November 14, 2011
spaghettis de courgette
My mother never met a zucchini she couldn’t turn into mush. My brother and I still talk about her tomato‑zucchini casserole, and not fondly, even though neither of us have lived at home for more than 45 years. There were certain vegetables that she just couldn’t cook, at least not more than necessary. We had a garden with zucchini, and so did our neighbors, so all summer long we’d be facing down that mushy, overcooked, under seasoned tomato‑zucchini abomination.
In the years that followed my leaving the nest, I occasionally met some cooked zucchini on a plate that I would try to eat, but usually I just pushed it aside. (I was good at hiding it under the parsley.) But then, to my surprise, in 2006 I decided to write an article about zucchini in French cooking. By then I had already prepared and written about soups, purees, and side dishes containing or featuring zucchini. But to prepare seventeen enjoyable zucchini recipes in a short period of time was truly a game changer for me. French cooking had made me a zucchini fan. Rah! Rah! Rah!
When I buy zucchini, I prefer medium to small specimens that are still rock‑hard with no blemishes or cuts on the skin. If they are at all flexible when I try to bend them, I reject them as being too old. It’s also easy to find miniature versions of the various squashes in both regular markets and farmers markets in my area. These small cuties may be immature full‑sized varieties or mature miniature varieties. In either case, they are often just the right size to use a amuse‑bouche.
For this example, I purchased miniature, yellow pattypan squashes, one for each serving, and a single, small zucchini. The pattypan squashes were washed and then steamed for 10 minutes. Watch them closely so they do not become too soft. (Avoid my mother’s ghost.) When done, pop them in the refrigerator to chill them sufficiently to handle and to hold the salad.
A few minutes before serving, I cut the zucchini into long 1‑mm (1⁄25‑in) square shreds using a Japanese mandolin called a “Benriner,” in this case a model BN1. These are moistened with a little walnut oil and Meyer‑lemon juice. You can use any vinaigrette you choose, but just a little. A little fine salt is mixed in to bring out all the flavors.
To hold the “spaghetti,” hollow out the cooked and now chilled pattypan squashes with a small baller or spoon. Use a two‑tine fork to twist the “spaghetti” into little bundles or nests and place each on a hollowed‑out squash base. Finish the presentation with a little garnish. In my serving, as pictured above, I used the flowers from some Chinese greens I had in the refrigerator. Serve as soon as you can because the “spaghetti” will get watery if it sits too long.