This zucchini pesto pasta recipe comes to us from the authors of several fascinating books on food philosophy, John Thorne and Matt Lewis Thorne. You can subscribe to their bimonthly food newsletter called "Simple Cooking". Find them online at "www.OutlawCook.com".
They write: "In the past several months, there has been an exponential leap in the quality of zucchini at our local supermarket. Usually, in every season but summer, the typical specimen is flabby, thick, coarse-skinned, dull, and bruised. But these fellows—firm, slim, smooth, and as appealingly bright shade of green—have been impossible to pass by.
For me, at least, this represents a change of heart. One of the first essays I ever wrote for this food letter was prefaced by a quotation from the Maine writer John Gould: 'The first time I saw a zucchini, I killed it with a hoe.' This perfectly expressed my own feelings about that vegetable, which I then considered a mushy, weedy-flavored cousin of the firmer-textured and better-tasting summer squash.
At that point, "Simple Cooking" only had only about fifty subscribers, but one of them sent me a recipe, which, she said, would forever cure me of my disdain for zucchini. And when I finally got myself to try it, that’s just what happened. The recipe called for a procedure I had already used when preparing eggplant—cutting up the vegetable, tossing it in coarse salt, letting it sit until most of the moisture had come out, and then wringing it dry within a dish towel. When applied to zucchini, however, the outcome is noticeably more dramatic, giving it a denser, almost chewy texture and intensifying its flavor into, well, flavor. (I should note that virtually all the salt is squeezed out with the excess moisture.)
In the original recipe, the zucchini is sauteed in garlicky olive oil and served with shredded basil leaves and grated Parmesan as a summer vegetable dish. But it also works well as a featured ingredient in a few of our favorite pasta dishes. The first of these is prepared with a locally made pesto, which makes for a quick and easy meal. We sometimes combine the pesto with french-cut green beans, which is very good, but when the born-again zucchini is used instead, the result is phenomenal. The other dish is made with Italian sausage—preferably freshly made and with not so much fennel as to obscure the sweet and delicate taste of the meat."
Cut the zucchini in half (through the middle, not stem to stern). Slice each half into slivers about the size of a kitchen match. Toss these in a bowl with the tablespoon of salt and let this sit for thirty minutes, turning it over occasionally. Meanwhile, get a big pot of salted water heating.
When the pasta water is about to boil, place the olive oil, the minced garlic and the pinch of salt and powdered red chile into a skillet. Put this over medium heat, and cook until the garlic turns translucent.
Drain the liquid from the zucchini, spread an old but clean dish towel in the kitchen sink, and turn out the zucchini onto it. Wrap them up in the cloth and twist this as tightly as you can, extracting every possible bit of moisture.
Put the pasta into the boiling water.
Add the wrung-out zucchini to the contents in the skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently but gently, until the pasta is almost ready. Scoop out 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water and add this to the zucchini. Then stir in the pesto. Remove the skillet from the heat.
Drain the pasta and divide between two plates, doling the sauce out on top. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan and lots of freshly milled black pepper.
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