Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fettuccine with Zucchini in a Saffron Cream Sauce

Adapted from Thirty Minute Pasta by Giuliano Hazan

Serves 4 as a side dish or starter, 2 as a main dish

My English mother

sailed from Liverpool into New York harbor as a brand new bride with my father in early September 1946. I was born the following June and grew up on Claremont Avenue in New York City – three blocks from Grant’s Tomb, where I learned to roller skate. I played in Cherry Park, which sits in front of International House. On cold mornings, I used to cut through The Julliard School of Music - now The Manhattan School of Music - as I headed to the local catholic elementary school:
In the 1940s, I attended a school still in existence: Corpus Christi in New York City. It was not a typical Catholic grammar school education. For one thing, we had boys and girls together. We did not wear uniforms. The desks were all movable. And, there were no report cards - no grades or report cards of any kind. It was a garden; it was a place that let me flower.
George Carlin

I’m an only child, and until I left home for college, we lived in the same house as Nanny, my father’s mother. Nanny was the youngest child and the first member of her family to be born in America instead of Italy.

In March of 1897 Nanny's mother gave birth to her in an apartment on Kenmare Street near Mott,

an intersection I pass every time I go to DiPalo’s, purveyor of the best Italian foods in New York.

Nanny was a dress designer, and until she retired in her 60’s, she went to work every day in the garment district.

With a British mother doing most of the cooking, we didn’t eat the way you would expect to eat at, say, Tony Soprano’s table. We had good things - roast beef and Yorkshire pudding – and bad things - beans on toast. The dessert most prized in our house was trifle. Ice cream was something we ate at the soda fountain on Broadway or from The Good Humor Man on the corner because the freezer in the top of our refrigerator was too small to keep any at home.

But every now and then I would wake up on a Saturday morning and jump right of bed because of the scents emanating from the kitchen. Tomato sauce - dark from tomato paste cooked in a little olive oil before the addition of plum tomatoes crushed by hand - would already be long simmering, and meatballs – meatballs the size of a "Spaldeen" ball - full of fresh parsley and lots of grated Parmesan cheese would be browning. And I would get one right out of the black iron skillet for breakfast.

The first year I was married I came across a paperback book called The Complete Book of Pasta by Jack Denton Scott. This book contained a revelation. Most tomato sauces in Italy do not include tomato paste. In fact, rather than being dark and heavy, a lot of them are thin and bright - as redolent of olive oil as tomatoes - with no dried oregano, and cooked in 30 minutes or less.

So I abandoned my grandmother’s recipe - which I had never been able to accurately duplicate anyway - and changed the way I made tomato sauce.

I used that copy of The Complete Book of Pasta, which I still have,

for one year until Christmas morning of 1974 when the best package under the tree for me was a book that had been published a year and a half before - Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan.

I had never heard of Marcella Hazan, but that day I was a goner – nestled on the sofa reading, reading, reading and planning, planning, planning what my first recipe would be. And so at the end of December 1974, for the first time I flattened a whole chicken, bathed it in olive oil, lemon juice, and lots of black pepper, and cooked it over charcoal on the balcony of our apartment in Atlanta. I have never stopped making Marcella's recipes and reading Marcella's books, and that book now sits on a shelf with every cookbook Marcella Hazan has ever written.

I know there are lots of other excellent Italian cookbooks. Plenty of people swear by Lidia; lots of people love Mario; I personally like the works of Nancy Harmon Jenkins. But no one measures up to Marcella.

With one exception.

Her son Giuliano.

Giuliano, who was fourteen years old when Classic Italian Cooking was published, has written four cookbooks himself, all excellent, one so good I am constantly buying used copies of it to give away since it is, unfortunately, out of print. Giuliano's books live on the same shelf in my house as his mother's, and last week I made room for the newest one, Thirty Minute Pasta, which he signed for me Thursday night at the Barnes & Noble on 86th Street.

Giuliano has a lot of talent as well as good luck. In addition to having a mother who is the doyenne of Italian cooking, "our" very favorite Wednesday Chef, Luisa Weiss, is the editor of his newest cookbook. Luisa, who like Giuliano has an Italian mother, is no slouch in the recipe department; I make four of her recipes regularly (Luisa's Chocolate Cake, Luisa's Pasta with Tomatoes and Ricotta, Luisa's Tomato Bread Soup, Molly and Luisa's Rice-Filled Tomatoes) and highly recommend them all. She is the person who turned me on to Pasta Setaro, available at Buon Italia in the Chelsea Market.

