Video: How to make pasta e zucca and polpette

Maria Pozza, whose parents are Italian, shows how to make pasta e zucca (pasta with squash) and polpette (meatballs).

Maria Pozza grew up in the United Kingdom but her parents are Italian, her father from Trentino and her mother from Naples.

Both her parents are great cooks, so she had the best of northern and southern Italian cooking as she grew up, she says.

She visited New Zealand in 2007, and liked it so much she stayed, and is now completing a PhD at the University of Otago in international space law.

These two dishes are simple, everyday traditional Italian dishes that are quick and cheap to make, use humble ingredients but are full of flavour. They are also versatile as you can use whatever is in season or to hand, and even combine the two.

However, here she cooks them as primi piatti (first course) and secondi piatti (second course).


Maria Pozza with her Italian dishes. Photo by Peter Dowden.
Maria Pozza with her Italian dishes. Photo by Peter Dowden.
Pasta e zucca (pasta and squash) and polpette e insalata (meatballs and salad)



Pasta e zucca (pasta and squash)

about 800g (2-3 medium) courgettes cut into chunks
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
about 3-4 Tbsp olive oil
hot water (about 5-6 cups)
salt to taste
about 400g pasta (broken spaghetti, baby macaroni or whatever you like)
a little grated parmesan cheese
fresh parsley

Polpette e insalata
Polpette (meatballs)

300g mince (pork, beef or lamb)
1 clove garlic
1 egg
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Insalata (salad)

400g fresh spinach
a bunch of fresh parsley
1-2 ripe tomatoes
½-1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 Tbsp boiling water
½ tsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp olive oil
½ Tbsp balsamic or white vinegar
salt and pepper 


Start by preparing the pasta. While it cooks, you can prepare the meatballs and salad, then while you are eating the pasta, the meatballs can be cooking.

Cut off the ends of the courgettes and chop into chunks, small if you are using small pasta and larger if you are using a large pasta like penne or fusilli.

Peel and chop the garlic finely.

Heat oil in a frying pan with deep sides. When hot, add the garlic and cook quickly until just beginning to brown at the edges. This adds crunch as well as flavour. Then add the courgettes and cook briefly over high heat until browning at the edges.

Add 2 cups of hot water and let it reduce a little. There's something about oil and water simmered together that brings out the flavour in food, Maria says.

Add the pasta and another 2-4 cups of water to cover the pasta. Allow it to simmer, topping up water if necessary, until the pasta is al dente, the liquid reduced and the courgettes soft.

Remove from heat and stir in a little parmesan to taste. The residual heat will melt the cheese.

Check seasoning, sprinkle with parsley and serve.

To make the meatballs:Peel and finely chop the garlic and add it to the mince. Squeeze and knead it through. Add salt and pepper and egg and continue to knead it until all is combined. Maria likes to layer the flavours, kneading in one ingredient at a time, but you could also do it all at once.

Heat oil in a frying pan, roll the mince into small balls and carefully put in the hot pan.

Shake and allow to cook, turning and shaking occasionally until well browned on the outside and no pink remains inside or out.

To make the salad:Remove stalks from the spinach if you wish.

Rinse the leaves and chop roughly. Put in a salad bowl.

Chop the red onion finely and add it to the salad.

Chop the tomato into pieces, add to the salad bowl and continue to chop in the bowl to save the juices. Chop the parsley and add.

To make the dressing, put 1 Tbsp hot water in a small bowl. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Add salt and pepper, oil and vinegar, stir well and tip over the salad. Toss and serve with the meatballs.



These recipes are very adaptable. Use what you have or what you like.

• You could add onion to the pasta, along with the garlic and courgettes, or leave the garlic out.

• Chilli is traditionally added to this pasta, but Maria prefers it without. You could add finely chopped onion to the mince if you like.

• The meatballs can be served with the pasta if you prefer.

• You can vary the leaves in the salad.

• These recipes feed about four people, depending on how hungry they are.

Thanks to Afife Harris and Centre City New World.


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