May 24, 2011
Our spring has been so warm and sunny for so many weeks, it feels like we're living a perpetual July.
Although this is terrible news for farmers, who need a wet spring for their crop, Parisians have been enjoying this gift of a weather obliviously. Drinks and meals out on sidewalk terraces have become a daily pleasure, as have light dresses and strappy sandals.
Produce stalls bear witness to this meteorological oddity as well: we already have darkly sweet cherries and, to my delight, French-grown organic zucchini, when neither normally appear so soon.
This bowl of pasta is the first thing I cooked with the first zucchini I bought: I tossed spelt fusilli with zucchini half-moons sautéed with garlic, and added chopped almonds and fine strips of lemon zest.
It's a simple dish, one that can be put together in under twenty minutes while listening to the radio in a kitchen that's not yours but that you're growing fond of. A simple dish, yes, but one that sings with bright flavors and wholesome nutrition, both of which are much needed when your own kitchen and living room are a chaos of rubble and dust with wires coming out of the walls.
The combination of zucchini, almonds, and lemon zest is one I'd never had, or thought of before: it was a happy case of improvisation gone right, drawing on ingredients from my temporary pantry. But the trio is a solid one, the almonds bringing a sweet crunch, the lemon zest an aromatic punch. I like it so much I've made the dish twice more since that inaugural time.
As you'll see in the recipe below, I use a small energy-saving tip to cook my pasta: I bring water to a boil, add the pasta, cover, and turn off the heat. I then cook the pasta in that near-boiling water for as long as I would if the water were actually boiling. I know it is hard to believe, and it may even seem a little sacrilegious, but the pasta comes out perfectly al dente*. This method is actually more forgiving -- if you leave the pasta in the water a moment too long it still tastes fine -- and it saves a few minutes' worth of energy.
* Note that I've successfully tested this on two kinds of electric stoves that do remain hot for a little while after you've turned them off. You may have to cook your pasta the classical way if you're using an induction or gas stove.
Zucchini Pasta with Almonds and Lemon Zest
- 200 grams (7 ounces) short pasta; I use spelt fusilli
- olive oil for cooking (i.e. a cheap one)
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 3 medium zucchini, about 600 grams (1 1/3 pounds), sliced into thin half-moons
- 1 scant teaspoon harissa, or other garlic chili sauce
- 40 grams (1/4 cup) skin-on almonds, roughly chopped
- the zest of 1 organic lemon, cut into fine strips (I use a zester such as this one)
- a squeeze of lemon juice from that same lemon
- a good finishing olive oil (i.e. a good one that would be wasted if cooked)
- fine sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
Bring salted water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the pasta, give it a stir, cover, and turn off the heat. Cook until al dente, for however minutes is recommended on the package; the water is hot enough to cook the pasta as quickly as if the water was still boiling. (This doesn't work on all types of stoves ; see caveat above.)
While the water is heating for the pasta, start cooking the zucchini. Heat a little olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook for a minute, until lightly golden. Add the zucchini and harissa, sprinkle with a little salt, and stir well to combine.
Cook uncovered for 5 minutes, stirring from time to time, until the zucchini is softened and golden in places. Add the almonds, stir, and cook for 2 minutes longer. Remove from the heat but keep warm.
A few minutes before the pasta is cooked, ladle out a little of the hot water and pour into 2 pasta bowls; this will preheat them and ensure the pasta doesn't get cold too fast as you eat. (Don't forget to pour out the water before serving the pasta.)
When the pasta is cooked, drain, add to the skillet, and place over low heat. Add the lemon zest, a good squeeze of lemon juice, and a glug of finishing oil. Toss to combine and divide between the two bowls. Grind some pepper on top and serve.
Pasta with Tetragon (New Zealand Spinach)
Fregola Sarda with Zucchini and Parmesan