I went to the Olive Garden once.
I’m pretty sure that’s an offense that will get you shunned from all Italian American communities and family gatherings. But I did it anyway.
I was in high school at the time. Young and stupid. Reckless with my intestines and taste buds.
One of my friends suggested that we go for an after school snack. So we split an entree and one of those amazing never-ending bread bowls. And gossiped.
I’ll do anything for gossip. And for never-ending bread bowls. True story.
I remember thinking that the food wasn’t half bad.
Then again, back then I also thought that I looked good with platinum blonde highlights. And neon green leggings.
Thankfully, my taste in food has gotten better. (Although my taste in men has regressed. Trade-off? Perhaps.)
(I’ve also graduated to hot pink leggings. Way better than neon green. WAY. BETTER.)
I’d much rather eat real authentic Italian food, which is actually very vegetable-heavy and fresh flavored, than the over-processed over-salted over-cheesed meals that are served in most Italian-American restaurants. Which is exactly the kind of response that Gourmet Game Changer Number 6 – Marcella Hazan – has been fighting to obtain from the American public for years.
Marcella is considered to be one of the foremost authority on Italian cuisine, and for good reason. She broke Italian cooking down for the average person so that they felt confident cooking it at home rather than feeling compelled to buy a jar of Ragu, throw it over pasta, and call it an Italian dinner.
I rarely make cream sauces because of how they make me feel after I eat them (sluggish), but Marcella’s penne with creamy zucchini and basil sauce was not heavy or overbearing at all. There was no roux to make it thick and heavy. Just cream and some parmesan cheese, with basil sprinkled in for freshness. Absolutely delicious.
For more Marcella, check out these sites, as these women are also cooking their way through Gourmet’s 50 Women Game Changers:
Viola – The Life is Good Kitchen
Kathleen – Bake Away with MeVal – More Than Burnt Toast
Taryn – Have Kitchen Will Feed
Susan – The Spice Garden
Claudia – A Seasonal Cook in Turkey
Heather – girlichef
Miranda – Mangoes and Chutney
Katie – Making Michael Poland Proud
Mary – One Perfect Bite
Penne with Creamy Zucchini and Basil Sauce
Serves 5, adapted from Marcella Hazan’s The Classic Italian Cookbook
1 lb penne
2 lb zucchini
1/2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup half and half or heavy cream
salt and pepper, to taste
a bunch of basil, chopped finely
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1. Set a large pot of SALTED water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions.
2. Meanwhile, wash and slice zucchini in strips. Slice into strips the length of a tootsie roll, but skinnier.
3. Heat butter and olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add garlic and stir. Before garlic starts to brown, add zucchini and cook, stirring occasionally, until cooked through and starting to brown a bit.
4. Add cream. Season with salt and pepper. Let cook on medium-low heat until thickened a bit. Let simmer until pasta is done.
5. Just before mixing with the pasta, stir basil into the sauce and turn off the heat. Toss with pasta and parmesan cheese.
Looking for more pasta recipes that use zucchini? Check these out:
Baked Zucchini Macaroni and Cheese
Homemade Linguine with Zucchini, Lemon, Capers and Pine Nuts
Ravioli with Brown Butter, Almonds and Zucchini