Summer is officially here with the arrival of zucchini and other summer squash. Early European explorers brought squash, both winter and summer (calabaza and calabacita) from the Andes and Mesoamerica to their home countries where they were readily adopted into many regional cuisines. Hence we know them as zucca and zucchini in Italy, courge and courgette in France. Britain and most English-speaking countries borrowed courgette from the French for summer squash but call winter squash marrow. Americans must have an affinity for the Italian ways with summer squash, hence our reference to them as zucchini.
I wanted to try some new ways with summer squash (see a good guide and introductory recipes here), so I decided to make one raw dish and one well cooked. I also had a new toy to play with, a spiralizer device which quickly “turns” vegetables crosswise into long noodle shapes. I just used the flat blade, and you can easily cut a similar shape making long lengthwise strips with a peeler. If you have confident knife skills and a sharp blade, you can also make thin lengthwise slices; it just takes more time and you need to watch your fingers.
I spiralized one large zucchini but first I removed the seed core from the sections I cut to fit into the device. As summer squash grows and matures, the core becomes spongy and seedy. I don’t like this texture, so I cut around it or remove it. It’s not a problem in small squash though.
I sliced through the spirals a few times to make them easier to manage (and eat!) The spirals went into a large bowl along with a stalk of thinly sliced celery, and were sprinkled with salt, freshly ground black pepper, mild red pepper, lime juice and zest. I tossed everything and set the bowl aside to let the zucchini soften and absorb the seasonings. Every so often I’d re-toss to make sure all the zucchini got to soak in the seasoned juices that were released.
Meanwhile I started the long cooked dish, a pasta with a zucchini “sauce”. Since the squash needed to break down when cooked, I cut three small zucchini crosswise into thin coins. These went into a pot with a generous glug of olive oil, some smashed garlic cloves, salt and pepper. I covered the pot and let it simmer over low to medium heat to stew the zucchini in their own juices. I also started a large pot of salted water to cook a half pound of pasta. I think I would have preferred shorter shapes like penne, fusilli or rigatoni, but spaghetti was what was on hand, so that’s what went into the water when it came to a boil. Every so often I peaked at the squash to give it a stir and make sure it was simmering and not burning. As the liquid reduced, the squash started to break down which I encouraged by smashing with a wooden spoon. I cooked until almost all the moisture was gone and the squash started to caramelize. You can turn the heat off if the pasta hasn’t finished cooking to al dente at this point.
I tore several leaves of basil for both dishes, and some mint for the raw salad. The salad was finished with a generous amount of good extra virgin olive oil, basil and mint. I gently tossed, tasted for seasoning and adjusted salt, pepper, acid and oil.
Spaghetti was strained from its pot into the zucchini sauce which was back on the heat; I added pasta water a ladle at a time and gently stirred to help the zucchini sauce coat the noodles. Crumble goat cheese, or grate a hard cheese over the pasta along with the basil, gently toss and serve with more cheese and basil on top.
Buon appetito! Have fun in the kitchen this week and play with your food! But don’t tell mom😏