Rigatoni Maria Grazia
- Servings: 4.
I don't know why this pasta recipe is called Maria Grazia (Mary Grace) but that is what it was called in what is now my dog-eared copy of The Top One Hundred Pasta Sauces by Diane Seed, originally published in 1987. This was one of the first cookbooks I ever owned and its simple but authentic recipes helped me develop an understanding of real Italian home cooking.
The originally Maria Grazia recipe was made with spaghetti, but I prefer the oily, tasty discs of fried zucchini with a more meaty short pasta like rigatoni or paccheri.
While the recipe starts out with what may seem a large amount of zucchini, they will shrink when they cook so you will have much less vegetable by volume when you're ready to combine them with the pasta. Be patient when cooking the zucchini as it can take a while for all the moisture to cook out of the little discs, finally enabling the zucchini to take on a golden brown surface and a wrinkly texture. You can cook the zucchini and hour or so in advance (leaving them at room temperature) and then finish with the just-cooked pasta and grated cheese.
The dish works equally well with either the sharper, saltier Pecorino-Romano or the more mellow (and expensive) Parmesan, or you can use half of each.
- 2 pounds zucchini (about 4 medium zucchini)
- 2 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound rigatoni or paccheri
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano or a half-cup of each
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Trim off the tips and ends of the zucchini but do not peel them. Slice into 1/4-inch rounds.
- Place a large skillet (do NOT use non-stick as this will keep the zucchini from browning) over medium high heat. Add enough olive oil to generously coat the pan and when the oil becomes hot enough to glisten, add the zucchini.
- Carefully toss so that the slices get some oil on them and then let the pan sit for a few minutes, adjusting the heat to medium or medium low so that they do not burn, but long enough to begin to cook. Be patient while the zucchini cook, tossing the slices occasionally so that all the pieces have time to cook. This step will take 8 to 15 minutes, depending on the size of your pan, because first the slices will exude moisture and after that, will begin to brown.
- The zucchini is cooked when all the slices are soft and shriveled and most of the slices are browned.
- Remove from the pan but allow them to retain a little oil. Hold aside.
- Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil and cook the pasta to al dente, reserving about 1/4 cup of the cooking water before you drain the pasta.
- Place the butter in a large serving bowl.
- Add the drained, hot pasta to the bowl, add 2 tablespoons of the reserved pasta water, and toss so that the butter melts and coats the pasta.
- Add the grated cheese and again toss to coat so that the cheese begins to melt.
- Add the zucchini and mix so that the slices are distributed throughout. Add several grinds of black pepper to taste (but not salt as the cheese is salty) and toss again.
- Serve immediately.