It’s been five months now since we said “Arrivederci until next spring!” to the team and many of the friends and guests who joined us on our November 2019 Dolce Vitality fitness and detox retreat. Back then, we never imagined that the March 2020 retreat might not take place because of a global health emergency. As we look forward with a mixture of hope, humility and a salutary dose of Neapolitan scaramanzia to the November 2020 edition, we thought it might be nice to bring some Dolce Vitality cuisine into your lives, wherever in the world you are. Balanced low-calorie nutrition is all the more important at a time when many of us are struggling to get enough daily exercise in the great outdoors – so we’ve persuaded our chef Gennaro Russo and food coach Valentina Dolci, who together created Dolce Vitality’s vegan menu, inspired by a healthful, seasonal Mediterranean approach, to share a few recipes and tips, starting with this tempting vegetable dish. Who knew that diet food could be so downright delicious?
There’s a reason why Gennaro and Valentina call this dish ‘zucchini spaghetti’. This is not spaghetti with a zucchini sauce – it’s 'spaghetti' made from zucchini (or courgettes, si vous voulez). It’s the ultimate trompe l’oeil recipe, in which pesto-coated zucchini threads are served twirled into a conical heap on the plate, just like pasta – except without the carb-load or the gluten.
This dish is seriously low in calories but it tricks the stomach into feeling sated, mostly due to the creamy texture of the sauce but maybe also, to an extent, because of that pasta illusion. Zucchini, Valentina reports, contain plenty of water, flavonoid antioxidants, essential minerals and B-complex vitamins. She also points out that herbs in the basil family contain a healthy dose of flavonoids too, as well as precious volatile oils which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Note that in Italian, baby marrows are generally feminine (la zucchina, plural le zucchine). For some reason it’s the rarer masculine plural form that took root in American English when describing either one or many of these versatile summer squashes. A similar ‘plural as singular’ borrowing happened with 'panini', the plural of the Italian word panino – but at least that’s the right gender.
The best zucchini to use for this are the light green kind with flowers, as they have firmer flesh and fewer seeds. If you can only find the large dark green skinned variety, cut them in half lengthways and scoop the seeds out with a spoon before passing them through the mandoline.
700g (1 lb 9 oz) zucchini
30g (1 oz) almonds
100g (3.5 oz) basil – 4 or 5 big bunches
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Wash the zucchini well, dry them and keep them aside. Toast the almonds for 5 minutes in an oven at 180°C (350°F), then set aside to cool. Strip the basil leaves from their stalks and toss them in boiling water for two minutes, then drain them and throw them immediately into ice-cold water. Put the basil leaves and three-quarters of the almonds into a blender with a thin slice of garlic, adding the olive oil slowly until you achieve the consistency of a thick paste. Cut the other almonds into slivers to use as a garnish.
Now turn your attention to the zucchini. If you have a mandoline, insert the corrugated blade and use it to cut the vegetables lengthways into long threads the diameter of thick spaghetti (otherwise you will need a sharp knife and a lot of patience – and will end up with ‘spaghetti’ that are square rather than round in cross-section). Heat a little olive oil in a pan and toss the zucchini strips in it for a minute or so. Then add the pesto, toss once more to coat and amalgamate, and serve on a plate twirled with a fork in the shape of a cylinder or upturned cone, topped with the toasted almond slivers.
Photos © Roberto Salomone