Zucchini and other summer squashes have a tough lot and seem to be either loved or hated.
Everyone looks forward to them appearing in the garden, and then suddenly the tables turn and we feel overwhelmed by them. While I have finally learned to be restrained in my planting -- they seem so innocent when they are simply seeds planted in a mound -- I have also had summers without much summer squash and missed them terribly.
Every summer I seem to find one new squash recipe that I make all the time. I wouldn’t call it a rut at all, more something that I just can’t get enough of. In the past it has been sauteed summer squash with onion, dill and a dollop of sour cream, the reintroduction of a childhood favorite. Chocolate zucchini cake, zucchini bread and a savory zucchini, Parmesan and egg bake have all topped the list in recent years.
This year my inspiration comes from a simple item found on the menu of a good friend’s wedding reception. Unfortunately, it took years to try and replicate due to my not owning a simple piece of kitchen equipment -- a mandolin slicer.
The dish I was trying to replicate seemed to be a quick saute of zucchini that had been julienned length-wise mixed with perhaps a bit of onion or garlic. The julienning was what got me hung up. I spent a good deal of time trying to hand-julienne, but even with my fairly decent knife skills, my lack of patience beat me every time. I soon
Once again, my mom came to the rescue. After the wedding, I had raved to her about this simple summery dish, and she decided to try making it. The difference was, she had access to a mandoline and actually managed to come up with a pretty good version. Once tasting it, she proclaimed it her new favorite way to eat zucchini. Fortunately, she kept me and my lack of mandolin in mind. Recently while out shopping, she came across an adjustable mandolin on sale. I couldn’t wait to try it.
While experimenting that evening, I found that using the 1/8 inch blade at 1/8 inch depth gave me perfect, long spaghetti-like strands. Perhaps they were a bit thinner than the original dish, but these would cook quickly and reminded me so much of pasta that I decided to try and mix the two -- after all, it was dinner time and I really had no plan. Luckily, my intuition was right and I came up with the following delicious dish that is infinitely variable and can be adjusted to suit most anyone’s tastes. My apologies for sharing a recipe that requires me to use such a specialized piece of equipment as a mandolin, but it really is worth it. Certainly try your hand at julienning if you don’t have one -- perhaps you’ll have more patience than me.
and Pasta Saute
1 medium zucchini, julienned length-wise
8 oz. dry vermicelli or spaghetti
1-2 cloves garlic, sliced
4-5 fresh basil leaves
Cook pasta according to package directions. While pasta is cooking, in a large skillet quickly saute garlic in a generous amount of olive oil (2 tablespoons or so) over medium-high heat until fragrant, but not brown. Add zucchini and toss well, reducing heat to medium. Continue to cook, tossing occasionally -- tongs work best -- until zucchini is slightly translucent. Add finely sliced basil. When pasta is al dente, drain and combine with zucchini. Drizzle with a bit more olive oil and serve with Parmesan cheese.
The zucchini blends very nicely with the pasta, and the dish feels light, yet substantial enough for dinner. Try adding a handful of chard greens and some halved cherry tomatoes when you add the zucchini. And for those who aren’t convinced, this can be served like "usual" pasta with a tomato-based red sauce, and it will be loved -- very handy for kids and grown-ups who avoid vegetables!
For now my family is still pleased with this dish and as it is so flexible in its variations, no one seems to mind that I make it at least once a week. So for now, I will enjoy eating lots of it, for it won’t be long before someone remembers the other ways to enjoy zucchini or even comes up with a new recipe to try. And I will look for more recipes that require the fine slicing edge of my new mandolin. Enjoy!
Julie Potter is a wife, mother of two, avid gardener and passionate cook who believes good food doesn’t have to be complicated. Share your thoughts with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.