Your first bite with all it's long and ribbony strands of zucchini just barely cooked and still deliciously fresh is just that. Delicious. Running through whole wheat al dente pasta that tastes faintly of basil and garlic and all tied together with salty parmesan cheese and a light dressing of oil. It's light but substantial and a perfect summertime dinner for anybody.
See my note down below to make this dish vegan.
I have the obvious suggestions like make sure you only make this dish when zucchini are in season and to use freshly grated parmesan cheese. When you have a meal like this that uses only a few choice ingredients, it's important that they be of high quality. It sometimes can mean the difference between a good meal and a great one.
I'm not sure who to credit this dish to. I suppose Michael Chiarello. I saw him make it a long time ago on food network and had seen it in one of his cookbooks at my friends house and had wanted to make it but never got around to it. Isn't that always the way? Then, while perusing that wonderful Smitten Kitchen blog I saw she had made it and brought it to my attention once again. So here it is, probably changed a bit from the original as Smitten tweaked it and then I tweaked it a little bit more. Well, thats not really true since all I did was change the way you cut the zucchini. The original recipe calls for a mandoline so you can cut the zucchini with the fine french fry cutter to make long, thin matchstick strands that resemble spaghetti. This makes total sense and would be easy to eat it that way with the pasta and all but I don't own a mandoline. So, I shaved zucchini into long ribbons by using a standard vegetable peeler and it worked out very well. The point is to have the zucchini very thin so that there is no need to cook it. You just add it into the hot pasta and it slightly wilts and becomes absolutely perfect.
Zucchini Ribbon Pasta with Basil Oil
adapted from Michael Chiarello
3/4 pound whole-wheat dried spaghetti
3/4 pound zucchini
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic (about 6 cloves)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons coarsley chopped basil leaves
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
basil oil (or your favorite store bought flavored oil)
makes 1 1/3 cup
4 cups packed basil leaves
2 cups good olive oil
For the oil: In a blender, puree the herbs and oil together until completely smooth. Put the mixture in a saucepan and bring it to a simmer over moderate heat. Simmer for 45 seconds, then pour through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl. Don't press on the mixture, but you can tap the strainer against your and to get the oil through faster.
Note: fresh herb oils are better to toss into pasta at the end rather than cook with, so the oil keeps it's fresh, uncooked taste.
For the pasta:
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add salt (at least 2-3 tablespoons. You want it salty to flavor the pasta) Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes.
While the water comes to a boil and the pasta cooks, run a vegetable peeler over the zucchini to create long, thin ribbons. Or, cut with a mandoline or by hand into the longest and finest juilenne you can manage. Assuming you zucchini is very finely cut it does not need to be cooked. Otherwise place it into the pot of water with the pasta for the last minute of cooking and drain with the pasta. The zucchini should still be slightly crunchy.
heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat until hot. Add the garlic and saute briefly until light brown. Add the red pepper flakes. Quickly mix in the basil and remove from the heat. When the pasta is al dente, drain through a colander, reserving about 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.
Pour the pasta into a warm serving bowl; add the zucchini, basil oil (recipe above) the garlic mixture, and 1/2 cup of the cheese. Toss well, adding cooking water as needed to make a smooth sauce. taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed. Grate about 2 tablespoons parmesan cheese over top and serve at once
My kids ate this up like it was candy, so it's a winner all around. I have to admit that I didn't use the basil oil for this recipe as written. I have made this oil before and it is incredible but my Grandma just brought me back fresh tuscan herb olive oil from the wine country a week ago and I used that. It, was also incredible. If you have flavored oil on hand by all means use it too.
You could make this vegan by omitting the parmesan cheese. It has so much flavor that it would be equally delicious.