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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Mark Bittman's Zucchini Pasta

There was an interesting article by Mark Bittman in the New York Times yesterday about one of my favorite topics: pasta. In it, Mr. Bittman discusses the long-standing, basic cardinal rules of serving pasta such as more pasta/less sauce. We all know this. It has been drilled into our heads for years ever since Mario Batali introduced us to the concept of pasta sauces as condimenti, or condiments to the pasta. Just like we wouldn't drown our fries in ketchup soup (Well. some might.), we shouldn't drown our pasta in sauce soup. This is the true Italian way, he told us....and we listened, because, after all, he is Mario.

Now, Mr. Bittman has proposed a new school of thought regarding pasta and sauce. He advocates "turning it around" and "overwhelming" the pasta with brothy sauces brimming with lots of fresh vegetables and herbs. This was certainly welcome news to me, as I have never subscribed to the "less is more" theory concerning pasta or sauces. The more, the merrier, I always say. I was taught to cook it that way, and I always have.

Bittman also referred to a term that I haven't heard in a while - minestre. Oh boy, does that conjure up some memories! Minestre is basically a thick and hearty Italian vegetable soup. The best way to describe it is as a cross between a soup and a stew - a stoup, as Rachael Ray has aptly described it. In our family, Minestre was my grandmother's name for a simmering pot filled with every vegetable that was on its last legs in the refrigerator. (Waste not, want not!) She made it every week. The only constants in that pot were some form of leafy greens, some kind of beans and a short pasta, usually ditalini. What you ended up with was always a crap shoot....uh, I mean surprise. Minestre was strictly a week night meal, never for Sundays. (On Sundays, you had to have the Sunday Sauce.) Even though I was never a great fan of her minestre, somehow, I now find the thought of it very comforting.

Whichever side of the pasta sauce debate you may fall on, the recipes highlighted in Mr. Bittman's article all look worthy of trying. As it happened, I had just purchased some beautiful yellow and green zucchini, so the logical choice for me was Zucchini Pasta. I followed the recipe pretty much as written, except that instead of using pasta water to moisten the sauce, I used a little chicken broth. Why add water, when you can add a little more flavor? I also cooked a whole pound of pasta, since I was making this for four people.

The dish was a hit. It was light and flavorful - the perfect ending to a 90 degree Florida day. The paper-thin slices of zucchini were soft and tender, with just the tiniest bit of crispness. The sauce permeated the pasta without overwhelming it. I'm definitely adding this one to my "Go To" list!

Mark Bittman's Zucchini Pasta
New York Times, 10/17/07

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
5-6 medium zucchini, rinsed, trimmed and cut into ribbons or coins
1 large onion, chopped
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 tomatoes, in wedges or roughly chopped, with their juices
1/2 lb. cut pasta, like ziti or penne
Freshly grated Parmesan or freshly chopped parsley for garnish

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Put olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add zucchini, onion and thyme, and cook, stirring occasionally. Add salt and pepper and adjust heat so onion and zucchini release their liquid without browning. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until very tender.

Add tomatoes and their liquid to zucchini and raise heat a bit, so mixture bubbles. Cook pasta until it is nearly, but not quite tender. If sauce threatens to dry out, add a little pasta cooking water.

Drain pasta and finish cooking it in sauce.

Serve, garnished with parsley of Parmesan.



Belinda said...

This looks wonderful! I love how thinly sliced you got your zucchini and squash (it looks so pretty!), and I am 100% with you on adding chicken broth...I swear, I add it to everything. And I always use broth instead of water when cooking a pot of rice too. Your Grandmother's soups sound like a great idea to me...waste not, want not is a policy I'd really like to be more serious about...I hate tossing out good stuff that I never got around to using.

Susan @ SGCC said...

Belinda, I add chicken broth to everything too, including rice. I used a mandoline to slice the zucchini. It works really well, except when you aren't careful and slice your knuckles too!

I never appreciated my grandmother's minestre when I was a kid, but I sure do miss it now that she's gone.

bee said...

i like bittman's approach. thanks for posting this.