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Pasta, no pomodoro

At the risk of sounding as though we’re carb-loading over here—which, actually, now that I’ve typed that, sounds like a pretty tasty thing to do—I present you with my second pasta dish in as many posts. I’m having a hot summer fling with Italy, but luckily, Brandon doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, I think he’s happy about it. You will be too, when you taste this.

The dish in question comes not from a cookbook, magazine, or radio show, or from a personal “Eureka!” moment at the stove, but rather from a reader comment on this very site. Last week, in response to my post on rigatoni with various permutations of onion, a very kind and knowledgeable reader named Tony left a comment calling my attention to the (possibly) ancient origins of the dish. I had forgotten that until a few centuries ago, when New World fruits and vegetables began to trickle into Europe, Italy had never seen a tomato, so its pasta sauces and accompaniments were, like last week’s rigatoni, pomodoro-less, with nary a red sauce in sight. To this day, in fact, there remain countless non-tomato sauces, though your neighborhood Italian-American joint would have you believe otherwise. Some sauces are simpler and some more imaginative, some ancient and some new. One is even built, Tony wrote, on a delicate foundation of zucchini blossoms. Lucky for us, Tony then offered a recipe.

And knowing better than to look a gift horse in the mouth—or ignore fate when it appears in the form of a crate of squash blossoms at the Saturday farmers’ market—I stepped up to the stove with Tony’s notes in hand and made a meal so delicious that it shimmied its way, quite irresistibly, into a new post.

From Abruzzo by way of Italian food authority Giuliano Bugialli and one saintly reader of this website, this recipe will henceforth be a permanent resident of our small home in Seattle. Built on the color palette of a Mediterranean summer—all shades of yellow, gold, orange, red, and green—this pasta sauce is unlike anything I had tasted before: delicate but rich, earthy but somehow also ethereal, scented with the dark, floral perfume of saffron. The noodles are barely slicked with reduced broth—almost naked, it seems, until you lean in close and see that they shimmer a little amidst the sweet bits of carrot, onion, celery, and squash blossoms. These last melt into the sauce, giving up their light zucchini flavor, and become almost indiscernible to the eye—a less dramatic presentation than one might hope for, maybe, but still pretty enough to elicit a lot of sighs and plate-scraping around our table.

All of which is to say grazie mille, Tony.

Pappardelle with Zucchini Blossom Sauce
Adapted from Tony and, I think, Giuliano Bugialli’s Bugialli on Pasta

I call for pappardelle here, but you could really use any noodle that you like. I like pappardelle not only because I find it awfully pretty, but because its big, flat, wide shape makes a lovely surface for the light sauce to cling to. I could also envision using rigatoni, or maybe fettucine. Whatever shape you choose, be sure to use a brand that contains eggs. It makes for a sunny color and a flavor that goes well with the sauce. I chose an imported dried brand called La Romagna.

And about the broth: use a good one! What I really want to say is that you should only use homemade—from, say, the chicken stock recipe in the Zuni Café Cookbook—but I know that many of us, myself included, don’t always have time for such things. So if you must use a store-bought broth, be fussy. The canned or boxed stuff will be sub-par here; instead, ask if your local specialty store carries a good frozen or refrigerated stock. The sauce in this dish is made by reducing it, so the better it is, the better your result.

Good-tasting olive oil
1 Tbs unsalted butter
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
1 stalk of celery, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
Leaves from 10 sprigs Italian parsley, finely chopped
12 zucchini blossoms, quartered from stem to tip
6 saffron threads
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth, preferably homemade (see note above)
1 egg yolk
½ lb. pappardelle
Pecorino Romano, finely grated

Put a large pot of salted water over high heat; this will be your pasta pot.

