Saturday, 4 June 2011

A Lemony, Courgette, Feta and Pinenut Pasta

Rain? Who ordered this? And why oh why does a rainy day insist on following a sleepless night? I promise I’m not the sort to grumble or inflict others with my 5-hour-sleep blues. And I think I was quite perky today considering. But just so you understand; It was an inexplicable case last night of sleepy eyes closing, turn off light, lie there thinking about why I didn’t say what I should have done that time 2 years ago. Turn the light on, read until eyes are closing, turn off the light, lie there thinking about how if I had said what I should have said, what would she have said back?  STOP IT! Turn light on, read till nodding-dog begins, turn light off. Continue in this manner until 2 30 am. I'm sure you know the score.

So I’ll admit that for the first time in a long time I was severely lacking in crew-lunch inspiration. Not to mention the rain and nothing in the fridge. Is this an Antibes thing? I’ve not spent much time here before.

I love how French markets make it look like I read the entire instruction manual for my digital SLR Camera.

Anyway, whenever I’m having a cooking blank, my trick is to boil it all down to one ingredient and build very simply from there.  One vegetable, one herb, one protein, one carbohydrate; that sort of thing, it usually works. So off I tottered in the pouring rain to the, thankfully covered, Antibes Market to look for that one ingredient. It wasn’t difficult. We’re in Courgette season and they were all over it. Flowered, baby, light green, dark green; my main ingredient in abundance.  Get all French about the crowds and you can get yourself some very nice little purchases in no time at all.

Having said that, by the time I had enjoyed all that a good French market can offer I had just less than an hour to cook lunch for 12. Lack of time, it can really help make a vital decision.

Courgettes led to feta cheese, led to lightly toasted pinenuts led to penne pasta with lemon zest and juice, wet garlic flavoured olive oil, lots of parsley and some chilli flakes. Salad, charcuterie and a selection of cheeses. Lots of lovely French bread and who’s complaining? 

I dare them. Just kidding guys, feedback always warmly accepted with gratitude (when I've had 7 hours of sleep not 5).

This is no biggy and very simple but sometimes it’s the simplicity that you need to be reminded of to create something tasty, and despite the heavy rain, full of the joys of spring. It’s so easy to get caught in a huge panic of complicated ingredients when the best meals (think Italian) are the most honest and fresh ones. Easy peasy and be sensitive with the tired one in the corner please.

  To feed 6-8 you will need;

Penne pasta
6 smallish courgettes, sliced
4-5 cloves of garlic, lightly smashed with the blade of a knife to open but kept whole
8 peppercorns
100ml olive oil
1 pack feta cheese
100 g pinenuts
Zest of 2 lemons, juice of one
Sprinkle of chilli flakes
1 cup grated pecorino cheese and more to serve
There must have been more…nope that really was it.


  • Put your pan of water on to boil for the pasta. A nice big pan, the biggest you have got filled to within 2 inches of the rim. Each piece of pasta needs ‘room to dance’ as the Italians say. Fair enough, nobody can do their best on a crowded dance floor. Once the water is boiling, add salt. For a large pan of water, 6-7 litres, I add probably 2 tbsp salt.
  • Next thing is to put a good inch depth of olive oil into a small saucepan. Don’t be shy now, glug it in there. Then plop in your 5-6 cloves of garlic and the peppercorns. Turn on the heat and when the oil begins to have a little sizzle, turn off the heat and leave the oil aside to marinade.

  • Heat up a griddle pan. I was putting the courgettes down, once the pan was really hot, as they were with no oil on at all. Then brushing the side facing up with some of the garlic oil straight from the pan and sprinkling on some salt and pepper. Turn the courgettes over once they have good grill lines as shown and then grill the oil and seasoned side to the same effect. When you have done one load, put on a warmed plate and set aside. Continue grilling the courgettes till they are all done.

  • Put a smallish frying pan on to heat with no oil in it at all, a dry frying pan. Lightly toast the pinenuts. Keep an eye on them and keep turning them over either with a little cool flip of your pan or by stirring with a wooden spoon. Set aside when they are lightly toasted.
Squeezing the pans on. 

  • When the pasta is cooked to your liking, drain making sure you keep a good ladleful of the pasta water or ‘stock’. This helps to become your sauce and if you’ve ever had stodgy pasta before, this is how you remedy it. Never throw away all of the pasta cooking stock ever.

  • Pour the pasta and a little of its water back into the pan and then add the sieved garlic oil and pecorino cheese and stir to combine. You can either squeeze the cooked garlic into the pasta or save for later. 
  • Basically pour the pasta into a pretty serving dish. Scatter over the griddled courgettes; crumble over the feta cheese and pinenuts. Then a dish like this deserves a good grating of lemon zest and a squeeze of lemon juice, lots of black pepper and a big handful of roughly chopped fresh parsley and mint. 


  • Serve with French bread, platters of cheese and charcuterie and some lovely crunchy salad with a simple French vinaigrette.

I managed to make this in an hour and my head wasn’t all there. You might be quicker. The crew enjoyed it and didn't seem to notice my glazed expression. This would be a good cold pasta salad too if you run the cooked pasta under lots of cold water to stop it from cooking immediately and make sure that the olive oil has fully cooled down before you add it to the pasta.

Antibes market is great. I love these moments in my life and career. I could spend a fortune but the budget saves the day. Just to wander around enjoying the general hustle and bustle is a serious joy. Even in the pouring June rain.
It’s stopped raining now. It’s the evening and I’m drinking red wine down below feeling pretty cosy. One more glass of red and I reckon I’ll be sleeping fine tonight. No more saving the world or sorting out the mysteries of the universe for me.
Just a little advanced warning, I’ll be cooking the courgette flowers I bought at the market tomorrow. I’ll let you know how it goes. They are very special so I wanted to be fully ‘with it’ to enjoy the experience.

I best get to bed then.

Goodnight! Sleep tight.
See you soon. Thanks for reading.