Rethinking zucchini : Lombrichelli with zucchini and guanciale

I told my friend, Sarah, I was working on a post about my favorite summer pasta dish with squash.

“Send it my way,” she said. “Squash is always so drab.”

It can be true, particularly with certain varieties of zucchini, whose unusually high water content render them almost flavorless.

Water-logged vegetables like zucchini and radishes love quick, hot cooking. I like to sauté wedges of zucchini hot and fast in a scant amount of olive oil. Then off the heat, I sprinkle a giant pile of grated lemon zest, garlic, and finely chopped parsley. You can smell the gremolata come alive as soon as it hits the hot vegetable, kicking off a celestial perfume that will fill your kitchen.

I love this recipe from Julia Child for zucchini tian, which has you shred, salt and squeeze dry the zucchini to address the pesky water-logged issue. In the recipe notes, Julia offers ideas on how to make good use of the excess zucchini liquid so nothing goes to waste – a woman after my own heart.

It’s worth noting that not all squashes are created equal. In Italy, there’s a zucchini called Costata Romanesco that has ridged edges, which create a beautiful scallop shape when cut into rounds. The flesh is denser than most zucchini, giving it decidedly more character and courage to stand up to the heat of a grill or a hot sauté pan. I especially like it cooked stracotto and served on toast.

This recipe comes from my friend, Alice Adams, a food stylist and cooking instructor who lives in Rome. She taught me how to make lombrichelli last fall when I brought a group of friends to visit her studio in Trastevere for the inaugural Taste of Italy tour.

Lombrichelli, which means worms in Italian, hail from northern Lazio. They’re a rough, long noodle made with a flour-water dough. The noodle is hand-rolled or shaped with a ridged rolling pin called a mattarello. You’ll find a similar version of this shape all over central Italy. In Tuscany, it’s called pici; in Umbria, umbrichelli.

Sadly, Alice closed Latteria Studio earlier this year, another CO-VID casualty. This time last fall we stood side-by-side dicing cherry tomatoes for doppio pomodoro and mixing focaccia dough by hand. The light sliced through the floor-to-ceiling windows at just the right angle to illuminate the side table covered with fresh vegetables in an otherworldly glow. As lunchtime approached, the warmth from the oven coupled with the last gasps of blistering Roman summer heat sent us to the table to collapse in our seats. This dish was the crowd favorite.

Tuscany birthed me; Sicily gave me the ocean; Rome is my adoptive home. Italy is the lover I can never leave, and I feel something akin to lovesick at the thought of not knowing when I’ll return, if I’ll return, what I’ll find when I do return.

Memory is all that’s left after the constant drumbeat of change upends everything. Change, the soundtrack to our lives. Still, there are some things I’ll never let go of, like the way the sun casts long shadows across a two-lane country road in the mountains of Sicily, or the musty smell of wet pine in the forests outside Forcoli.

I search for refuge in the silent warmth of the stove as I wade through memory and the murky depths of grief. On some days, I find it. Or rather, it finds me.


Lombrichelli with zucchini and guanciale

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

Pasta:

  • 220 g 00 flour
  • 80 g semolina
  • 150ml/ 2/3 C tepid water
  • Pinch salt

Sauce:

  • 150 g/roughly 2/3 C guanciale, julienned
  • 4 small zucchini, grated using large holes on a box grater
  • 4 small zucchini, julienned
  • 1 C basil, torn
  • 100 g/roughly ½ C pecorino romano, grated
  • Freshly cracked pepper

Add the flours and salt to a medium mixing bowl. Slowly pour in the tepid water, mixing first with a fork, then with your hands. Because the hydration varies depending on climate and the type of flour you’re using, always hold back some of the water since you may not need it all. Mix continuously until it comes together in a shaggy mass. If the mix is still dry and crumbly, add more water and continue mixing.

Once the mass has come together, transfer the dough to a sturdy surface (wood is best) and knead with the heel of your hand until the mass is smooth and homogenous, 6-7 minutes of vigorous effort. Cover the dough with a bowl or wrap tightly with plastic wrap and rest at room temperature for an hour.

If using a mattarello: Sprinkle a little bit of flour on the work surface and the mattarello. Shape the large piece of dough into a flat, rough rectangle. Cut off a piece of dough and use a rolling pin to roll out the rectangle to roughly 1/16” thickness. Try to keep the edges and corners of the rectangle as even as possible. Now take the mattarello and place it at the bottom of the rectangle. Vigorously roll the mattarello upward to cut the noodles. Ideally, you’ll do this in one swift motion. Now take the cut noodles and separate them, tugging swiftly and with confidence. If you hesitate, you’ll stretch the noodles and they may tear. If the mattarello didn’t cut deeply enough, you can go back through and finish separating the noodles with a pizza cutter or a paring knife.

As you roll out the pasta, lightly flour the noodles, collect them in loose bunches, and arrange the piles on a parchment lined sheet tray. Once all the pasta is shaped, set the pasta aside to make the sauce.

If rolling by hand: Shape the large piece of dough into a flat, rough rectangle. Cut off a small piece of dough. Starting from the center, put even pressure on the dough with both hands and roll outward to shape the noodle. This takes some practice to get even pressure across the entire surface. This video may help.

As you roll out the pasta, lightly flour the noodles, collect them in loose bunches, and arrange the piles on a parchment lined sheet tray. Once all the pasta is shaped, set the pasta aside to make the sauce.

Set a large pot of water to boil. In a cold medium-sized sauté pan, add the guanciale and a tablespoon of olive oil. Set over medium heat to render. This should take 7-10 minutes. It’s ready once the outside is slightly crispy and the interior is soft and tender. Strain off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat and save the extra pork fat for another cooking endeavor (fried eggs, roasted vegetables, vinaigrette for a chopped salad, etc…)

Turn up the heat to medium-high and add the grated and julienned zucchini and a pinch of salt and a couple grates of pepper. Sauté until the zucchini starts to wilt and melt. Fold in the torn basil and sauté for 30 seconds. Add a couple tablespoons of pasta water and take it off the heat while you cook the pasta.

Once the water is boiling, add a couple big pinches of salt to the water so it tastes like the sea. Drop the pasta in the water and use tongs or a carving fork to gently jostle the pasta so it doesn’t cook in clumps. Cook until al dente. Depending on the thickness of your noodle, this will take anywhere from roughly 2-6 minutes. Once the pasta is cooked, strain it, conserving a cup of pasta water. Put the sauce back on the heat, add the pasta to the sauce and sauté, tossing vigorously to amalgamate the sauce. The mixture should be somewhat loose, so add another couple more tablespoons of water as needed.

Off the heat, sprinkle in the cheese and cracked pepper. Toss again, adding water as needed to create a glossy sheen on the pasta. Serve topped with more cheese and pepper.

3 thoughts on “Rethinking zucchini : Lombrichelli with zucchini and guanciale

  1. Love the way you are thinking, keeping your Italia food journeys in people’s thoughts Great marketing 💡

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. “Tuscany birthed me; Sicily gave me the ocean; Rome is my adoptive home. Italy is the lover I can never leave, and I feel something akin to lovesick at the thought of not knowing when I’ll return, if I’ll return, what I’ll find when I do return.”
    What a love letter. What wonderful words. Reading this made me take a quick trip across the ocean, looking over your shoulder as you work in the kitchen. As always, I savor your words.

    1. It warms my heart to know you took a trip with me across the ocean, even if only in our minds, to wander the streets together and savor all that Italy has to offer. I treasure your feedback. Hope you and family are healthy + well ❤

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