In May, I had the very good fortune of traveling to Puglia with my mom and my fellow food-obsessed best friend. Puglia was sunwashed and arid, lined by a sea that changed from transparent to turquoise to deep azure. The buildings were cream and white and turned gold with the afternoon sun. Bougainvillea and jasmine ran unchecked up walls and dangled into walkways. Olive trees grew everywhere and wildflowers lined the roads. I wanted to float away in a dry rosé haze and never return.
Yet for all this impossible beauty, it was the food that got under my skin. Pugliesi eat well. Olives appear at lunch, aperitivi, and dinner. Olive oil is top notch and is drizzled over perfect summer tomatoes, crudités, and orechiette pasta, and mixed into the oh-so-addictive taralli crackers. Pugliesi invented burrata. Produce–squash blossoms, cherries, tomatoes, broccoli rabe–is cheap and plentiful. The wild boar secondi of northern Italy are replaced by fresh fish, octopus, squid, and urchins. The rosés, from negroamaro grapes, are bright and fresh. I could go on.
But I won’t. Instead, I invite you to pour yourself a glass of dry rosé and cook like you’re on vacation. This pasta takes squash blossoms–which I had previously only enjoyed (very much) battered and lightly fried–combines them with shredded zucchini, and allows everything to dissolve into a, ahem, “butter-like sauce.” The basil and chili add a kick. And the pecorino comes in to hold everything together. The whole dish tastes like summer in Puglia.
Note: this is a marvelously textured sauce that nonetheless allows the pasta to shine through. Thus, you should use the best quality fresh pasta you can find for this dish. (I used strozzapreti–translation, “strangle priests”–that I brought back from Puglia, but any fresh short pasta will do.)
Squash blossom strozzapreti (serves 3 hungry people)
Adapted from Amy Chaplin’s At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen
14oz/ 400g fresh short pasta (strozzapreti, orecchiette, penne, etc–see note above)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, sliced
3 medium yellow zucchinis, grated in a box grater
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
1/4 cup torn basil leaves
45 or so squash blossoms, stamens removed, cut horizontally into 3/4-inch slices
1/2 cup grated pecorino, plus more to garnish
Bring a pot of salted water to boil.
Warm olive oil in wide skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, sauté for 2 minutes or until golden but not brown. Stir in zucchini and a pinch of salt, cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until softened and slightly reduced. Add chili flakes and cook for another minute.
Now, add pasta to boiling water. Cook according to package directions or until al dente. When finished, drain, reserving 1/4 cup cooking liquid.
While pasta is cooking, finish the sauce by stirring in the basil and squash blossoms to the zucchini mixture. Cook 3 to 4 minutes or until soft or completely wilted.
Stir drained pasta and reserved coking liquid into squash blossom sauce. Remove from heat, add cheese, briefly stir, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Divide pasta among bowls and garnish with extra cheese.