made with delicate subtle flavours, often with cream.

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Tuscany and Umbria specialize in sauces for pappardelle and I hope that all of you who have visited these regions of Italy were able to eat some when there. Now Kate, I do not want you to get jealous, but when I was in Tuscany in December 2008, I enjoyed many primi of pappardelle, one in particular in Sansepolcro ( very close to Umbria) – the accompanying sauce was made from wild boar and it included pieces of chestnut.

The photograph is of Alex, my small friend: it was taken in Greve. He is outside of the butcher shop (we were staying across the road) and he is patting the stuffed wild boar which decorates the front of the shop. Wild boar is very popular in the winter months in Tuscany but I have also eaten some very fine boar meat in Calabria. I bought a hare in Greve and cooked it the same way.

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Pappardelle are usually the favourite shape of pasta for strong sauces made with strong tasting meat especially game: either cinghiale (wild boar) lepre (hare), capriolo (venison), coniglio (rabbit), anatra (duck). If not game, maybe salsicce di maiale (pork sausages) or funghi (mushrooms), and preferably the wild ones stronger in taste. Often the pappardelle may have a fluted edge to prevent the sauce dropping away off the sides. These are sometimes called reginette (regina- queen, crowns) but once again, there is local variation in the names.

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Sauces made with strong tasting meats as above are usually cooked slowly in a ragout (ragù in Italian) and made in the same way as a Bolognese sauce. Because of their rich taste and choice of ingredients they are autumn and winter dishes, most probably enjoyed with a glass or two of red wine.

Sometimes porcini mushrooms are also added to the ragù.

Ragù

Sauté in extra virgin olive oil: ½ onion, 1 carrot, ½ stalk of celery (all cut finely).
Add the hare, rabbit, boar chopped into sections complete with bones and brown (some add pancetta as well). If using sausages leave them whole but prick them, if using mushrooms slice into thick pieces.
Add 1 glass of red wine and evaporate briefly.
Dilute about 2 tablespoons of tomato puree in a little warm water and add to mixture. Stir carefully and add 1 cup of broth, salt, pepper, 3 bay leaves and a little grated nutmeg and simmer until liquid is almost evaporated and the meat is tender and falling off the bone (this could take 2-4 hours for the hare or boar). Continue to check on the liquid and add more as necessary.
Remove bones from the meat and return to the sauce. Some add a little cream and more nutmeg at this stage.
Dress the cooked pappardelle. Present with grated parmigiano, as a choice for each person. I for one do not add cheese to these sauces – I prefer the unadulterated taste of the ragù.

SPAGHETTI CON PESCE E POMODORINI (Spaghetti with fish and cherry tomatoes)

It will be maccheroni, I swear to you, that will unite Italy.”

Giuseppe Garibaldi, on liberating Naples in 1860

When eating in Italy, the usual structure of the meal will consist of two courses. Il primo (the first ) will be a soup, risotto or pasta and in Sicily (and in the south of Italy) it is more likely to be pasta

Il secondo (the second) is the main course – the protein component and one contorno (vegetable side dish) or two contorni.

There have always been two courses in my mother’s home, and in the homes of our Italian friends and relatives. Although this is not something that I have continued to observe in my own household, I generally prepare a primo and a secondo when I am cooking for friends. If this is the case, as is the customary practice in Italian homes, nibbles can just be a very simple plate of olives (or the like) and the dessert, fresh fruit.

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These days, I am into easy recipes, something I can prepare in minutes.

Eating pasta with fish is still not very popular in Australia (at the time of writing) but it is very much so in Italy and of course – Sicily. It is an island after all.

Spaghetti is usually the preferred shape of pasta for fish sauces.

Cherry tomatoes appear to have become very common in restaurants in Italy in the last few years. They are called pomodorini, or cigliegini in Italian and most commonly known as pizzitelli in Sicilian – little things.

Some of the cherry tomatoes in Australia may be small but they lack flavour and sweetness (maybe from over watering if this is possible in Australia). One of my friends in Adelaide is growing a variety called currant tomatoes in pots – very small and sweet and ideal for this dish.

Use any fish which will hold together when you sauté it.

Sicilians prefer tuna or swordfish, but because I like to use sustainable fish (pesce sostenibile) I select Albacore tuna when I can get it, tailor or flathead or snapper and mackerel . To keep the fish moist and to prevent it from overcooking, i keep the fish in large pieces when I cook it and then break it up onto smaller pieces.

From Australia’s Sustainable Seafood Guide by Australian Marine Conservation Society – 2009 (AMCS)

INGREDIENTS

spaghetti, 500g
fish, 500g, cut into dice
garlic, 5 cloves, chopped finely
cherry tomatoes, 1 punnet, if too big cut in half,
extra virgin olive oil, 1 cup
fresh herbs, use either: a handful of basil or parsley, or fresh mint,
white wine, 1 glass
salt and freshly ground pepper (or chilli flakes)
Cook pasta and make sauce as it cooks.
Heat the oil in a frying pan.
Sauté the fish ( you can keep it all in one piece if you wish), add the cherry tomatoes. Remove the fish and tomotoes from the pan but leave the juices in the pan.
Add the white wine and reduce .
Add the herbs and stir through the sauce.
Return the fish and tomatoes to the pan. Separate the fish into the size pieces that you wish.
Drain the pasta and return to the pan where it was cooked.
Mix in the sauce and serve.
Australia:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SALSA VERDE ( Green Sauce – serve with boiled meats and corned beef)

My take on corned beef

I have a Brazilian friend who is still discovering the delights of Anglo–Saxon food in our Australian food culture and a true blue, born and bred, Australian friend who misses his mother’s cooking. They are coming to dinner tonight, so as a surprise I am cooking them corned beef (I managed to buy low salt, low saltpetre). Probably I have not eaten this since my English Mother in law last cooked it for me, and she died a long time ago.

