“This is a very simple Pugliese dish from northern Murgia Barese,” says Antichi Sapori’s chef Pietro Zito, from whom this dish was adapted. “It was part of a historic period of poverty, so along with the zucchini they also ate the small leaves and cute buds of the plant.” Dried grano arso orecchiette (available online) is sauced with little more than extra-virgin olive oil and the juicy, succulent-like leaves of the zucchini plant to let the toasty flavors of the pasta come through. Blanching the leaves and stems softens any spiky fibers or lightly furry coatings.
- 3 cups tender, small leaves and tender shoots from a zucchini plant, large pieces halved
- 3⁄4 lb. grano arso orecchiette
- 3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
- 4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced Freshly ground black pepper Ricotta salata, for garnish
- Gently rinse the zucchini leaves and pat dry with clean kitchen towels. (You can shave away any especially spiky parts of the plants if desired, but they will soften when cooked.)
- Bring a large pot of water to a strong simmer; salt it generously. Set a large strainer over a large bowl and place it next to the stove. Working in 2–3 batches, add the zucchini leaves to the boiling water; cook just until wilted but still bright green, 30 seconds to a minute. Carefully remove to the strainer and repeat with any remaining leaves.
- Bring the water up to a strong rolling boil over high heat, then add the orecchiette. Let cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is al dente, about 5–8 minutes.
- In a large, high-sided skillet, 2–3 minutes before the pasta is finished cooking, heat 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until lightly browned and toasty smelling, about 2 minutes (watch carefully to avoid burning).
- Adjust the heat of the skillet to medium. Using a spider or large slotted spoon, scoop out the orecchiette from the pot and transfer to the skillet with the garlic; add a generous pinch each of salt and pepper and stir well to coat the pasta in the oil. Add the zucchini leaves; drizzle with another tablespoon or two of olive oil and season with salt to taste. Toss gently, adding up to a few table- spoons of the pasta cooking water as needed to keep the pasta moistened.
- Ladle into shallow bowls and serve garnished generously with grated ricotta salata.