At 22, on my last year of college, and feeling super human, I enrolled again for a second degree. In Florence. I spent a year going back and forth on the train between Bologna and Florence, lugging tomes and changes of clothes. My friend Paola, who attended the same faculty I had just enrolled in, shared a largish and bare apartment in the center of Florence with her sister and, very kindly, extended her hospitality to me.
Of the evenings spent together, discussing philosophy and political science, I mainly remember our simple dinners made at home, the pappa al pomodoro we would drive to Fiesole for and the gelati from Vivoli.
Paola’s culinary abilities were, in those days, way above mine: she had maybe four staple dishes she would rotate and one of my favourites was pasta with zucchini. Her version, which I have been making ever since, has evolved over the years, with various ingredients added and subtracted.
As the end of Summer is approaching, I try to make the most of vegetables like tomatoes and zucchini, now at their peak. This latest incarnation was served twice in less than two weeks at my house, both times to delighted reactions. There is nothing much to it, other than picking flavourful veggies. No point making this in November, not even in California where we have everything year round.
Needless to say, I did not continue in the folly of pursuing a second degree. I graduated, swiftly moved to London and, very soon, I learnt to appreciate sofagirl’s stews. Zucchini or, rather, courgettes, in those days in London were pretty tasteless and it would take many more years for Italian gelato to cross the channel.
RECIPE – Serves 4
5 medium-sized zucchini, sliced fairly thin
1 pound of cherry tomatoes (450 grams) – halved
1/2 white or yellow onion, small dice
1/4 C grated Parmesan
A few tablespoons of olive oil
salt and pepper
a pinch of red pepper flakes
a bit less of half pound of short pasta (400 grams)
1. Heat olive oil in a large frying pan and add the onion. Sautee until translucent.
2. Add the zucchini and cook, on medium/high heat, until completely wilted and slightly brown – about 15 minutes. Add salt, pepper and red pepper flakes.
3. Add the cherry tomatoes and cook for 15 minutes more on lower heat, until the tomatoes have yielded all their juices and are soft. Taste and add seasoning if needed. Add the Parmesan and cook for a minute more to melt it. Remove from heat.
4. In the meantime, cook the pasta. Drain it and put it back in the pot with a bit of olive oil. Add the zucchini sauce and serve with more Parmesan on the side. This pasta is also nice eaten at room temperature.