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by Richard C. Ross

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Zucchini plant in the gardenThis is a magnificent time of year for all things vegetable; the gardens are beginning to overflow with all kinds of healthful edibles and in most cases, the harvest has already begun.  One of my all-time favorites at this time of year is the the one that I always have to think about when I go to spell it: zucchini.  Why the double "c"?  I'm not certain, but the Online Etymology Dictionary tells me that the plant comes  "from Italian, plural of zucchino, diminutive of zucca "gourd, squash."  So it is a squash.

Adding to that information is what I found -- interestingly -- on Wikipedia: "In a culinary context, the zucchini is treated as a vegetable, which means it is usually cooked and presented as a savory dish or accompaniment.  Botanically, however, the zucchini is an immature fruit, being the swollen ovary of the zucchini flower."  (The flowers, by the way, make a great garnish and are also great when saut�ed.)  Zucchini is also known to be quite low in calories and contains useful amounts of folate, potassium and vitamin A, as well as manganese.

Even though I will bow to the botanists among us, I'll still consider zucchini as a veggie because, as a once-upon-a-time chef -- and, from the above In a culinary context... -- I love to cook it; although it is is quite delicate and mild, it has soooo many possibilities for flavor, texture and use!  I'll eat it raw with dip as an appetizer, grill it, saut� it, use it in souffl�s, omelets, frittatas, ratatouille and salads; I'll prepare it as both a side dish and as a main course.  My wife's version of zucchini bread is awesome!

Giant zucchini -- more than 18 inches long!For some reason, this summer produced a bumper crop for me; when I peeked into my garden the other day, the giant plants offered me a half-dozen zucs that collectively weighed in at over 20 pounds!   (although the larger they get, the more fibrous and seedy they tend to become, the larger ones are quite good for zucchini bread.)  I did find some smaller ones and decided that I would try something a bit different; I wanted to use them as a main course in a fairly simple and easy dish for dinner, along with some garden-ripe, heirloom tomatoes and home-grown herbs.  I offer the following instructions for Angel Hair Pasta with Zucchini and Tomatoes  and hope you will try this dish, as it is quick and easy to prepare and turned out incredibly well when I made it just the other night.  By the way, this will easily serve dinner for two; increase the proportions accordingly for a family of four.

Ingredients

  • Basic ingredients for Angel Hair Pasta with Zucchini & Tomatoes1 small - medium zucchini, julienned

  • 1 medium tomato, julienned or chopped

  • 1/2 cup coarsely-chopped sweet onion

  • 1 medium-sized clove garlic, minced

  • 6-8 fresh basil leaves, washed & coarsely chopped

  • 1/4 cup fresh parmesan cheese

  • 2-3  Tablespoons Extra-Virgin olive oil

  • Optional: 2-3 fresh button mushrooms

  • Optional: 1/2 cup or so of "Seafood Blend" (available frozen from Trader Joe's)

 

Preparation

  • Adding the fresh basil!Prepare angel hair pasta; set aside and keep warm

  • Cut zucchini into two-inch sections and then slice vertically into "sheets" that are about 1/4 inch thick.  Slice/julienne these sheets into matchstick-sized pieces (you'll need approximately 1/2 C per person)

  • Similarly prepare a ripe tomato.  Note that matchstick-sized pieces are likely difficult to achieve, so don't worry about the size.

  • Heat a large, heavy skillet to medium high temperature

  • Add the olive oil and swirl to coat the pan

  • Add the onions and garlic; saut� briefly, just until translucent

  • Add zucchini; saut� for about a minute or so

  • Add tomatoes, mushrooms and  basil; continue to saut� while tossing to mix

  • Note: If you choose to add the Seafood Blend, this is the point at which you would add it.  The only caveat is that an additional 2-3 minutes of cooking time would be required.

  • Fold in the pasta, add the parmesan and mix thoroughly (Feel free to add some of the pasta water or even a bit of dry white wine if you want a "juicer" pasta)

  • Serve on warm plates and sprinkle some additional basil over the top

Mixing in the pasta...Voila!  Except for the time taken to boil water and cook the pasta, the time to make this dish -- from pan to table -- can be less than 10 minutes.  Like I said, it's easy and quick to make and the fresh garden vegetables make it a wonderful summer dinner.  Add a glass of crisp, white wine (like chardonnay) for the perfect complement to a great meal.

There are lots of options to consider to change the flavors: add ground Chile pepper or cayenne for a bit of spice; saut� a strip or two of bacon, crumble and add for flavor; use a different spice, such as marjoram, use bay scallops instead of the Seafood Blend; add strips of fresh red pepper for both color and flavor...  the possibilities are almost endless.

Plated dinner with  garlic toastTime to grind up some of the larger zucs for bread; this weekend will be the perfect time to make a zucchini frittata, and perhaps tonight will call for some grilled zucchini slices to accompany a big fat burger...  So many choices -- so many zucchini to use.  Buona Tavola!

 

 

 

 

 

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