My dad clumsily peeled the skins off a few garlic cloves and then looked up at me with an expression I didn’t recognize. He looked like a little boy.
I smiled at the slight power shift from the man whose passion in the kitchen inspired my career– and intimidated the hell out of me.
“Naw, Pop, you’re just using cloves closest to the center of the bulb. The skins are thinner, especially if they’ve been around a week or two. I had the same problem the other day in my kitchen.”
He steadied his hands, deftly chopped the garlic and tossed it into the pan of onions and chili flakes sauteing on the stove. He pulled the can opener from a drawer and opened some DOP San Marzano tomatoes. He was preparing a simple arrabiatta sauce.
A sizeable t-bone steak rested in butcher paper on the marble counter, seasoned and coming to temperature before getting tossed on the grill outside.
Amelia sat in her “I’m a good girl” pose next to the counter, tilting her head to convey “I’m very cute… and I’m starving to death”.
The kitchen smelled amazing – like fresh summer herbs and vegetables and mesquite chips and my family.
A couple of weeks ago, I decided that it was too hard emotionally and physically to take care of Shannon’s dog, Sam, and Shannon came to take him. The transition has been hard. Nothing signified the end of our 4 1/2 year relationship more than Sam’s departure. It was the period at the end of our sentence.
My folks offered me and Amelia a few days of distraction in sunny Connecticut and we leapt at the chance. It’s nice to be taken care of after a long cheffing season and a big relationship change.
What my parents didn’t know was that I’d brought with me a new cooking tool; something that I purchased on a client’s request:
Now, I generally steer clear of plastic cooking tools that look like the crap sold on tv at 3:00 am. It dices! It slices! Hey, guess what? I do too! But a client of mine had ripped a page from her Williams Sonoma catalog with a picture of a vegetable extruder and I was intrigued. I did some investigating and found one a little cheaper on Amazon made by Bitoni with the magic words… lifetime replacement warranty. Now we’re talkin’.
It’s important to say that I was, at that time, thinking only of my clients. I had no intention of actually enjoying this product myself. I like my pasta, dammit. You’re not going to convince me this is an acceptable substitute.
It’s also important to say that I don’t work for Bitoni. I’m not a Bitoni stockholder. I’m not trying to get you to buy one.
When it arrived, I had three challenges for the machine:
1- I didn’t think the extrusion would be substantial enough to stand up to a sauce. I didn’t like the idea of a vegetable mellowing the “pasta” experience. But I was wrong. The “noodles” created by the machine are thick and long enough to create a toothsome meal. I also thought that I would only want to pair the veggie noodles with veggie sauces and that turned out to be untrue. I made an all’ Amatriciana (guanciale, onions, tomatoes, red pepper flakes) and it was outstanding. Ragus have also been deliciously successful. I’ve been having a fantastic time playing with the culinary possibilities.
2- Regular pasta acts like a sponge when it gets into a sauce. Would the un-absorbing zucchini clash with the sauce? Would it slide off? Also, I always add some of the pasta water to the sauce when I toss the noodles in. That starchy water adds body and flavor. How much taste would I lose without the starchy pasta/ starchy water? The answer was simple. I needed to reduce my sauces a little more than normal by simmering an extra 10 minutes or so. If the sauce was thick, the zucchini noodles could hold their own. There are definitely some sauces that I wouldn’t do with zucchini noodles, e.g. cacio e pepe, which depends on the magic of starchy pasta water for success, but tomato sauces with or without meat, vegetable sauces and pestos are great.
3- I just didn’t think that it would make me feel full. There was no way in my mind that a half a zucchini with sauce would be enough. When I eat pasta, I EAT PASTA. I can put two full bowls of pasta away without a second thought. How in the world is one measly bowl of zucchini gonna fill those shoes? But here’s the thing: the blood sugar spike that comes with a bowl of pasta doesn’t happen when there’s no pasta. The veggies play nicely without triggering the need for more, so actually you eat less and feel satisfied sooner. I also don’t need to take a nap as soon as I’m done eating.
I know. It really sounds like I’m a Spiralizer rep. I’m not, I promise. I simply appreciate having my perspective changed. I also like the fact that I can come home from a busy day in the kitchen and put my dinner together in about 5 minutes. I often have fresh sauces in my fridge, so I spin a zucchini through the machine, nuke the sauce for a minute or two and voila! Dinner is served.
My dad stirred the tomatoes into the garlic and onions simmering on the stove. I opened the fridge and found a wedge of very nice pecorino romano for the pesto.
“You know, Marcella Hazan says that you should always have both pecorino and parmesan for pesto. She says it doesn’t matter what ratio you use, but there should ALWAYS be both”. He began to do his impression of Marcella, which sounded strangely similar to his Julia Child, with an Italian accent, “The sharpness of the pecorino is softened by the nuttiness of the parmesano.”
And you know something? He was spot on. I had only used the pecorino and it was way too sharp. I added the parm and then tossed it with the zucchini I had just spiralized and it was perfect.
We feasted on zucchini arrabiatta, zucchini pesto, grilled steak, grilled scapes and a fresh salad. It was a big meal but it didn’t hurt. Even my dad, a man who has designed his whole life around his love of pasta, thought it was surprisingly satisfying.
And that’s saying a lot.
Basil Pesto with Zucchini Noodles
Makes about 1 1/2 cups of pesto
- 2 garlic cloves, blanched in boiling water for 1-2 minutes
- 2 cups tightly packed basil leaves
- 3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup parmesano reggiano cheese
- ¼ cup pecorino romano
- 1 heaping tablespoon unsalted butter, room temp
- Put the garlic and the pine nuts into the bowl of a food processor and pulse for a few seconds to chop.
- Add the basil, olive oil and a pinch of salt and process until it’s uniformly chopped and mixed thoroughly.
- Transfer to a bowl and stir in the cheeses and then the butter, making sure all ingredients are combined. Cheesy, buttery, basily goodness is your goal here. Season accordingly.
Toss it with pasta or zucchini noodles and enjoy!