A few years ago, I enjoyed an incredible pranzo at the lovely Ristorante Nino in Chieti, a small city perched on a hilltop between the mountains and sea. The highlight of my lunch was a riff on the Abruzzese classic, Spaghetti all’Aquilana, a regional specialty which prominently features prized Zafferano Dell’Aquila from Navelli, as well as zucchini and its blossoms. The addition of raw egg yolks and grated cheese at the end of cooking produces a rich yet delicate sauce that beautifully coats the pasta (this technique is found in many dishes in the Central Italian regions of Abruzzo, Le Marche and Lazio). Nino’s version also included crumbled sausage, which gave the dish a rusticity that is perfect for home cooks who wish to serve a hearty pasta dish as a piatto unico for dinner. My take on the recipe is set forth below. Buon appetito!
The tradition of cultivating saffron in Navelli began in the 13th century and Zafferano Dell’Aquila, named for the region to which the village of Navelli belongs, is considered by many chefs to be the best in Italy. Awarded DOP status by the European Union in 2005, the saffron trade in Navelli consists of a cooperative of families who have been harvesting the spice for generations. My friends at Life in Abruzzo wrote a wonderful article about Navelli’s saffron harvest: http://www.lifeinabruzzo.com/navelli-saffron-queen-the-power-bling/
Pasta con Zucchine e Salsiccia
From Majella Home Cooking ©
Serves 4 as a main course
- 1 pound pasta (virtually any shape, long or short, will work)
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3/4 lb Italian pork sausage, casings removed
- 1 shallot or small onion, finely chopped
- 1 pound zucchini, trimmed, and cut into one inch discs or half-moons, or, if you’re using a longer pasta such as spaghetti, into matchsticks, approx. 3 inches long and ¼ inch thick
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 1 teaspoon of saffron threads, crushed in a mortar & pestle and soaked in 1 cup of hot water
- Salt and pepper
- 2 egg yolks from very fresh eggs, whisked together with 1/4 or more of grated Pecorino (traditional in Abruzzo), Grana Padano or Parmigiano cheese
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In a wide sauté pan, add one tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the sausage and break up any large pieces with the back of a wooden spoon, stirring frequently to prevent sticking. When the sausage is browned, about 6-8 minutes, using a slotted spoon, remove sausage, to a bowl. Add the other tablespoon of olive oil, lower heat to medium low, and add the shallots to the pan, along with ½ teaspoon of salt, stirring often. Cook for about 4 minutes, or until the shallots are golden, then add the zucchini, season with a large pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper and raise the heat to medium-high. Stir frequently and cook until the liquid released by the zucchini has evaporated. Add the reserved sausage and its accumulated juices to the zucchini as well as the white wine and turn the heat up to high, stirring often, until the wine has evaporated. Add the saffron-infused water and allow to simmer on medium-low heat until the liquid has reduced by about half. Turn the heat down to low until the pasta is ready. Meanwhile, add the pasta to the pot of boiling water and cook according to package instructions minus one minute. While the pasta is cooking, add 1/2 cup of pasta cooking water to the egg yolk-and-cheese mixture and whisk rapidly. Set aside. Drain the pasta, reserving ½ cup of pasta cooking water, and add both the pasta and reserved water to the zucchini and sausage mixture and stir well. Raise the heat and continue to simmer until the water has evaporated and the pasta and sauce are well-combined. Remove from the heat and add the egg yolk-and-cheese mixture to the pasta, tossing quickly and vigorously until the pasta is fully coated. Sprinkle with additional grated cheese and salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately. Buon appetito!