In a large skillet, warm a splash of olive oil and the butter over medium heat. Add the red onion, celery, carrot, and Italian parsley, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are translucent. Add the zucchini blossoms, a pinch or two of salt, and the saffron, and stir gently to mix. Add about ¾ cup of broth, and stir to combine. Raise the heat to medium-high and add the rest of the broth a splash or two at a time, taking about 5-8 minutes to add it all. Stir frequently. Allow the sauce to simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated and only a thin film of thickened broth remains in the pan. Remove from the heat.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolk slightly with a fork.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta until tender but al dente. When the pasta is almost ready, place the zucchini blossom sauce back over medium heat. Use a small measuring cup to scoop up about 3 Tbs of pasta water and, whisking constantly with a fork, gradually add the hot water to the egg yolk: together, they should make a loose, pale yellow liquid. Pour this mixture into the sauce in the skillet, stirring well. Using tongs or a spider, scoop the finished pasta from its pot into the skillet, and toss with the sauce over medium heat for about 30 seconds.

Serve, topped with grated Pecorino.

Yield: 2-3 servings


Anonymous jules said...

great work molly & tony...can't wait to get my hands on some zucchini blossoms to give this a go..

1:28 AM, July 18, 2006  
Anonymous Tanna said...

That has got to be one of the most terrific responces to a wonderful comment I've ever seen! Inspiration is in the air.
I'm thinking Molly about a new diet. I'm just going to read your blog. But, your writing is sooo good enough to eat, I'd probably still gain weight.

2:03 AM, July 18, 2006  
Anonymous ila said...

Yum, Orangette, your blog is such an excellent source of inspiration, and your taste quite close to mine, not to mention the PhD blues and the anthropology. Anyway, on the subject of pasta with no tomatoes here is one recipe I make in spring, sorry for the wrong seasonality but I leave in the other emisphere. Sorry also about the vagueness of quantities, I don't write recipes down, and I invented this one on eday when I did not have anything else in the fridge:
for two people as main
a small bunch of asparagus
a cup of shelled peas
a cup of shelled broad beans (actually, doubleshelled-you can either blench them and squeeze the skin on the single bean off of remove it by hand, very zen)
4 red shallots
a couple of tablespoons of marjoran
farfalle pasta
salt and pepper
extra vergin olive oil
parmesan cheese

Cut the shallots and the asparagus in very thin slices, but keep the spears because they are pretty. Sautee the shallots in the olive oil in a largish skillet, and when they are transparent add the rest of the vegetables, salt and pepper to taste. Sautee until tender, does not take long, then add marjoran.
At the same time cook the pasta and when it is a bit harder than al dente drain it and add it to the vegetables. Stir a minute or so. Serve with grated parmesan.
Buon appetito!

3:06 AM, July 18, 2006  
Anonymous Ellie said...

Unfortunately I don't have access to zucchini blossoms, but I'll hold this recipe close in anticipation of coming across these goodies! It sounds delightful :)

6:07 AM, July 18, 2006  
Blogger Jess said...


Keep the carbs rollin' sister! I made your buckwheat blueberry cake a week ago, and loved it...and I am now officially on a mission to find some zucchini blossoms so I can recreate this amazing looking pasta dish... I'd imagine this would be well worth the effort of making some homemade pappardelle.


6:38 AM, July 18, 2006  
Blogger wheresmymind said...

I love going into a carb coma! It's especially dangerous at work as I snore while asleep ;)

6:39 AM, July 18, 2006  
Anonymous bea at La tartine gourmande said...

Sounds very tasty, just looking at the ingredients. Hot or not hot, I think it would be very welcomed in my home, in case you wanted to try it out there.

7:57 AM, July 18, 2006  
Blogger Catherine said...

Oh my! Sounds simply delicious. My two favorite ingredients for instant flavor boost and protein - chicken stock and egg. And for dessert...sorbet, gelato, or panacotta? ;) Thanks for the recipe!

11:26 AM, July 18, 2006  
Blogger christianne said...

Sounds delicious! I'm leaving for Italy in early August and I'm going out of my mind with anticipation. Thanks for getting my tastebuds warmed up!

