Our spring has been so warm and sunny for so many weeks, it feels like we’re living a perpetual July.
Although this is terrible news for farmers, who need a wet spring for their crop, Parisians have been enjoying this gift of a weather obliviously. Drinks and meals out on sidewalk terraces have become a daily pleasure, as have light dresses and strappy sandals.
Produce stalls bear witness to this meteorological oddity as well: we already have darkly sweet cherries and, to my delight, French-grown organic zucchini, when neither normally appear so soon.
This bowl of pasta is the first thing I cooked with the first zucchini I bought: I tossed spelt fusilli with zucchini half-moons sautéed with garlic, and added chopped almonds and fine strips of lemon zest.
A simple dish that sings with bright flavors and wholesome nutrition, both of which are much needed when your own kitchen and living room are a chaos of rubble and dust with wires coming out of the walls.
It’s a simple dish, one that can be put together in under twenty minutes while listening to the radio in a kitchen that’s not yours but that you’re growing fond of. A simple dish, yes, but one that sings with bright flavors and wholesome nutrition, both of which are much needed when your own kitchen and living room are a chaos of rubble and dust with wires coming out of the walls.
The combination of zucchini, almonds, and lemon zest is one I’d never had, or thought of before: it was a happy case of improvisation gone right, drawing on ingredients from my temporary pantry. But the trio is a solid one, the almonds bringing a sweet crunch, the lemon zest an aromatic punch. I like it so much I’ve made the dish twice more since that inaugural time.
As you’ll see in the recipe below, I use a small energy-saving tip to cook my pasta: I bring water to a boil, add the pasta, cover, and turn off the heat. I then cook the pasta in that near-boiling water for as long as I would if the water were actually boiling. I know it is hard to believe, and it may even seem a little sacrilegious, but the pasta comes out perfectly al dente*. This method is actually more forgiving — if you leave the pasta in the water a moment too long it still tastes fine — and it saves a few minutes’ worth of energy.
* Note that I’ve successfully tested this on two kinds of electric stoves that do remain hot for a little while after you’ve turned them off. You may have to cook your pasta the classical way if you’re using an induction or gas stove.
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- 200 grams (7 ounces) short pasta; I use spelt fusilli
- olive oil for cooking (i.e. a cheap one)
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 3 medium zucchini, about 600 grams (1 1/3 pounds), sliced into thin half-moons
- 1 scant teaspoon harissa, or other garlic chili sauce
- 40 grams (1/4 cup) skin-on almonds, roughly chopped
- the zest of 1 organic lemon, cut into fine strips (I use a zester such as this one)
- a squeeze of lemon juice from that same lemon
- a good finishing olive oil (i.e. a good one that would be wasted if cooked)
- fine sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
- Bring salted water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the pasta, give it a stir, cover, and turn off the heat. Cook until al dente, for however minutes is recommended on the package; the water is hot enough to cook the pasta as quickly as if the water was still boiling. (This doesn't work on all types of stoves ; see caveat above.)
- While the water is heating for the pasta, start cooking the zucchini. Heat a little olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook for a minute, until lightly golden. Add the zucchini and harissa, sprinkle with a little salt, and stir well to combine.
- Cook uncovered for 5 minutes, stirring from time to time, until the zucchini is softened and golden in places. Add the almonds, stir, and cook for 2 minutes longer. Remove from the heat but keep warm.
- A few minutes before the pasta is cooked, ladle out a little of the hot water and pour into 2 pasta bowls; this will preheat them and ensure the pasta doesn't get cold too fast as you eat. (Don't forget to pour out the water before serving the pasta.)
- When the pasta is cooked, drain, add to the skillet, and place over low heat. Add the lemon zest, a good squeeze of lemon juice, and a glug of finishing oil. Toss to combine and divide between the two bowls. Grind some pepper on top and serve.