At Barnes & Noble Giuliano was interviewed by Luisa. He talked about growing up with Marcella and Victor Hazan - what it was like eating at home, what it was like when he left home for college, what inspired him to learn to cook (that was easy - Mom wasn't cooking for him anymore). He answered questions from the audience, making it very clear that artisanal pasta extruded through copper or bronze dies is worth the increased cost because it is dried so slowly that its surface is not slippery and holds sauce better than the supermarket brands. He was even sweet when someone asked him what bottled pasta sauce he would recommend (none), maintaining a straight face when the rest of the audience gasped!

During the three-hour drive upstate on Saturday morning, I perused Thirty Minute Pasta, just as I did Classic Italian Cooking nearly 35 years before, looking for the first recipe I wanted to try. Beautiful loin and rib lamb chops from Fairway were staying chilled in the cooler. I was looking for a pasta that would go well with lamb and featured a green vegetable. At my local farm stand, The Berry Patch, I found small, delicate zucchini and sweet, mild onions.

The first recipe I made from Giuliano's new book was elegant and delicious.

Fettuccine with Zucchini in a Saffron Cream Sauce

1/2 to 3/4 cup heavy cream
About 20 strands of saffron
1/2 large sweet yellow onion, chopped
1-1/4 pounds small zucchini, cut into sticks approximately 1/8-inch thick by 1 to 1-1/2 inches long
8 ounces dried egg fettuccine
1/3 cup grated Parmigianno-Reggiano

Put the heavy cream in a small saucepan. This is a Mauviel Inducinox .9 quart saucepan. It's easy to clean because it's stainless steel on the outside and inside and sturdy because of its heavy weight due to the core of carbon steel sandwiched between the stainless for good heat conduction. It cannot, however, go in the dishwasher because of its traditional iron handle. It's my favorite small saucepan. You can get one from my friends at La Cuisine if you're interested.

Heat the cream slowly until hot but not boiling, and use the tips of your fingers to crumble the strands of saffron into the pan of cream. Stir with a wooden spoon. Cover the pan, turn off the heat, and leave on the turned-off burner to keep the cream wa
rm while proceeding with the rest of the recipe.

To cut the zucchini into sticks, Giuliano suggests starting out by slicing the zucchini the short way into 1/8-inch rounds. Then make manageable stacks of the slices, and cut them 1/8-inch thick too to finish making the zucchini sticks.

Put the butter in a cold skillet, saute pan, or saucier and heat slowly until the butter melts.

Add the chopped onion, and saute until the onion turns gold but does not brown.

Add the sticks of zucchini and salt and pepper to taste, and cook until the zucchini is lightly browned. Let the zucchini soften, making sure it does not get mushy. Add the warm cream infused with saffron, and continue to cook the sauce until it thickens a little and reduces by no more than one third.

While you are making the sauce, cook the egg fettuccine in lots of boiling salted water until just slightly underdone.

Even though it is a supermarket brand, I find that nests of DeCecco egg noodles sold in a flat box covered with cellophane - as opposed to regular fettuccine in a long, narrow rectangular box - are delicious and cook beautifully for a recipe like this.

When the sauce is finished, turn the heat off, and add the cooked fettuccine to the pan, and toss with the sauce.

Add the grated Parmigianno-Reggiano and toss again. Serve immediately.

About the Book

Thirty Minute Pasta is a beautiful book with gorgeous photographs

by Joe DeLeo, who attended the Barnes and Noble discussion with Luisa last week.

Giuliano wrote Thirty Minute Pasta with the same meticulous detail as his other books. What is different, however, is his complete reliance on fresh tomatoes in this book because he says for recipes that cook in a short amount of time, fresh tomatoes are better than canned tomatoes.

That doesn't mean you can only use this book during the period of the year when lovely tomatoes are available because there are plenty of recipes that don't call for tomatoes at all. But since there are still good tomatoes available at the farmers' markets right now, I'm checking the book out for a recipe I want to make with tomatoes before the first frost hits.

Unfortunately, they won't be my own tomatoes. This year my plants were struck with the terrible blight that hit a lot of tomato plants in the northeast. Wish me better luck next year.

To see just the recipe, click here.

1 comment:

  1. Victoria,
    I love your stories so very much, I could almost care less about the recipes. Except, well, with the way you describe everything, you make me want to try them. That is part of your magic, of course.
    We are all hoping for a better growing season next year... and the end of the terrible late blight disaster.
    xo Michaela


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.