Spaghetti e Courgetti al pesto Genovese – ‘From Tunnel to Table’ recipe for June

(That’s the posh title I’ve given it! Somehow it sounds a bit more summery in Italian! And as it’s my creation – I’ve christened it!)
Spaghetti e Courgetti al Pesto Genovese
Spaghetti e Courgetti al Pesto Genovese
In this month’s Tunnel to Table recipe we’re using courgettes, basil and cherry tomatoes fresh from the polytunnel. We’re visiting Italy again but with my own special healthy twist! Spaghetti e ‘Courgetti’ with the classic basil Pesto Genovese sauce – which to me is the real taste of summer! Pesto is another speciality of mine and one of the simplest yet also one of the most deliciously luxurious and indulgent sauces you can make. I freeze tons of basil every year just so that we can enjoy this delicious reminder of summer all winter long. If I only needed one reason to have a freezer – it would be for freezing basil! Once you’ve tasted your own homemade pesto sauce – you’ll never be able to eat it from a jar again! The flavour is a million times better than anything you will ever buy.
It’s easy. The only hard thing about this recipe might possibly be getting hold of enough basil to make it right now if you don’t grow it yourself. It is available from farmers markets in quantity though – and you could always order some from the grower.Alternatively – if you follow my step-by-step instructions on ‘How to grow your own Basil’ which I’ll be putting on the website in the next day or so – you can have plenty of basil for doing it in a few weeks, even if you don’t have a garden and you’re just growing in containers. (This should be on the website by the end of June – I have to fit in with the wonderful Keith Kingston’s holidays – who puts everything on the website for me. If I touch it – it scrambles! Growing good food and cooking it are my forte – not technology!! I’m allergic to it!)
It’s seasonal. Courgettes are easily available everywhere at this time of year, even if you don’t grow your own. If you do grow your own – this way of cooking courgettes is a total revelation. It completely changes their flavour and is a great way to use up the usual seasonal gluts! If you don’t have a spiraliser for making the courgetti strands – they’re available at a reasonable price on Amazon or in cookery utensil stores, or alternatively you could make your own courgette ‘tagliatelle’ strips with a potato peeler and a sharp knife – but I think the spiralised ones are nicer in this recipe – as they blend so well with the spahetti.
Organic pasta is cheap and available in most stores all year round now. I get mine in Lidl at a very reasoanble price.
It’s suitable for vegetarians.
It’s very healthy as a third of the spaghetti is replaced with veg. ‘courgetti’ which makes it not only a third lighter on calories but also feels much lighter on the stomach. Oddly enough you feel even more satisfied than normal with the added veg. but less ‘heavy’ which you can sometimes feel after a pasta meal.  We much prefer it to using all pasta in dishes now, and of course you’re getting lots of extra vitamins and minerals in the courgettes too. Using the veg with the p-asta lowers it’s glycaemic
It’s quick – once you’ve assembled all the ingredients it only takes about 20 minutes from start to finish.
You’ll need a large heavy based saucepan for cooking the spaghetti and a blender or food processor for making the pesto sauce. Alternatively, if you’re a masochist with lots of time on your hands, and like doing things the slow hard way – you could go low-tech and use a pestle and mortar! I’ve tried making pesto both ways – and frankly there’s no difference in the flavour whatever the purists say. It’s all in the mind! It tastes just as good made in a blender and it’s a hell of a lot easier and quicker.
You’ll also need a spiraliser and a very sharp veg knife. Spiralisers are a great fun tool for preparing not just courgettes quickly but lots of other veg too. Cucumbers for salad are lovely done with one and I’m dying to do some ‘shoestring’ chips one day as a treat! They’re a great way to get kids to eat veg.
Ingredients: (serves 4 dainty people – or 3 greedy ones!)
For the Spaghetti / ‘Courgetti’ you will need:
2 medium courgettes – about 250g when prepared (for 4 portions increase quantity to 375g courgette) I love the yellow ‘Atena’ variety (from seed company Suttons) which makes a nice colour contrast with the sauce – but green ones are just fine too.
200g of dry spaghetti or tagliatelle (for 4 portions increase quantity to 300g)
For the pesto Sauce you will need:
75g/3oz Fresh or frozen basil leaves (fresh will give you a lovely bright emerald green colour immediately – using basil straight from frozen as I do in winter it’s paler to start with but as it thaws it also goes bright green)
3 large cloves of garlic chopped or crushed (use less if you don’t like a lot of garlic but I think this amount is best)
2 level tablespoons of pine nuts – try to use organic if you can – the flavour is immeasurably better, and make sure they have a long expiry date as they can go ‘off’ and rancid quite quickly sitting on a warm shop shelf! Keep them in the fridge when you get them home.
