Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Penne with Zucchini and Ricotta

Little Miss Muffet
Sat on her tuffet
Eating her curds and whey
When along came a spider
And sat down beside her
And frightened Miss Muffet away

Had she been Piccolo Signorina Muffetta she'd more than likely have started by making mozzarella and then, using the whey that remained after making the original cheese, she'd have recooked it to make some ricotta and grown up very, very beautiful, or at the very least unafraid of spiders.

Ricotta means re-cooked in Italian and it is, technically, not a cheese but rather a cheese by-product. The whey that results from the production of cheeses that are rennet, not acid, set - like mozzarella and provolone - is heated and then acid is added to the whey to make curd from the protein that still remains in the first production of whey. It takes about 24 hours to produce a fresh, fine grained, ever so slightly sweetish soft cheese that is frequently used in stuffed pastas. Its lightness means that it lends itself equally well to use in sweet things like cheese cakes and stuffed cannoli. Whipped it is lovely with some candied peel stirred through and spiced with a little nutmeg. The fresher the better, it is always wise to use it as soon as practicable.

I recently bought the River Cafe Pasta Book and, thoroughly smitten after trying a random few, I decided to simply work my way through the book - one recipe a week. The flaw with this plan was immediately obvious - it is January and the first chapter is 'raw sauces' - not a great time to be looking for sweet fat tomatoes. I have started on Chapter 2 instead - Cheese sauces - and the following was last night's supper. Most fine it was too.

Penne with Zucchini and Ricotta
200g/7oz penne
500g/1lb small zucchini, trimmed of stalks and tips
200g/7oz ricotta
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
2 tbsp basil, roughly chopped
50g/2oz Parmesan, freshly grated
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cook the zucchini whole in boiling salted water for 2 minutes, then drain and slice at an angle 1 cm/ 1/2 inch thick.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a thick bottomed pan and fry the garlic gently till soft and vaguely golden. Add the sliced zucchini and toss over a low heat to combine the flavours. Season and add the basil.

Cook the penne in boiling salted water until al dente then drain. Add to the zucchini and stir to combine. Crumble over the ricotta. Serve with the Parmesan.

Simple, no? And delicious.

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