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Cooking the Season: Lombrichelli with Zucchini & Blossoms

Buon Anno! and welcome to my first post for 2019 with the focus on ‘Cooking the Season’.  I hope you had a delightful festive period cooking your wonderful traditional family dishes and hopefully explored some new recipes to add to your table. I spent time with the family away, time in the garden and catching up on some reading from recipe books purchased at the end of last year; but more about that in another upcoming post.

The year begins with an emphasis on growing our own food the way my grandparents did. My roots have instilled a connection to the land, planting fruits and vegetables that have allowed us to carry on traditions as well as sustain our family. It has taught me to slow down, be patient and appreciate natures time frame in this ever fast paced world; reminded me about the importance of sharing the surplus and not to waste; to be frugal and most of all to respect the land. These underlying values I owe to my grandparents first and foremost and my parents who still choose to live this way.

We are not totally self-sufficient, but when it comes to fruit and vegetables, 90 percent of it is grown in my parent’s suburban back yard – what I call our 'market garden' that feeds the extended family and friends. Like many Italian migrants living in Melbourne, their time is predominantly spent in the garden with each season giving them something to look forward to and tasks to complete. I have a small patch for my herbs and during summer I also like to plant a few tomatoes, string beans and capsicum - space permitting; purely to get me out into the garden and enjoy the fruits of my labour.  

Mamma and papa` are at their happiest in their garden and accustomed to a simple agrarian lifestyle. Papa’ still collects rain water, saves seeds to share around, mows the lawns and composts all organic matter returning it back to the soil. He tends to his fruit trees, plants seedlings from sown seeds. He also enjoys making his own wine - probably his favourite season. Mamma on the other hand looks after her flowers and wild herbs for medicinal purposes. She helps maintain the veggie patch, harvests, cooks and preserves.

A trained seamstress and perfectionist, she is often displeased with papa`s lack of order in planting.  His carefree method forever expands and impinges into her flower beds; funny how the garden reflects their personalities. Both vegetables and flowers  do happily grow together bringing me much joy, and always charged with a camera, documenting the produce through each of the seasons.

While the autumn/winter garden predominantly grows olives, citrus fruits, rapa (broccoli rape), chicory, chillies and bietola (chard); summer planting is a flurry of zucchini, tomatoes, string beans, lettuce, rucola and seasonal herbs.  Apricots, plums, nectarines and peaches, come into harvest in this order with time in-between for us to enjoy as well as preserve. This is a representation of seasonal bliss and what we love to cook with and eat.  

This summer’s family holiday to Bright took them away from their daily routine leaving them a little lost. Luckily the friendly wallabies and rabbits kept papa` amused while up at the crack of dawn, but I know his thoughts were with his favourite summer harvest - the delicate zucchini blossoms enduring a hot summer with no one to pick them back home.

Those zucchini plants did survive and still keep on giving, so we are currently enjoying my healthy frittelle di zucchine  which I like to bake instead of fry.  Papa` on the other hand, not a fan of zucchini, prefers to give them away, leaving some to seed; but loves their blossoms. While talking about his dislike of zucchini I shared this particular recipe with him. I could see the sparkle in his eyes, exclaiming ‘mi hai fatto venire l’aquolina in bocca’ (you made my mouth water).  Now back home, I will make this dish for him.

Uncomplicated simple dishes that are cooked fresh from morning harvested vegetables is papa`’s notion of good cooking. He is not a big fan of heavy sauces, so prefers his favourite home made cavatelli or bought pasta – spaghetti that is, tossed in aglio e olio (garlic and olive oil) with seasonal leafy greens, or fresh tomatoes in plenty of olive oil, garlic and the addition of zucchini blossoms. So the idea of adding grated zucchini and rendering it down to thicken the sauce, agreed with him.