7 tablespoons of good extra virgin olive oil. I use Don Carlos organic EV olive oil which is very reasonably priced in my local supermarket and often on offer.
50g/2ozs Parmesan cheese – Gran Reggiano, freshly grated from a block is best. Don’t attempt to use that dried rubbish sold in packets! (If you live near a Sainsbury’s store – they sell an excellent good flavoured organic parmesan in wedges. We’re about 45 minutes from Newry in Northern Ireland – so a friend and I car share about four times a year to do a major shop for the many *organic ingredients that we can’t get down here in the south of Ireland. Great chance for a gossip too!
A good pinch sea salt to taste
*(I use all organic ingredients in my cooking but that’s up to you. Many organic ingredients are much higher in nutrients so are actually better value for money – and of course there’s no pesticide residues either!)
1. Assemble all the pesto ingredients, then just throw everything into the blender/food processor and process until the sauce is a smooth paste. Scrape down the sides once when it’s nearly done to ensure it all gets blended. Couldn’t be easier
2. Put it into a bowl and cover closely with cling film smeared with a thin film of olive oil until needed. This ensures it comes off easily without the pesto sticking to it. Never leave pesto sauce open to the air as it oxidises and turns brown very quickly on contact with air, losing it’s lovely flavour.
(If using frozen basil – you can throw it straight in with all the other ingredients when making the sauce – but don’t taste the sauce until it’s all completely thawed or it has almost no flavour!)
Spaghetti / ‘courgetti’:
3. Prepare the courgettes first, by spiralising or cutting into long strips with a vegetable peeler and sharp knife. Spiralising the courgettes is a bit easier if you deal with them in shorter lengths rather than trying to do the whole courgette at once – otherwise you can end up with unmanageable corkscrews about a metre long! (The kids will love them though!)  Chop them across into half or thirds. The leftover disc of courgette stuck under the handle can just be sliced finely by hand and added.
4. Get plenty of water boiling fast in a large saucepan, add a teaspoon or so of salt and then add the dried pasta. Stir well to make sure it doesn’t stick. Then turn down to a medium boil to avoid it boiling over. All makes of pasta vary in their cooking times, and also wholemeal pasta takes longer. You’ll know how long your favourite takes. (We cook the Lidl unbleached white organic pasta for 10 minutes, so we put the courgette in at 8 minutes.)
5. Depending on how ‘al dente’ you like your pasta – 2 minutes before it is due to be cooked, turn up the heat again and as soon as it comes to a fast boil add the courgette strips and stir well.
6. After 2 minutes (timed from when it comes back to a fast boil) drain in a colander and serve immediately into warmed bowls. Scatter on the halved cherry tomatoes if using. Let everyone help themselves to sauce rather than dressing all the pasta/courgette mix. I know the purists say you should add the pasta to the sauce but I prefer doing it this way this as some may like more or less sauce – and if it doesn’t all get eaten, the sauce is wasted if it’s all on the pasta!
* This won’t wait so get everyone sitting down at the table before you are due to serve it.*
To add even more healthy veg – a few halved cherry tomatoes are really pretty and tasty tossed into the drained pasta at the end or onto each individual dish as a garnish. We love the contrasting fresh burst of flavour you get from these – but it’s just as nice without them.
If there’s only two of you for supper – any leftover pesto sauce freezes really well in ice cube trays covered with cling film. One ice cube of pesto thawed in a small jar of olive oil for about 20 minutes makes a lovely dressing for tomato salads, for dipping bruschetta or focaccia, or for drizzling onto pizzas. (That’s why I don’t put it all on the pasta!)
1. Pesto ingredients assembled
1. Pesto ingredients assembled
2. Pesto sauce all blended and ready to go - cover immediately
2. Pesto sauce all blended and ready to go – cover immediately
3. Making the 'courgetti' with the spiraliser
3. Making the ‘courgetti’ with the spiraliser
4&5. Spaghetti & courgetti just drained & still piping hot
4&5. Spaghetti & courgetti just drained & still piping hot
 6. Spaghetti & courgetti drained - everything is ready to serve
6. Spaghetti & courgetti drained – everything is ready to serve

Categorized as Recipes