Still Life with Zucchini, Giacomo Ceruti, 1700-1768.
Recipe: Spaghetti with Zucchini, Anchovy, and Garlic Toasted Almonds
Finally it’s zucchini time at the New York City Greenmarkets. Big deal, you say? Well, I know what you mean. Zucchini is not exactly the most exciting vegetable. But since it’s the first of the real summer stuff to come into season, I’m always incredibly happy to see it. It is, for me, the great marker, the one dependable thing that tells me summer has officially begun. (It actually hasn’t officially begun on the calendar, but it certainly has culinarily.)
The best thing about buying zucchini and other produce at the Greenmarket, aside from the fact that it’s local and just picked, is that you get to try so many varieties. Every year the New York farmers seem to come up with something new and wacky-looking. This week I saw the usual long, dark green zucchini, and also the deep yellow variation (which I don’t think has much taste, although the things are so beautiful I buy them anyway). There were also little piles of the Italian Costata Romanesco variety, with their raised ribbing. When you cut them into rounds they resemble a snowflake design. I also noticed Magda zucchini, a Middle Eastern variety that look like small, light green torpedoes. So cute, so chubby. Those are my favorites. They have a thick, softer skin and a rich, dense inside that doesn’t fall apart as easily as do the more common dark green ones. I bought a big bag of them and took them home, itching to make something good and summery.
Zucchini, it goes without saying, needs some help. Everyone who’s ever cooked it knows this. And since offering help is what I’m all about, I’ll tell you that I almost always go for garlic, especially since fresh summer garlic becomes available at the same time zucchini makes the scene around here. Leafy herbs like basil, mint, or parsley, and a touch (not too much) of hot chili are nice too. Zucchini isn’t boring. It’s just shy and needs a little push to bring it out.
Another thing anyone who’s ever cooked zucchini knows is that it sometimes gives off a bit of water, which is why it can take on an insipid boiled taste. What you want to do is brown it so it gets a slight, crispy caramelization. To accomplish that, I always cook zucchini slices in a large pan, so they spread out, making steaming less likely. I also add a sprinkling of sugar to help the browning along. And I remember to add salt only at the end, so as not to coax out even more liquid from them.
Here I turn to my all-time favorite pasta, spaghetti, to make a simple but richly embellished zucchini-based sauce. I bring out the big guns, choosing garlic, anchovy, and hot chili—one of the grand Southern Italian flavor trilogies. It’s a freewheeling version of an Italian classic that I hope will open the door to summer for you.
Magda zucchini from the Union Square Greenmarket.
Spaghetti with Zucchini, Anchovy, and Garlic Toasted Almonds
Extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup slivered almonds, lightly chopped
3 cloves summer garlic, thinly sliced
1 pound spaghetti
6 or 7 Magda zucchini (or small regular green zucchini), cut into half moon shapes
4 scallions, cut into thin rounds, using much of the tender green part
1 medium-hot long green chili, seeded and chopped
A generous pinch of sugar
4 anchovy fillets, minced
A splash of dry vermouth
½ cup light, homemade or good quality store-bought chicken broth, or possibly a little more
The juice from ½ a lemon
A big handful of fresh mint and basil leaves, very lightly chopped
2 tablespoons grated pecorino Toscano cheese
In a small sauté pan, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the almonds, and heat until they just start to color. Add one of the sliced garlic cloves, season with a pinch of salt, and turn off the heat, stirring the almonds around so the garlic can flavor them without browning. Set aside.
Set up a large pot of pasta cooking water, and bring it to a boil. Add a generous amount of salt, and drop in the spaghetti.
In a large skillet, heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the zucchini, scallions, and green chili, all at the same time. Sprinkle on the sugar, and sauté until the zucchini starts to gets golden at the edges and everything is fragrant, about 4 minutes. Add the anchovy and a little salt, and sauté a minute longer. Add the vermouth, and let it boil away. Turn off the heat, and add the chicken broth and the lemon juice, mixing everything around so it will loosen up any caramelized stuff in the pan.
When the spaghetti is al dente, drain it, and pour it into a large serving bowl. Add the basil and mint, a generous drizzle of fresh olive oil, and the pecorino Toscano, giving everything a gentle toss. Add the zucchini sauce, and toss again, tasting for salt. Add a little extra chicken broth if it seems dry. Sprinkle the almonds over the top. Serve right away.