What’s cooking today: Penne rigate with Serrano ham and zucchini

What’s cooking today: Penne rigate with Serrano ham and zucchini
Tony Jackman’s penne rigate with Serrano ham and garden zucchini. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

Here’s a recipe for a pasta sauce that brings a touch of Spain into the Italian cookbook. Chopped Serrano ham and bright red chillies blend with a cheesy sauce to add some salsa to your pasta.

It’s not entirely impossible that I was influenced by the movie I’d watched earlier in the day when concocting this sauce. Russell Crowe plays an Italian priest who specialises in demonic possession in The Pope’s Exorcist, set in both Italy and Spain.

It is a horror movie that could have been far more serious than it is; by resorting to the full-tilt schlock of the Count Dracula school of horror, with every possible terror bursting from the screen to have you reeling in your armchair, its utter lack of restraint results in it losing far more than it gains. This is not to say it’s not worth a watch for some arresting performances. It’s on Netflix.

Like that movie, this recipe is pretty cheesy too, with a gory red chilli bite. I used three cheeses (mozzarella, Danish blue and Grana Padano). So I guess there’s a touch of Denmark in it too.

There are a lot of zucchini growing in my garden right now, so I picked four of them for this recipe. Or call it calabacita, the Spanish, if you prefer. The red spring onions are from my garden too. And you should just see the tomatoes; scores and scores of them: coming soon to a recipe near you.

(Serves 2 generously)


250 g penne rigate

Olive oil

3 or 4 courgettes, sliced thinly on the diagonal

2 red chillies, sliced thinly, seeds and all

2 red spring onions, sliced

2 garlic cloves, sliced

70 g Serrano ham

50 g blue cheese

150 g mozzarella, chopped into small dice

1 glass dry white wine

200 ml cream

Pasta water


Black pepper

Grana Padano, grated


Put a deep pot of lots of water on to boil.

Pour a generous splash of olive oil into another heavy pot. When hot, add the sliced courgettes and spring onions, cook, stirring, until softened, then add the garlic and chilli and cook for a couple of minutes more.

Add a glass of dry white wine and reduce until mostly cooked away, but leave some liquid in the pan.

Add the cream and bring to a simmer, and cook gently for about five minutes while the cream takes on all the flavours and thickens.

Season with salt and black pepper, and add the mozzarella, blue cheese and ham. Stir while the cheeses melt into the sauce and amalgamate.

Meanwhile, once the pasta water is boiling briskly, add the penne and stir immediately with a wooden spoon, thereby preventing it from clumping. Boil until al dente.

Strain quickly in a colander but, while there’s still a little pasta water left, return it swiftly to the pasta pot.

Put the pot on the stove and toss the pasta sauce through it immediately.

Serve with finely grated Grana Padano. DM

Tony Jackman is Galliova Food Writer 2023, jointly with TGIFood columnist Anna Trapido.

Follow Tony Jackman on Instagram @tony_jackman_cooks.

This dish is photographed in a pasta bowl by Mervyn Gers Ceramics.


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