Italian Date Night Delight (No, Not an Actual Italian! Silly)

So last night, hubby made another delicious meal: spaghetti with prosciutto and zucchini. We borrowed the original recipe from Italy Today – The Beautiful Cookbook, which was an awesome deal for a cookbook, if I may say so myself.  It’s huge, with lots of pictures (that’s the only way to buy a cookbook — you gotta know what it will look like — or supposed to look like — in the end) of deeelish recipes for the bargain price of $5 bucks (I think that’s about how much it cost when we bought it 6 years ago).  The link on this post takes you to an Amazon page, just so you can see what the book looks like.  But we bought ours at a Barnes&Noble (and according to their Web site, it’s currently out of stock), so maybe that’s why we got it for such a deal.

Anyway, this dish is so special to me in so many ways.  First, it’s the one that told me that this guy I’ve been dating for two years is a keeper.  I wasn’t much of a cook or even into cooking until I met my hubby.  And man, when he first made me this meal, already substituting ingredients (cause we were poor, just out of college kids) and made it look all gourmet and stuff, he totally won me over all over again.  Two years later, we got engaged.  Second, it is by far the classic hubby-made meal I consider my favorite.  And as such, when he was planning the proposal, it made the list of potential scenarios for popping the question.  He really didn’t have a plan (or so he said), but made a reservation at a shwank restaurant and bought ingredients for this dish to make at home just in case.  The proposal ended up being so spontaneous, which made it so perfect.  He asked me to marry him by the Mercury Fountain in the Rotunda at the National Gallery of Art.  We were reminiscing about our travels in Italy during the summer between junior and senior year of college, and the fountain reminded me of that trip.  Here’s how it went:

I said, “when can we go back to Italy?”

He said, “how about on our honeymoon?”  Then he got down on one knee, and the rest is history… (well, after an older lady tapped him on the shoulder and asked, “oh my god, are you proposing??” and a number of Japanese tourists started taking pictures).

It was embarrassing, but well worth it!  Sorry to digress; back to the dish.  Third reason for why it is so special to me, is that on a really shitty day, it just makes me happy because of all the other memories associated with it.  Plus, it’s easy to make.  And all that makes it a great date night delight.  On to the recipe (taken verbatim from Italy Today with my inserts in parentheses).

Vermicelli Con Le Zucchini

Ingredients:
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb small zucchini, diced
handful of fresh mint leaves, chopped (sometimes we omit this ingredient, cause one herb is expensive enough to buy…but then hubby started an herb garden on our back patio and so now we always have mint … unless I forget to water the plants)
1 oz pancetta, diced (we use proscuitto cause it’s often easier to find at your local grocery store, or I have really cheated once and used a really thick cut bacon–after all, that is just a cheaper version of pancetta)
1 1/4 lb vermicelli or bucatini (we use spaghetti, cause we usually have it at home in our makeshift pantry)
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
handful of fresh basil leaves, torn
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and freshly ground pepper (or just pepper works just as well)

Pour oil into a large frying pan over medium-hight heat and heat to 340F.  When the oil is ready, add the zucchini and fry, turning occasionally, until golden, about 10 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the zucchini to a bowl.  Add the mint leaves to the bowl and mix well,

Remove about two-thirds of oil from the pan and discard.  Leave the remainder in the pan.  Add the pancetta to the pan and fry over medium heat until golden and crisp, just a few minutes.  Using the slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to the bowl and mix with the zucchini.  Reserve the oil in the pan.  (So, we actually do this step first, instead of following the directions.  Why waste precious olive oil when you can use the oil from the pancetta–or proscuittto–to also sautee the zucchini?)

Bring a large pot filled with salted water to a boil (I suggest you just add a little salt cause the pancetta/proscuitto is already going to naturally salt the dish).  Add the pasta, stir well and cook until al dente (firm, but not hard, and not to softy or soggy either.  Oh, and we actually do this step simultaneously with frying up with proscuitto).  Scoop out a ladleful of past water and set aside (very important. When I make this dish, I always forget!)

Drain the pasta and transfer it to the frying pan holding the oil.  Add the zucchini and the reserved pasta water and place over very low heat.  Stirring gently, heat for no more than a couple of minutes.  (Usually, we just drain the pasta and return it to the pasta pot.  We then add the rest of the ingredients, zucchini and proscuitto first, stir, then add the rest of the stuff mentioned below.)

Turn off the heat and add the egg yolk, butter, basil, Parmesan cheese and salt and pepper to taste.  Mix quickly but thoroughly to distribute the ingredients evenly.  Transfer to a warmed bowl and serve immediately (and add some more grated Parmesan on top!)

And there you have it, a date night delight.  Last night, hubby also made a mozzarella, basil and tomato salad (drizzle a bit of olive oil and salt/pepper to taste) for our starter.  I contributed by opening a bottle of Montepulciano D’Abruzzo from Villa Cerrina (c 2008) — usually found at your trusty Harris Teeter or Trader Joe’s or Rodman’s (if you’re in the DC area).  It’s a fabulous Italian wine, great substitute for a Chianti, if you’re feeling like you need a change from the Italian classic.  Oh, and I also made fresh garlic bread.  Yumm.  Sorry, I don’t have pics to show.  My camera ran out of battery.  I’m sure we’ll be making this meal again though soon, and I promise to post pics next time.  Till then!  Ciao!  Boun appetito!

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