More than any other cuisine in the world, Italians have mastered the art of making delicious food with just a few ingredients. The secret is that the ingredients are well chosen and that the cook is willing to allow for long slow cooking while flavours develop. This is one of my favourite spaghetti recipes and although I believe I stumbled on it by myself, I was reminded recently by a friend that a version of it appears in Marcella Hazan’s wonderful book ‘The Classic Italian Cookbook’ first published in 1973. You caramelize more onions than you ever thought necessary and wait patiently while they do their thing. At the last minute you grate a courgette into the dark, slippery, fragrant onion mixture. Don’t hold back on the seasoning. You need salt and pepper to counter the sweetness of the onions.
Tip of the day: to add even more depth and flavour, keep the sauce warm while you fill the pan with water, scraping off all the oniony bits to make a delicious broth in which you boil the spaghetti.
350g of onions
A slug of garlic paste
250ml white wine
1 small courgette
200g dried spaghetti
Handful finely chopped parsley
Parmesan to serve at the table
Slice the onions. You don’t need to be too neat and fussy about this as they collapse nicely during the cooking. Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a deep, wide pan. Add the onions and turn them over quickly, coating them well. Put the lid on, turn the heat as low as possible then go away and do something else for at least 45 minutes, Check half way through that there is no burning. Now the onions should be soft and slippery and there will be a fair bit of water at the bottom of the pan. Raise the heat and let all the water evaporate. Add the garlic paste and let it blend into the onions for about half a minute. Raise the heat and watch the onions take on a deep golden brown colour. Add the wine and let it bubble then evaporate. Add the salt and pepper. Grate the courgette directly into the pan and toss it quickly into the onions. The courgette doesn’t need to ‘cook’ – you want it to retain its colour and some bite.
At the final stages of making the sauce, boil the spaghetti, drain it, return it to the pan and toss the onion and courgette sauce into it and then the finely chopped parsley.
Serve immediately in warmed bowls with plenty of parmesan cheese at the table.