11:37 AM, July 18, 2006  
Blogger kickpleat said...

mmmm, i just love the sound of zucchini blossoms and even though i've never tried them, i can just imagine they taste like heaven. i'm definitely bookmarking this recipe for a saturday morning farmer's market trip.

12:15 PM, July 18, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You DO tempt the taste buds, and being a lover of anything Italian, I'm conserving this recipe for use in the immediate future.

I'm a regular follower of your blog, Molly and last night searched your archives for the "Molly-take-on-gazpacho" but came up empty handed. I have several recipes I'm contemplating but I look forward to having you entice us with one sometime soon, yes? :-)


8:46 PM, July 18, 2006  
Blogger lobstersquad said...

it does seem strange to think that tomatoes are so new. Also peppers. Pimenton, such a staple in Spain, is also a new world find. That means chorizo has only been around for a very little time.

4:02 AM, July 19, 2006  
Anonymous ann said...

this reminds me of a favorite dish i made last summer, a risotto of teeny baby zucchini, and at the very last moment, i stirred in some sliced zucchini blossoms and garnished with a few grinds of saffron salt and a wee hint of cheese
it was delicious and surprisinly light for a risotto...
thanks much for this new variation!

9:14 AM, July 19, 2006  
Anonymous Dave said...

Hey Molly,

Since the "mono-meal" is a big thing in our house, we need to fit as much healthy stuff into our pasta as will fit. This looks fabulous. And, I think we're only going to get zucchini blossoms from our plants this year anyway - don't know if we'll actually get the fruit. Thanks again. We'll try it soon.

10:36 AM, July 19, 2006  
Anonymous Julie said...

We're very big on the one-bowl meal in our house as well -- and I happen to have some beautiful packages of pappardelle sitting in the cupboard. So as soon as I see zucchini blossoms at the market...

2:37 PM, July 19, 2006  
Blogger Tony said...

I'm glad those who made the dish enjoyed it. All thanks to Mr Bugialli who is a genius. His recipes do not fail!

Thanks Molly for your (excessively)kind words!

I also made your buckwheat blueberry cake. We ate it with sweet sherry custard...

5:46 PM, July 19, 2006  
Blogger cw said...

i've been poking around your site for ages, getting inspiration and getting overwhelmed. we had to google zucchini blossoms. but that didn't stop me from making my own poor man's version. (and congratulations on your recent engagement. i've been there, life tastes pretty good when you're both in the same time zone. ;)

6:52 PM, July 19, 2006  
Blogger Natalia said...

Ooh, I've always wanted to try zucchini blossoms. They seem so exotic, I really don't know what to expect. This pasta looks beautiful, I love the specks of color. I'll have to procure this glamarous ingredient and try some ;)

9:30 PM, July 19, 2006  
Blogger Julie said...

I have been searching the markets in vain for zucchini blossoms for weeks! Sometimes living in South Florida drives me nuts! This is what I want to make if I ever find them. Thanks to you and your reader for the lovely recipe.

1:22 PM, July 20, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Goodness! I'm a disaster at keeping up with the comments lately. Ooof!

Jules, I can't wait to get my hands on more zucchini blossoms this Saturday! We're already planning a repeat performance.

Tanna, I know - inspiration is in the air! The best part of blogging is that it's like an open door, and we can all pass things back and forth. Three cheers for all of us, doing this together.

Ila, our tastes are quite similar - your improvised pasta sounds wonderful! Between all those lovely green vegetables, the shallots, the marjoram, and the parmesan cheese - well, wow. I know what I'll be having for dinner next spring.

Yes, Ellie, stash the recipe away. You never know when a bunch of zucchini blossoms will cross your path...

Jess, I'm so glad to hear that you enjoyed the buckwheat cake! Good, good! And now, yes, go get those zucchini blossoms.

Wheresmymind, few things are so sweet as the after-a-meal coma, at work or no. Just watch out with that snoring.