Of course there will be the boiled vegetables and mustard. And I will present it with some of the homemade chutney that another friend has given me. But it is so very much like bollito (boiled meat) that it could be accompanied with a little salsa verde on the side – chopped parsley, capers, green olives, boiled eggs, extra virgin olive oil, anchovy and a little white bread with vinegar to thicken it as much as I like and on this occasion I want it thin.

Part of me remains Italian to the core. Will I sauté the carrots in a little onion with dry marsala and raisins?  Or will I present it with sweet and sour pumpkin? ( Sicilian and called FEGATO DI SETTE CANNOLI).

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Of course I will add peppercorns, a carrot, onion and some celery to the beef whilst it cooks, after all this is what I add when I make carne in brodo (meat cooked in broth). I will add the cloves to the broth (Sicilians use cloves in their savoury cooking) but I will not add the malt vinegar or the sugar.

Is it still corned beef?

 

See:  SALSA VERDE (2015)

 

 

FRITTATA: SAUSAGE and RICOTTA

My zia Niluzza who lives in Ragusa is an excellent cook and when I visit her she fusses over me and cooks constantly.

Ricotta is one of the most common ingredients in her kitchen and she must eat it fresh – made on the day and preferably eaten warm. Any ricotta which is one day old (it is never older) is cooked.

One day, I had been speaking to her about frittate (plural) and how I had read in a book about Sicilian cuisine that frittate were not common in Sicily.

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The next day I found her preparing this a simple frittata (see photo) made with crumbled fresh pork sausage, freshly laid free range eggs and ricotta. Sicilians do make frittata but in Sicilian, it is sometimes referred to as milassata and frocia. I have already written about this on Janet Clarkson’s blog: The Old Foodie, An authentic frittata).

INGREDIENTS

eggs 7, lightly beaten (free range)
pork, Italian sausages 2 ( made from good pork mince with sometimes fennel or orange peel or white wine)
ricotta, 200g
salt and pepper

PROCESSES

Heat some olive oil into a large heavy-based fry pan.
Crumble the sausage and sauté into the frypan till cooked.
Add the ricotta slices and lightly fry it.
Pour the eggs, mixed with the seasoning into hot oil.
Process for cooking all frittate:
Fry the frittata on the one side. Turn the heat down to low and, occasionally, with the spatula press the frittata gently on the top. Lift the edges, tilting the pan. This will allow some of the runny egg to escape to the sides and cook. Repeat this process until there is no more egg escaping.
Invert the frittata onto a plate, carefully slide the frittata into the pan and cook the other side.

A frittata is never baked; fritta means fried in Italian.

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PASTA CON ZUCCHINE FRITTE (Pasta and fried zucchini)

Fresh Taste, Simplicity and Low Cost.

Sometimes the most simple ingredients make the most sumptuous dish.

My friend and I have just been discussing how fresh, young zucchini can make a great pasta sauce. They can be the  long, dark green skinned variety or the newer pale green ones. The round zucchini are becoming more common; these can be dark  or pale green in colour and some are variegated.

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Often, when guests come, I remind myself that having costly ingredients is not the most important factor. What is fresh, in season, and have they had it before, are far more important factors.

Pasta chi cucuzzeddi fritti (Sicilian), Pasta con zucchine fritte (Italian) is very common all over Sicily and consists of thinly sliced zucchini fried in extra virgin olive oil. Garlic is used to flavour the oil and is then discarded.

It is important to fry the zucchini in plenty of oil in a wide frypan – the zucchini will release liquid if they are overcrowded in the pan and if necessary fry the zucchini in batches.

My partner took some left over zucchini pasta to work and I was amazed when he reported to me that one of his collegues referred to this vegetable as tha blandest vegetable! I think I will need to invite this person to dinner.

Thin spaghetti is the favoured pasta for this dish – a coating of flavoured oil is preferred. Short, tubular or ridged, surfaced pasta may trap too much oil.

Like so many of the vegetable paste sauces it is made in minutes and makes me wonder why takeaways are seen as a quick solution.

 
spaghettini, 400g
zucchini 800g, sliced into approx 10 mm slices
garlic cloves, 4 squashed with the back of a knife
extra virgin olive oil, 1cup
salt and pepper
ricotta salata or pecorino pepato, grated
Heat the oil in a wide frypan and add the garlic. When it is golden discard it.
Ensure that the oil is very hot and add the zucchini – this will seal the surfaces. You could do this in a couple of batches but keep the oil very hot and add fresh oil to fry each batch.
Turn and toss till golden.
Place the fried zucchini into a bowl and add salt ( the salt is added at this stage otherwise the zucchini would have released their liquid).
Cook the pasta in salted water till al dente and drain.
Toss zucchini, oil and pasta together and add plenty of freshly ground pepper.
Serve with abundant freshly grated cheese and pepper.
 
VARIATION
· After the zucchini have been fried and set aside, reheat the oil (or add more), add about a cup of chopped parsley and 2 cloves of chopped garlic and fry this mixture for a few minutes before adding it to the pasta.
· For a favourite summer dish add a dollop of tomato salsa and fresh basil on top.
· Add a dollop of ricotta either with or without the tomato salsa.
· Chopped mint sprinkled on top of the dressed pasta is probably not traditional, but I like to do it – it accentuates the fresh zucchini taste.
And by the way… the ini at the end of any Italian word (zucchini) means small, those bigger than a finger are zucche (marrows).
Pick them young as they are intended to be.