Nicola and Rachael had a bumper crop of yellow courgettes in their garden this year and brought a lovely large round one with them for me when they visited at the weekend.
I wanted to do something special with this beauty. Nicola said they were good roasted so I considered cooking it as a side dish but then decided to make it the star of a pasta dish for my supper. I stayed with the roasting idea but added some lovely extra flavours to really enhance the courgette and cooked my favourite orecchiette pasta as the base. Orecchiette is made from hard durum wheat and has a firmer, rougher texture and contains more protein than most other pastas. It comes from Puglia, right in the southernmost part of Italy, and being peasant food is traditionally served with vegetables, most commonly broccoli or cimi di rapa. It therefore seemed perfect for the courgette.
Following the Puglian theme, I decided to add some chilli. This southern part of Italy has over centuries been dominated by the Greeks, Lebanese, Turks, Normans and Spaniards and the cooking reflects these influences. When I decided to add sumac too – that wonderful middle eastern spice with its touch of lemon to the flavour – it wasn’t because I knew of it being added to any Italian dish but certainly with the influences on the cooking, it didn’t seem too wild an idea.
I cut the courgette in half – I only needed a half for one portion so can do something else with the other half tomorrow. I scooped out the seeds in the middle – it was so large, I thought they needed to be removed like from a squash or marrow. Then I cut the courgette into bite-sized chunks and put them in an ovenproof dish. Next I prepared some flavoured oil to pour over for the cooking. I put a good glug of extra virgin olive oil in a small dish. I added ½ teaspoon sumac, a pinch of dried chilli flakes, some freshly ground black pepper and sea salt. Then I added some lemon zest.
I whisked it all together and poured over the courgette chunks, then mixed it gently with my hands so all the chunks were covered in the flavoured oil. Then I put them in a 200C/180 Fan oven for about half an hour until nicely browned (I turned the oven up to 220C/200 Fan for the last 10 minutes to brown the courgettes more).
While the courgettes were cooking I prepared the hazelnuts. I put a handful in a pan over a high heat to brown enough to remove the skins. Once hot and browning, I removed from the pan and allowed to cool enough to rub the skins off. You could, of course, buy ready skinned nuts but you’ll find the flavour is always better when you do the skinning yourself.
Don’t worry about getting every little bit of skin off but as much as you can. Then return to the pan for a couple of minutes over a high heat to brown slightly. Remove and then chop roughly and set aside to use at the end as a garnish. I often add toasted pine nuts to this kind of pasta dish but decided to go with hazelnuts today, thinking they’d match the courgette well.
About halfway through the cooking time for the courgettes, start cooking the pasta in salted boiling water. Orecchiette usually takes about 13-15 minutes. Drain, reserving a little of the water, and return to the pan. When the courgettes are ready, remove from the oven and scoop them into the pan on top of the pasta.
Mix the pasta and courgettes together as you cook gently for just another minute or two, adding a very small amount of the pasta water. Italians always mix their sauce and pasta together. Unlike the English who seem to think you just plop the sauce on top! Now transfer to a serving dish. Sprinkle over some of the chopped pan-roasted hazelnuts and a good grating of Parmigiano-Reggiano and finally a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
It was a lovely supper: the slightly rough bite of the orecchiette and the soft courgettes, but with another bite of its skin. (I think a bigger tougher courgette might need to be peeled, but this one was fine.) There was a slight heat from the chilli, a lemony tang from the sumac and lemon zest, and of course a creamy nutty crunch from the nuts. It all came together brilliantly. I served it with a simple rocket salad on the side and it was a perfect Monday evening supper. And I think I did my daughter’s homemade yellow courgette proud!