Recipe: Zucchini Pesto with Anchovies and Summer Savory
You know all those expensive jars of colorful Italian vegetable spreads you see at gourmet shops, things like caponata, artichoke dip, herb and nut pestos, roasted pepper spread? People pick them up for an instant antipasto when guests are expected, usually piling up a little on crostini and passing them around with a glass of vino. Sometimes they’re really good, sometimes awful, but they’re always expensive. I remember buying a jar of a Calabrian eggplant-and-tomato spread last year at the Chelsea Market, just because it was Calabrian and I was curious. It was sweet and delicious, and I’m glad I bought it, even though it cost $14.95. Now I know how it tastes and I can figure out how to make it myself (it had a touch of fennel seed and a little hot chili, so that will be easy enough to replicate). The fancy jars look regal, but don’t be intimidated. Those spreads are not hard to make at home. It’s all in the chop. You want a small dice so the vegetables get a melting texture. You also want to buy the best produce you can find, which is easy enough this time of year.
The best thing about making these yourself is that you can add anything you like. I happen to love zucchini with a hint of anchovy, so that was my starting point for this particular pesto (I call these pestos for lack of a better name; sometimes in Italy they’re labeled condimenti, or condiments, which might be more to the point). All these spreads are constructed basically the same way. You start with an underpinning, a soffrito. It can be just sautéed garlic, or you can include something from the onion family, plus celery, a little carrot, and fresh minced chili if you like. Get all that nice and soft, and then add your fine dice of vegetable. Here I used a mix of roasted sweet pepper and zucchini and then threw in a little diced tomato. Flourishes such as capers, olives, pine nuts, herbs, and spices are all up to you. I went with summer savory because I found it at my market and realized I hadn’t cooked with it yet this year. Summer savory is an annual with soft leaves. I added it at the last minute, the way you would parsley. Winter savory is stronger and prickly and really needs to be cooked into a dish. Make sure you find the summer variety for this. Marjoram will be a wonderful substitute if you can’t find it.
I used this zucchini pesto on bruschetta, but I can see it as a topping for a gently sautéed fish such as flounder or sea bass, or as a filling for ravioli.
Zucchini Pesto with Anchovies and Summer Savory
(Serves 6 as an antipasto offering)
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1 large summer garlic clove, minced
1 roasted sweet red pepper, cut into small dice
5 very small zucchini, cut into small dice
A few big scrapings of nutmeg
4 anchovy fillets, well chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
1 skinned and finely diced round summer tomato
A splash of sweet vermouth
Fresh summer savory, the leaves from about 3 large sprigs
In a large skillet, heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot, and let it soften. Add the garlic and the roasted pepper, and sauté a minute to let their flavors mingle. Add the zucchini and the anchovy, and season everything with a little salt, the nutmeg, and black pepper. Sauté until the zucchini is very tender, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato, and sauté a few minutes longer. Add a splash of sweet vermouth, and let it bubble away. Turn off the heat, and let the pesto cool off a bit (this will help all the flavors blend). Transfer the pesto to a bowl, and add the savory and a drizzle of fresh olive oil. Give it all a mix and taste for seasoning. Serve warm or at room temperature. This will last about five days refrigerated, but serve it at room temperature for best flavor.