Photo by Katherine Wolkoff
Thin ribbons of zucchini tossed in oil, pine nuts and cheese let you actually enjoy a vegetable that can be the curse of the summer garden. The photo and recipe are from “The Real Food Cookbook” by Nina Planck.
If you are a gardener, even an inept one (we know who we are), every summer you find yourself facing the same conundrum: what to do with the zucchini.
Marge Piercy, a writer from Massachusetts, answered with a poem, “Attack of the Squash People”:
Get rid of old friends: They too
have gardens and full trunks.
Look for newcomers: Befriend them
in the post office, unload
on them and run. Stop tourists
in the street. Take truckloads
to Boston. Give to your Red Cross.
Beg on the highway: Please
take my zucchini, I have a crippled
mother at home with heartburn.
You notice that she did not suggest enjoying the zucchini for dinner — because it so rarely happens that a gardener can actually do so. This, unfortunately, is the typical scenario:
Gardener: “Oh, the zucchini are very small today. I think by tomorrow they will reach 6 inches, the size recommended by cookbooks for harvest.”
Zucchini (maliciously): “Heh-heh-heh.”
(Fade out. Fade in on next day.)
Gardener (shrieking): “Help! The Goodyear Blimp has landed in my garden!”
Zucchini (adopting fake French accent): “C’est moi, cheri. And now, I taste like zee Styrofoam.”
Gardener (fainting): “Noooooo!”
Should you hope to eat zucchini, the first step is to procure small ones. You can do this by sneaking up on them in the garden, or, if you are sane and have not planted any, buying them at the local farmers market. All of this business of trying to use up the large ones — grating them into zucchini bread, etc. — is foolish. Listen to the zucchini: It will taste like Styrofoam.
The next step is to find some recipes that make it all worthwhile. Here are two. One is from “The Real Food Cookbook” by Nina Planck; the other is from “Chocolate & Zucchini” by Clotilde Dusoulier.
Yield: 4 servings
1 clove garlic
¼ cup olive oil
1 pound young zucchini (a mixture with yellow summer squash works well)
½ cup pine nuts
¼ pound Pecorino-Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano
Freshly ground black pepper
Smash and peel the garlic and let rest in the oil for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, peel the zucchini, leaving small strips of green (or yellow) on the skin for some color, but discarding most of the skin. Cut each zucchini in half crosswise. Continue to peel the zucchini, creating thin ribbons of flesh, until you get down to the seeds. If the seeds are small, the shavings at the core are tender and tasty. If not, do not peel the part with the seeds.
In a dry skillet, toast the pine nuts until just golden. Remove from pan and set aside.
Grate the cheese in thin ribbons like the zucchini.
To serve: Remove the garlic from the oil and, in a serving bowl, toss the zucchini with just enough oil to coat lightly. Top with pine nuts, cheese and a grind of black pepper. Serve immediately.
(Recipe from “The Real Food Cookbook” by Nina Planck; Bloomsbury, 2014)
Absorption Pasta With Zucchini and Nibs
Yield: 4 servings
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock or water, plus more if needed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
14 ounces dried short pasta such as penne or bowtie
4 small zucchini, trimmed and cut into matchsticks
Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons cacao nibs (see note) toasted in a dry skillet, or ¼ cup toasted pine nuts
Aged Parmesan, coarsely grated
Heat the stock (or water) almost to a boil. Keep hot as you continue with the recipe.
Heat the oil in a saute pan. Add the garlic and onion and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes, stirring regularly to avoid coloring. Add the pasta and stir constantly for 2 minutes. Add stock or water to just about cover the pasta and lower the heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more stock when what you poured in has been absorbed. Five minutes into the cooking, add the zucchini and season with salt and pepper.
Taste the pasta for doneness: It should be a bit chewy. If it isn’t quite done and all the liquids have been absorbed, add a little more stock or water, cover, and cook for a few more minutes before tasting again. Adjust the seasoning. Transfer into a bowl, sprinkle with nibs (or pine nuts) and Parmesan, and serve.
NOTE: Cacao nibs are bits of roasted cacao beans. They are small, crunchy, intensely chocolate but not sweet. Buy them at specialty food shops (do not buy chocolate-coated nibs for this recipe) or order them online.
(Recipe from “Chocolate & Zucchini” by Clotilde Dusoulier; Broadway Books, 2007)
Marialisa Calta is a syndicated food writer who lives in Calais.
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