Sunday Pasta: Spaghetti con Zucchini

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Why is it that most people can pronounce the word “zucchini” with relative ease but can’t seem to manage a proper “bruschetta”?   Believe me, this is not a mere tomato-tomahto, potato-potahto kind of thing; it’s just a flat-out, widespread mispronunciation. Such a beautiful word, so savagely butchered. It’s like Ellis Island all over again. Over and over again. Of course, it would be too easy to blame our nemesis The Olive Garden (a.k.a. The Hannibal Lecter of Italian pronunciation) and their national advertising campaign that promotes “brushetta” on every television channel in America. However, in this case, the misuse is so widespread that we will need to add every other Italian-American restaurant chain to the list of perpetrators. But rather than dwell on this particular (insane) pet peeve of mine, let’s do something about it. Let’s clear it up once and for all:  In Italian, the letter combination “ch” is pronounced “k”. Therefore, if you can pronounce zucchini, you can pronounce bruschetta. Get it? Now say it slowly and enjoy the melody. And the next time someone offers you “brushetta,” look them straight in the eye and say, “I’m not exactly sure what that is, but I’d love a good bruschetta.” Eventually, they’ll catch on.

Now let’s talk about zucchini and spaghetti. (And by the way, the “gh” is spaghetti is always pronounced that way…) Zucchini is a widely popular vegetable in Italy, so as you can imagine, it gets a lot of play with all sorts of pasta. It can be fried, pureed, sauteed, and mixed with a variety of partners, ranging from other vegetables to pancetta to shrimp. I like it all ways, but sometimes I’m a purist and love it when it’s the lone star of the show. One of my more memorable zucchini experience was on a hot summer day in Rome, where a simple zucchini puree was served over spaghetti, sprinkled with a little Parmigiano and black pepper. We’ll come back with that recipe later this summer, but for this time of year, I like a fried/sautéed combination.


1 lb Spaghetti
8 small Zucchini, sliced thin (about 1/8 inch or less) Olive Oil for frying
1 small onion, finely chopped
Salt and Pepper
Parmigiano-Reggiano (grated)

Wash the zucchini and with skin on, slice thin – to an 1/8 inch or less. Separate half of the sliced zucchini for frying, and the other half for sauteing in the next step. In a very large skillet, covered with at least 1/4 inch of olive oil, fry the zucchini over medium-high heat until golden brown. (You may need to do this in two or more batches, but don’t be lazy; you want them crispy.) When done, set on a paper towel to absorb the excess oil, and keep warm. Lightly sprinkle with salt (and try not to eat them…). In the same skillet, add the onion to the remaining olive oil and sauté until translucent, at which point, add the remaining zucchini and sauté until softened, or lightly browned. Add salt and pepper to taste. Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti until almost al dente and drain, retaining a cup of the cooking water.  Add the pasta to the skillet with the zucchini and mix for an additional minute over a medium flame, adding the retained pasta water to add moisture.  Serve immediately, topped with several piece of the fried zucchini and a sprinkle of Parmigiano.  Serve 4-6. Buon Appetito!

Spaghetti con Zucchini


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