The first time I went to restaurants in Milan, I couldn't get over how many vegetarian entrees were on the menus; this was something rare in Tuscany, where vegetables were eaten as side dishes. But I liked the idea, so when I went back to Vipore, I raided our garden, and went to work in the kitchen. This was the result.
3 quarts water
1 1/2 tablespoons salt, plus 2 teaspoons
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small zucchini, ends trimmed, sliced into 1/4-inch ovals
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and quartered
1 small red onion, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1/4 bulb fennel, fronds trimmed, cut into 1/4-inch slices
2 plum tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
1 small eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch slices
2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1/2 pound short pasta, such as penne or fusilli
1 sprig fresh basil, chopped
1 sprig fresh oregano, chopped
1 sprig fresh thyme, chopped
4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Bring the water to a boil in a large pot. Add the 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt.
Heat the outdoor grill or oven broiler. Sprinkle the vegetables with the remaining 2 teaspoons of salt and the red pepper flakes, then drizzle them with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil.
When the grill is very hot, add the vegetables, cooking them for 4 minutes on the first side, 3 on the second. (If you don't have a grill, you can broil the vegetables for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they become soft and slightly browned.) When the vegetables are cooked, cut them into strips. In a large sauté pan, sauté the garlic in the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil until it colors slightly, about 5 minutes.
Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente.
Add the chopped herbs to the sauté pan, sauté for 1 minute, and add the vegetable strips. Cook the mixture for 10 minutes. Drain the pasta, toss it with the vegetables and the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and serve immediately.
Excerpted from DIARY OF A TUSCAN CHEF by Cesare Casella Copyright© 1998 by Cesare Casella & Eileen Daspin. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.