During our recent trip to Italy, mainly in the Lazio and Basilicata region, we indulged in this summer squash with its splendid yellow blossoms as a light sauce over cavatelli. In Rome at Latteria Studio's Market to Table Cooking Classwe enjoyed a similar zucchini sauce minus the blossoms. It was Alice who taught me to grate the zucchini instead of slicing which thickens the sauce; so now that we are in full season enjoying an endless supply of both, I thought it was time to share this humble quick recipe that I'm certain you will love, bringing the vegetable and flower together. For this sauce, I have chosen to pair it with a pasta type called lombrichelli introduced to my family by Alice and Carla during their cooking class and who have kindly sent me the recipes.

According to Oretta Zanini de Vita in her book the Encyclopedia of Pasta, lombrichelli (meaning earthworms) are made in Lazio, in the province of Viterbo, but are also known as pici, brigoli and filarelli to name a few. They can be served with a meat ragu` or all’amatriciana but are typically prepared with a simple sauce of tomato, garlic, oil and chili; all the ingredients papa` loves.  This is an egg-less pasta made with wheat flour, water and salt and once kneaded, it is left to rest and rolled out using a rolling pin. It is then cut into very thin strips using a ridged rolling pin that cuts the strips evenly.  They are then individually hand rolled to round them off like spaghetti. As I don’t have this ridged rolling pin, I chose to cut the strip with a knife, which works just as well. I also added some semola rimacinata flour helping firm up the dough and prevents the strands from breaking when tossing them through the sauce.

Lombrichelli with Zucchini & Blossoms
(Recipe adapted from Alice Kiandra Adams) You can also use dried bought pasta of choice. This recipe feeds 4 people.

350 g plain four (00)
50 g semola rimacinata (durum wheat semolina) plus extra for dusting
200 ml tepid water
pinch salt

8 small zucchini – grated
bunch of zucchini blossoms – I used 10
small bunch fresh basil - chopped
1 clove garlic – peeled and crushed
extra virgin olive oil
chili flakes (optional)
grated pecorino cheese

Make the dough by working on a wooden pasta board or in a large bowl. Mix the flours, a pinch of salt with a fork, then slowly add the tepid water into the flour, mixing continuously until it comes all together.

Knead for approximately 5 minutes or until you have a homogeneous and elastic dough and shape into a ball. Cover with an upturned bowl and allow to rest at room temperature for 20 minutes. Meanwhile make the zucchini sauce.

Prepare the zucchini blossoms by removing the petals from their stem and stamen using your fingers taking care not to bruise them. Separate the petals into strips and set aside. Grate the zucchini using a coarse grater and set aside.

Heat some olive oil in a large fry pan over a moderate heat, adding the crushed garlic, some dried chili flakes and the grated zucchini.  Add a sprinkle of salt and pepper and gently sauté, taking care not to burn. Once the zucchini has started to cook it will take on a brighter colour and a glossy sheen. At this point add the chopped basil and a couple of tablespoons of water from the cooking pot to keep the zucchini moist and continue  to let them soften. Turn off the heat.

Flour the wooden work surface with some ground semolina. Roll out the dough to about half a centimeter and cut into long lombricchelli using a ridged rolling pin. Alternatively use a knife and cut even thin strips and roll each strip to form round spaghetti like cords.

Bring a large pot of water to the boil - roughly 1 litre for each 100 grams of pasta. Add a tablespoon of salt to the boiling water and cook the pasta for 5 minutes. 

Return the sauce to the stove to heat up, and as the pasta cooks skim off the cooking water and continue to add to the zucchini sauce. Now the gluten from the cooking pasta will help to thicken up the sauce a little, which should be a good creamy consistency. Add the zucchini blossom strips and toss through. Remove the pan from the heat as the residual heat will continue to wilt them. 

Drain the cooked pasta, throw pasta into the pan with the zucchini sauce and toss together well, adding half of the grated pecorino. Salt and pepper to taste before serving, finishing with more grated pecorino and a drizzle of olive oil.



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