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Pasta Alla Franca

Pasta alla Franca

Yet another in our series of standbys. When our dear friend Franca (pictured, courtesy DPaul Brown, again from the cookbook) from Rome came to visit for the first time, she made us this dish. She wanted to make ragù, but as I was still vegetarian at the time, there was a little meat problem. No worries — she frequently made a vegetarian version, as she has several veg friends back in Rome. The dish immediately entered our repertoire, and we named it after her.

This is my favorite summertime pasta, with bright colors and bold flavors. But it is not a particularly subtle dish. Rather, it is a dish of amplitude: It uses a lot of oil, a lot of salt, a lot of herb. When all’s said and done, it fools you into thinking it’s a nice, light veggie pasta, but when you get under the hood, it’s far from health food. Who cares — it tastes good.

This dish is, as stated, vegetarian, and if you could find suitable eggless pasta could even be — *gasp* — vegan. But I’m not well-versed in the world of eggless pastas, so I cannot make a recommendation.

The real catch to the sauce is that the veg must be very well minced; like, to confetti. I suppose you could use the Cuisinart, but you just want everything broken down to fine pieces, not a puree. Also, you want to cook over moderate heat. The goal is not to sear each little piece, but to sweat it all down and make a soft mixture. When  you mince all the veg, it will increase in volume by an order of magnitude, but will reduce considerably in cooking. Any short pasta will work for this, but fusilli or rotini are ideal, as
the flecks of carrot and zucchini nestle in the nooks of the little

When I assisted Franca the first time, prepping the ingredients, my knife skills were not quite as acute as they are today. Assessing my chop, she remarked, “Mm, sono un po’ grossetti.” The word grossetti made me chuckle, merging grosso, or large, with the diminutive suffix -etti. Only the Italians can have a word that means both large and small.

As usual, recipe plus a couple of bonus shots after the jump. And as usual with Italian recipes, measurements are for guidance only and are not meant to be taken too literally.

Update: As this was posted on the weekend, and involves copious amounts of herb, I’m throwing it in for Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week on Sweetnicks.

Pasta alla Franca
1 large or 2 small carrots, very finely minced
1 medium onion, very finely minced
1 medium zucchini, very finely minced
1-2 Tbsp dry oregano or 3-4 Tbsp fresh oregano, chopped
1 tsp dry thyme or 2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
3 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper of indeterminate amounts

This is what I mean by the volume as well as the fineness of the chop. In fact, you could go even finer. Isn’t it pretty, though?

In a large skillet, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil, add onion, season and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the carrot and zucchini, season, and continue to saute, adding olive oil and/or pasta water (at this point, just salted water) alternately to keep it moist. What you want to see is enough moisture from the water, yet visible droplets of oil that have taken some of the orange color from the carrot.

This will take longer to cook down than you might expect — upwards of 30 minutes. You practically cannot overcook it. Keep adding oil and/or water and stir frequently. When the mixture is getting soft, taste and season accordingly; now is the time to make sure you have sufficient salt in the dish.

When you add pasta to water, add oregano and thyme to the sauce and stir well, again keeping it moist. Add pasta directly to the sauce and toss in the pan, making sure to get as much of the bits in the crevices as possible. Cut the heat, grate in a healthy amount of Parmigiano-Reggiano, toss and serve.

This Post Has 4 Comments
  1. Hi Sean,
    This is a great post for Weekend Herb Blogging, which is actually my event, but travels around every other weekend and is being hosted by Sweetnicks this weekend. Would you please edit your piece and add a link to her blog ( and the words “Weekend Herb Blogging” somewhere in your post so people can go to her blog and find the recap, which is being published on Monday. Thanks, and welcome to WHB.

  2. My, those are fabulous pictures. The colors are so pretty–and, can you imagine a more beautiful job of something finely diced? I can’t. I’m so impressed.

  3. I have to confess that chopping, mincing and other knifework is my favorite task in the kitchen. I find it very therapeutic. DPaul is not so patient, so I’m the default sous chef when I’m not also the chef chef.

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