I had such ambitions for these zucchini flowers. They were picked fresh from a community/commuter’s garden near my office. You’re welcome to pick what’s fresh and take it home, but the idea is to leave enough for the commuters who walk by after you.
But instead of stuffing my garden-picked zucchini blossoms with fresh homemade ricotta, I waited too long and my blossoms wilted. So, the ricotta became one of four cheeses in this creamy pasta dish. This is not a super-healthy dish, but it’s still quite good.
In addition to the ricotta, the three other cheeses were Gorgonzola, Fontina, and a Pecorino-Parmesan blend. The Fontina (leftover from my stuffed risotto cakes) is a great choice because it lends a creamy smoothness to the dish and melts quite well. The Gorgonzola we bought was pretty potent stuff, so a little bit goes a long way. But adding up to 2 ounces here would take the dish from the mild side and give it more vibrant flavors. The Pecorino Romano and Parmesan blend was the other heavy-hitter in terms of adding lots of flavor. The peas and parsley are nice additions and contribute both color and flavor. Without them, you’re pretty much just looking at a bowl of white pasta.
The pasta is cooked risotto-style: in a skillet, not a pot, and the pasta cooks right in the beginnings of the cream sauce. This helps build the sauce as the starches from the pasta leach out into the cream-water mixture. As I mention in the instructions, keeping the pasta simmering at a high temp. and a brisk pace is essential to reducing the liquids to the right level by the time the pasta reaches al dente. Be careful — if 15 minutes pass and your pasta is tender but still soaking in large volume of creamy water, there’s not a whole lot of time to make adjustments. Sauces tend to thicken off the heat, but make sure to monitor the liquid levels because this sauce doesn’t thicken that much.
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated’s The Best Skillet Recipes
– 2 Tablespoons butter
– 2 medium shallots, finely minced
– 1/2 cup dry white wine (I used an Italian Trebbiano D’Abruzzo)
– 5 cups water
– 1 1/4 cup heavy cream
– 3/4 pound of penne
– 1 ounce Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
– 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
– 2 ounces Fontina cheese, shredded
– 2/3 cup Parmesan/Pecorino Romano blend, grated
– 1/3 cup finely chopped parsley
– 2 cups frozen peas
1. Melt the butter in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until softened, 1-2 minutes. Stir in the wine and reduce until most of the liquid is evaporated, about 4 minutes.
2. Add the water and cream to the wine/shallot mix. Gently add the pasta into the skillet. With the heat turned to high, briskly simmer until the pasta is tender, about 15 minutes. It’s very important to have this be a brisk (not gentle) simmer, otherwise the liquid won’t reduce to the desired consistency.
3. Once the pasta is cooked to just short of desired consistency, add the frozen peas and stir to heat through. Continue to cook 1 minute, or until pasta is al dente.
4. Transfer pasta and sauce to a large bowl. Add the cheeses, one at a time, until well melted and incorporated into the sauce. Stir in the chopped parsley. Serve immediately.