Obtaining recipes from chefs in restaurants was very common in my family. Before 1980, there weren’t many Italian cookbooks. We relied on our family recipes and those of our friends. However, if we went to dinner at a restaurant, and particularly loved a dish, we would ask to speak with the chef, and one of us would pull out a pen and paper and start writing. Seems a little brazen, but I recall most chefs were flattered. Today, you can go to dinner in just about any Italian restaurant and then find the recipes you loved in a cookbook, magazine or on a website. In my kitchen alone, I have counted close to 50 Italian cookbooks, over a decade worth of La Cucina magazine, and I am forever going on the websites of famous Italian chefs or the cooking or food network websites. Yes, this does seem a little obsessive, especially since most times I go to my folders of collected, old recipes when looking for something to make.
This recipe for Spaghetti with zucchini came from a restaurant called Ruggiero in Little Italy, New York City that was frequented by most of our family in the 1970s and 80s. My mom and her brother are responsible for obtaining this recipe, which was a family favorite, from their chef. Believe it or not, this dish was very fancy for its day. Ruggiero ( and most of Little Italy for that matter) no longer exists, but this recipe lives on within my family. Each time we make it, we recall all the delicious food and fun times we had sitting in this cozy restaurant on Grand Street in New York’s Little Italy.
1 lb. spaghetti
4 medium zucchini, thinly sliced
1 28 ounce can crushed Italian tomatoes (I use Italian whole peeled tomatoes and squish in my hands)
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1/4 cup olive oil plus oil for sautéing zucchini
2 TBSP butter for sauce; 2 TBSP for sautéing the zucchini; 2 TBSP for tossing with the pasta **SEE NOTE BELOW
salt and pepper to taste
Freshly grated Italian pecorino or parmigiano cheese
**NOTE the chef was really into butter. You can omit it from one or more of the steps if you like.
1. Sauté 2 of the sliced garlic cloves in the oil and melted butter in a pot to make your sauce. Do not brown.
2. Add the crushed tomatoes (or squished), and simmer for 25 minutes over a medium low heat. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Meanwhile, in a fry pan, melt the butter in the oil and sauté the rest of the garlic for a minute or two. Add the sliced zucchini. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook zucchini until browned on both sides. Using a slotted spoon, remove cooked zucchini and let it drain on a paper towel.
4. Once the spaghetti is cooked al dente, drain and put in a serving bowl and mix with the butter. Add the sauce and zucchini, and top with the grated cheese and fresh pepper.