Bea, you know, should I ever find myself out near Boston, I just might do that! What do you think about a houseguest who comes bearing zucchini blossoms?

Catherine, it's my pleasure - but we both should be thanking Tony, actually! Ooh, and as for dessert: which to choose? I want all three. But you know, we just made some chocolate ice cream last night: I wonder if it would be total blasphemy to round out the meal with a little Americana?

Christianne, you're most welcome. And you're making me very jealous with this talk of a trip to Italy...

Kickpleat, zucchini blossoms have a lovely, very delicate zucchini flavor. Go get 'em! I'll bet you could find some in the market this weekend - down here, it's the very beginning of the season.

So, gazpacho, Dee? Would you believe that I have not one but THREE gazpacho recipes sitting on my shelf, waiting to be tried? Now the tough part is deciding where to start! Stay tuned. I aim to please.

I know, it's hard to imagine, Lobstersquad. Life before peppers and tomatoes - and chorizo! What were you Spaniards eating then, I wonder?

Ann, that sounds absolutely dreamy. Tell me, what is saffron salt? It sounds like something I should know about...

Dave, I love a good mono-meal. How does Frankie feel about eating flowers - or squash blossoms, at least? I would think that it might be a pretty easy sell...

Julie, I had had this particular package of pappardelle sitting around since the winter, so when I read this recipe, I was elated - a perfect reason to break it open! I just love pappardelle. Hope you and G enjoy this as much as we did.

Oh, but thank you, Tony! Really. And Mr. Bugialli too, of course. And on a side note, might you be persuaded to tell us a bit more about that sweet sherry custard? My tastebuds perked up at the thought of it...

Thank you, cwc. And as for your "poor man's" version, it looks pretty darn tasty to me! And the mayonnaise tweak at the end - I would have never thought of that. On first impression it seems a bit weird, but you know, it's really smart. It's pretty close to an egg yolk, if you really think about it. How did it taste?

Natalia, the flavor of zucchini blossoms is very delicate - exactly what I would have expected, actually, from something so small and dainty and fragile. To me, it's sort of like zucchini with the volume turned way down, and with a teensy floral edge too. Now, go get 'em!

1:23 PM, July 20, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Whoops, Julie - we must have been typing at the same time! Sorry I left you out of the batch above. But wow, I'm so sorry to hear of your South Florida squash blossom woes. I'll keep my fingers crossed for you. Somebody over there must have a good crop of zucchini plants!

3:01 PM, July 20, 2006  
Anonymous ann said...

There's a gourmet store near my apartment here in NYC that sells it by the bag (I just pulled it out of the pantry so here's what's on the bag)

Blessac Saffron Salt (1% saffron)

I use a wet salt grinder to grind it up (one with a ceramic mechanism I believe)
They have many other flavors as well
I adore the Vanilla Salt!

5:26 AM, July 21, 2006  
Anonymous Nicky said...

Hi Molly!
We are carb-loading - as you put it - over here, too! I think there hasn't been one single week over the last five years, in which we haven't cooked pasta at least twice. Impossible! We even had a little pasta party last week. So, please keep the pasta recipes coming :)

4:11 AM, July 23, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Ooh, thanks for coming back with the details, Ann! I'll have to look into ordering a bottle, or, if push comes to shove, grabbing some the next time I'm in NYC. We're aiming to be there for Thanksgiving, so it's not too terribly long to wait.

And Nicky, I should have guessed that you two were pasta fans, given that gorgeous pink version you made a few months back! Your ravioli with buttered brioche crumbs was stunning. Maybe Brandon and I should give that a go next...

