Of Zucchini (Courgette) & Pasta – Part 1

Of Zucchini (Courgette) & Pasta – Part 1

Who’d have thought that courgettes and pasta would get on so well that they’d become the best of friends? OK, so maybe many Italians have known it forever but I was totally oblivious to this charming combination. And by this, I don’t mean dishes where the courgette has a small role to play, as the side-kick to other more dominant flavours such as peppers and tomatoes. I mean where the courgette and courgette alone is the heroine, the pasta being the hero, of course.

To discover one such recipe was surprising enough – to me at least – but to come across two absolutely delicious recipes is a definite sign from food heaven that these two ingredients need to be cooked together.

The first revelation came when, a few years ago, I made the excellent decision to order Penne Giardiniera at Carluccio’s . The dish consisted of little spinach balls and a ‘sauce’ of grated, lightly cooked courgettes. This is the recipe I share with you today. The second one, which is even more basic, will come in part 2. If you were looking for one sign to use up that glut of courgettes this summer, I’ve just given you two.

P.S. As an aside, it’s called ‘courgette’ here in the UK but I personally love the Italian/American name ‘zucchini’.

Rigatoni with Spinach Balls & Courgettes

Perfect summer recipe to use up that glut of courgettes. Light, fresh and refreshing.
Course Main Course, Pasta
Cuisine Italian
Servings 4


  • For the spinach balls
  • 500 g spinach leaves washed thoroughly, tough stalks removed
  • 2 eggs beaten
  • pinch freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp garlic puree
  • 100 g fresh white breadcrumbs I often use brown or seeded breadcrumbs
  • 50 g parmesan, finely grated
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 -2 tbsp pine nuts, toasted preferably The original recipe does not contain this but I thought it added a lovely crunch.
  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil I use the one which has barely any flavour
  • For the courgette pasta sauce
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves peeled, finely chopped
  • 1 chilli finely chopped
  • 2 courgettes trimmed, finely grated
  • 60 g g/2¼oz parmesan
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 400 g rigatoni cooked according to packet instructions, drained (reserve a few spoonfuls of the cooking water)


  • The spinach balls:
  • In a large pan, add the spinach leaves, season and cook until it wilts down completely. Leave to cool for a bit.
  • Using your hands, squeeze out as much water from the spinach as possible, then finely chop it.
  • Transfer the blanched, drained spinach to a bowl, then stir in the beaten eggs, nutmeg, garlic purée, breadcrumbs and parmesan. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Mix well until the mixture binds together, adding more breadcrumbs or more water, as necessary, to bind the mixture.
  • Roll the spinach mixture into walnut-sized balls and place onto a baking tray.
  • Cover the base of a frying pan in a thin film of olive oil. Heat gently over a low to medium heat.
  • When the oil is hot, add the spinach balls, in batches if necessary, and fry for 4-5 minutes on each side, or until crisp and golden-brown all over. Remove from the pan using a slotted spoon and set aside to drain on kitchen paper. Keep warm. Repeat the process with the remaining spinach balls.
  • Meanwhile, for the pasta sauce, heat the oil in a separate frying pan over a medium heat. Add the garlic and chilli and fry for 1-2 minutes, or until softened but not coloured.
  • Add the courgettes and continue to fry for 3-4 minutes, or until the courgettes have started to soften.
  • Add the parmesan and season, to taste, with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Mix until well combined, then stir in the reserved cooking water from the pasta and the cooked, drained rigatoni.
  • To serve, divide the pasta and sauce equally among four serving plates. Place the fried spinach balls on top.


You can use about 400g of frozen spinach if you prefer. 
Adapted from a Carluccio recipe. 
Keyword courgettes, italian, pasta, penne, rigatoni, zucchini