Caserecce with Courgette & Cherry Tomatoes
This could possibly be one of my favourite pastas of all. To me, tomato pasta is the quintessential Italian dish and the highest form of comfort food.
Cherry tomatoes grow in abundance in Sicily and are known locally as "pomodoro Pachino", named after the small coastal town in the Syracuse province where they were first cultivated.
Courgette also grow throughout the year, and they are used in a variety of dishes, being a very beloved and versatile ingredient, due to their delicate flavour and soft texture.
Caserecce (from casereccio which means "homemade") also originate from Sicily, and are short twists of pasta, which appear rolled up on themselves. They go particularly well with chunky tomato-based sauces, or with Sicilian or Calabrian pestos as their texture tends to hold the sauce really well. Caserecce are often made by hand by nonne (grandmothers) throughout Sicily, and remain one of the trademarks of Sicilian cuisine.
And lastly, I chose to top this dish with grated ricotta salata. The words 'Ricotta' means re-cooked and 'Salata' means salted. Ricotta Salata is a Sicilian cheese made from the whey part of sheep's or cow's milk (or sometimes buffalo), which is then pressed, covered in salt and aged for at least 90 days to 2 months. It is milky white in colour with a firm texture and salty taste.
The cheese is most famously used in a dish called "Pasta alla Norma" - a pasta dish with a rich tomato sauce, deep fried chunks or slices of aubergines and grated ricotta salata. The same topping goes extremely well on pizza as well!
I'll always remember my mum making ricotta salata at home. She would leave the fresh ricotta, covered in salt, on top of the fridge for days until the smell became really pungent. The ricotta would gradually lose its moisture and become crumbly, but nevertheless maintain a unique freshness, perhaps that milky quality of ricotta. It would become dry and spongy, almost like an aged feta, but less sharp and more salty.
If you can't get your hands on ricotta salata for this recipe (though you are in for a treat if you can!), I recommend substituting it for crumbled feta. It'll still taste delicious!
This recipe will come together in 10 minutes so it's perfect for a busy weekday lunch or dinner. Let's dive into it!
Ingredients (for 2)
180g caserecce pasta
1 medium courgette
200g cherry tomatoes
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large clove of garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated ricotta salata (or you can use crumbled feta instead)
Bring a pot of generously salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until al dente, following the package instructions and reserving one ladle of the pasta cooking water before draining.
While the pasta cooks, make the sauce. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a pan and add the minced or crushed garlic. Sauté for 30 seconds making sure the garlic doesn't burn. When the garlic turn golden brown (we call this process "rosolare"), add the sliced courgette, season with salt and pepper and sauté for 2 minutes until the courgette starts to char.
Next, stir in the tomatoes, sliced in halves, then cover and cook for another 5-6 minutes until the tomatoes are squishy and have turned into a chunky sauce.
Toss in the pasta, adding also the reserved ladle of pasta water. Make sure the pasta is well coated.
Plate and serve immediately, topping with a generous amount of grated ricotta salata and, if you like, an additional drizzle of olive oil.
Word of the Day
(to turn brown, usually referred to garlic, onions or other ingredients that are sautéed in olive oil until they turn golden brown, pronounced ro·ṣo·là·re)