Ziti di Pepe with Pancetta, Basil and Zucchini

Ziti di Pepe with Pancetta, Basil and Zucchini
This is a glorious ziti dish I tasted in the mountains of Abruzzo. The combination of pork, zucchini, basil and cream can’t be beat. As a pizza guy who uses whole logs of charcuterie, this is another way to save money using what I call the “spent ends” of pancetta logs, prosciutto di Parma, soppressata etc. that can no longer be sliced. The secret is to slowly melt the flavor and oil out of the protein first.
Recipe type: Entree
  • 1 pound dry ziti pasta cooked in boiling, salted water for 8 minutes until al dente, then drained
  • 1 medium zucchini
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 ounces pancetta, cut into small cubes (bacon, prosciutto di Parma can also be substituted)
  • 2 large garlic cloves or ¼ ounce, minced
  • ½ yellow onion, minced
  • 1 tablespoon medium coarse ground peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon flour
  • ¾ cup whole milk, either warmed or at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons grated Pecorino or Parmesan
  • ¼ to ½ ounce basil leaves, chopped, leaving one bud for garnish
  • 1 quarter tomato, cored and cut into small squares for garnish
  1. Cut the zucchini ends off and cut down the center of the core.
  2. Cut each half into quarters.
  3. Put each quarter on a cutting board skin side down and run your knife across the seedy interior, leaving only the zucchini wall.
  4. Cut each quartered wall portion into two batons. (If they are not the same size, cut another baton and leave about 8 to 9 batons.)
  5. Bundle the batons up and cut across into into ⅛-inch cubes.
  6. Heat 1 tablespoon extra-virgin oil in a hot pan just till smoking and add the zucchini cubes and season with salt.
  7. Toss and sauté on high for 2 minutes until just cooked.
  8. Take off heat and place the cubes in a cool place.
  9. Cook the pancetta on medium-low heat, turning occasionally to sweat the oils. This may take 5 to 8 minutes for the pancetta to just turn crispy.
  10. Remove only the meat from the pan and leave the oil on medium-low.
  11. Add the onion, garlic and ground pepper and sweat, stirring occasionally.
  12. When the onion is transparent and the garlic just cooked, sprinkle the flour all around the pan and stir for six minutes. The flour will bubble with the juices as it catches the oils and cooks.
  13. Add ¼ cup of the milk initially, stirring as you turn the heat to medium.
  14. Keep stirring and do not let the sauce burn.
  15. As soon as the sauce gets thick and sticks around the edges of the sauté pan, add the milk ¼ cup at a time until the whole ¾ cup is gone.
  16. Season, to taste, with salt.
  17. This is the béchamel, or Alfredo base.
  18. Turn heat to low and add the zucchini, Romano, pancetta and basil. Stir. If the sauce is too thick, add more milk and stir. Add the ziti and toss.
  19. Plate in a large bowl and garnish with the tomato and the basil bud.