This is a traditional and popular pasta recipe from Sicily. It's quick and easy -- but incredibly satisfying -- and it's also proof that zucchini don't need to be coated in tons of batter in order to be fried to delicious perfection.
Ricotta salata is an aged ricotta cheese, a harder, salty cheese that is suitable for grating. If you can't find it, substitute Pecorino Romano, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Provolone Piccante, or Mizithra cheese.
The dish--start-to-finish--can be ready in just about 20 minutes!
Wash and dry the zucchini and slice it into 1/4-inch thick rounds. Spread the zucchini rounds out on a baking sheet or large cutting board and sprinkle lightly with salt. Let sit for a few minutes to pull out some excess water.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil for the pasta.
After about 5 minutes, pat the excess water from the zucchini rounds with a paper towel.
Heat the olive oil in a skillet (enough to cover the bottom of the skillet and have about 1/8 inch of depth) over medium heat until shimmering.
Fry the zucchini pieces, a few at a time so as to not crowd them, until well browned on both sides. (I find that wooden chopsticks -- if you have good chopsticks skills, that is -- are handy for turning and arranging foods that you are frying.) Transfer the fried zucchini to a large paper-towel lined plate to drain any excess oil and set aside.
When the pasta water reaches a rolling boil, add the tagliatelle and cook until just al dente (remember that fresh pasta does not take as long to cook as dried pasta, generally only 1 to 4 minutes.
Drain the pasta well and divide it between four serving plates. Top each serving with some fried zucchini, a sprinkling of chopped fresh mint, freshly ground black pepper, and freshly grated ricotta salata. You can serve extra grated cheese at the table as well.
Optional additions and substitutions:
- Add a light sprinkle of lemon zest on top when serving.
- Add 1 sliced garlic clove to the frying oil before adding the zucchini, for extra flavor.
- Add lightly sauteed, halved cherry tomatoes and/or pancetta to the pasta together with the fried zucchini.
- You can substitute the fresh tagliatelle with dried spaghetti instead, adjusting the cooking time as needed.
- Use yellow summer squash instead of zucchini.
- Substitute the ricotta salata with Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, Greek Mizithra, or provolone piccante.
- Substitute the mint with fresh basil leaves.