2:00 PM, July 25, 2006  
Blogger Viktor Frölke said...

dear orangette,

can you explain what the secret is about french bread?
i just came back from a holiday there, the bread is so tasty and crusty, the bread i eat there, i can't find in any other bakery, or make it myself.
what do they do to the bread to make it taste so good?

anne from amsterdam

2:02 PM, August 27, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Oh, Anne, that's a big question! There are many factors involved, and their convergence determines the quality of the bread. I don't feel qualified to give you a thorough answer, but I can say that good French (or French-style) bread depends on many things: the flour used, the type of oven, the yeast used (dried, fresh, or naturally occurring), and more. I would recommend going to your local bookstore and looking for a specialized baking book - or two or three! That's your best bet. Bonne chance!

9:54 PM, September 04, 2006  
Anonymous John said...

beautiful recipe... really brings out the subtle blossom flavor without much effort. Thanks for saving me from stuffing yet another zucchini blossom!

11:56 AM, September 30, 2008  
Anonymous kristrobbb said...

I just made this from summer squash blossoms picked from garden. Holy cow is all I can say. So velvety and sweet. I've never done a saffron-egg sauce before but definitely will improvise other vegetable combinations from my garden. The squash blossoms were divine.

1:42 PM, June 01, 2009  
Anonymous Allison said...

This looks delish. Can't wait to try it. I wish there was a printer friendly version, however. Am I missing it somewhere?

1:36 PM, March 30, 2010  
Blogger Molly said...

Allison, I'm sad to say that Blogger (the service that hosts this blog) doesn't give me any way - or not that I know of, anyway - to offer you a printer-friendly version. I wish they would! In the meantime, I recommend that you do what I do when I want to print recipes from Blogger blogs: I highlight the text, copy it, and then paste it into a Word document. Then I print it from Word.

9:42 PM, March 31, 2010  
Blogger Ngoc said...

What a great dish! Both homey and stunning at the same time. Can't wait to make it again, hopefully with fresh squash blossoms next time.

12:54 PM, May 20, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yum! The sauce is savory from the reduced chicken broth, and the blossoms give it a sweet, vegetal flavor. I didn't have any saffron, but the dish is still delicious without it. And a perfect use for blossoms that have gotten a bit too limp to stuff :)

8:45 PM, August 14, 2010  
Blogger wegetarinka said...

Hello Molly, I've made it in vegan style, without egg yolk! Very yummy, thanks for sharing :)

7:33 AM, August 29, 2010  
Blogger recessionwoman said...

This was one of the best pasta recipes I've ever made. I had baby zucchini with their flowers on hand, but no red onions or home-made chicken stock. I used a regular onion and a cube of poultry stock (bouillon de volaille--I live in France). When the sauce was almost reduced, I added the thinly sliced baby zucchini. I also added a pinch of cayenne at the end. You could probably play with the recipe, adding asparagus or peas, but it was great and quite pretty. First time I've ever used the egg yoke to make a sauce. Nice change from tomato. i had very good pasta which helped as well. Nice to discover this blog.
Thank you.

1:42 PM, May 01, 2012  
Blogger Robert Green said...

i just cooked this and it was superb. simple, excellent, healthy and delicious. THANK YOU!!!!!!

9:39 PM, August 10, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this sounds wonderful. Can't wait to try it.
Go to the Farmers Market to find the squash blossoms.
I am an Organic farmer and sell a lot at the Market

10:53 AM, July 12, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

holy mother of f*cks. thank you for this.

7:34 PM, September 24, 2013  
Blogger Megan said...

Wow thank you!! I just got 2 kg of zucchini with flowers and I made this tonight. Even my veggie averse kids loved this!! Delicioso!!

1:52 PM, May 27, 2014  
Anonymous Mercy said...

Ammmmmmazing! I doubled the blossom qty., skipped the egg and added a dash of fresh Serrano peppers and this last one just enhanced all flavors....DELISH, husband said, lets do it every week! Not quite sweetheart unless we add another 5 miles a day to our daily walk.

6:57 PM, August 28, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can't wait to make this!! Flora Farm in San Jose Del Cabo has blossoms in abundance when we're staying at the Culinary Cottages in November. I'm so excited to find this recipe!!

5:51 AM, December 10, 2014  

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