Courgette paccheri with spinach balls

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Have you ever been to Carluccios? It’s an Italian chain restaurant, headed up by old Antonio Carluccio, that I used to love love love when I was studying. It seemed so much more interesting and authentic to me than the other restaurants I had available to me in Oxford, where I lived at the time.

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It was the first place I discovered the simple joys of dipping bread into great quality olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar, and purchased porcini mushrooms, bags of giant tubes of penne and – a special mention – Carluccios focaccia. So salty and so densely olive oily, this is a seriously naughty bread, but really quite fantastic. The best thing was that you could pop in and grab a slice that was plenty large enough to fill you up for lunch for just £1 from the deli. I used to make a special journey down there just to pick some up. Indeed I became so infatuated with it, my flat mates made a ‘cake’ out of it for my birthday- with balsamic on the side, and candles jammed on top! Joyous.

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I would persuade my mum or dad to take me when they came up to visit and would always order a particular dish, penne giardiniera. It’s the first time I can really remember eating a pasta dish that didn’t really have a sauce as such. I loved it. Lightly coated in buttery grated courgettes and topped with crunchy fried spinach balls, I couldn’t be persuaded to try anything else!

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And so this weekend, I visited my mum in Brighton and all the (extended) family came together for the first time in ages. I offered to cook for everyone, 8 people in total – which isn’t something I often do. We had an evening of wine tasting ahead so I wanted something that wouldn’t kill our taste buds, so delicate flavours. I also needed something vegetarian, that would satisfy hungry young men too! And then I remembered penne giardiniera. It came as a memory from nowhere as I haven’t eaten it in years and years.

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I looked it up online and found the exact recipe. I only made a few tiny tweaks – paccheri instead of penne and Panko breadcrumbs in place of ordinary ones for extra crunch. It was easy, perfect for a crowd and tasted exactly like that pasta dish i knew and loved. Delicious.

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You will need:

Serves 8

For the spinach balls:

1500g raw spinach
1 clove of garlic, crushed
2 eggs, beaten
a pinch of nutmeg
100g Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, freshly grated (check its veggie if necessary)
100g panko breadcrumbs
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1.5l sunflower oil
A little olive oil

For the pasta:

1kg paccheri pasta (or giant penne)
160g butter
4 courgettes, grated
450g freshly grated Parmigiano reggiano
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1.5 red chillies, finely chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
A little olive oil

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Method:

1 – Cook the spinach in batches in a large saucepan, with a little olive oil and salt; transfer the just wilted spinach into a large colander set over a bowl/sink to drain
2 – Drain the spinach well, squeezing out the liquid, and chop it quite finely
3 – In a bowl, mix together the chopped spinach, garlic, egg, nutmeg and Parmesan
4 – Add the breadcrumbs, taste the mix and Season to taste with salt and pepper
5 – Roll the spinach mix into equal sized balls and set aside
6 – Put a large (or two large) pots of salted water on to boil in salted water; add the pasta once the water is bubbling
7 – Now pour the sunflower oil into a large deep and wide frying pan; when you can throw in a breadcrumb or a little of the spinach mix in and it bubbles up, you are ready to add the spinach balls
8 – You also need to get the courgettes ready; melt the butter in a frying pan and add the garlic and chilli once it’s foamy
9 – Drain the pasta after around 10-15 minutes, when it’s al dente; toss with olive oil and keep it warm in its pot while you finish off the sauce and spinach balls
10 – Add the courgette to the butter when the garlic is just turning colour and cook for 3-4 minutes until it starts to give a little and shrink in the pan
11 – Keep an eye on the spinach balls- they are ready once the breadcrumbs turn golden; remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper
12 – Now mix the cooked courgettes with the pasta and cheese and spoon into a huge serving bowl; top with the spinach balls and serve immediately!

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4 thoughts on “Courgette paccheri with spinach balls

  1. What a fantastic idea. FRIED SPINACH BALLS? Fresh grated garlic and chilli courgette??? Yum. Sigh… ah, I wish I had a Carluccio’s near me. I used to watch his TV show when it was on TV here in Perth. The bit I remember the most was watching him amble into a hay shed with his walking stick to try preserved salami etc that was hanging from the roof. Haha. Probably the most irrelevant part! Anyway, back to the issue at hand. Trying this pasta soon, looks too good to wait. Thanks for posting this recipe, excited to try it! xxx

    1. Oh yes it’s a goodie! I haven’t actually been there in ages… I hope that it hasn’t been ruined by chainism and success like so many places are… I love his TV show. He’s like an amazing granddad!

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