A standard, serviceable pasta recipe from Pasta e Verdura, tasty but nothing exotic. Nothing not to like here: I love zucchini—perhaps the first of the Vegetables I Taught Myself to Like Despite Not Having Much Exposure to Them in the Past—and certainly don’t turn my nose up at a tomato-cream sauce. I’ve already expressed how much I loathe peeling tomatoes, but since homemade fresh tomato sauce is so good, I really can’t complain too vociferously. I’m still using farmers’ market tomatoes; they’re not quite as good as they were in summer, but still light-years better than the waxy, hard, pink-inside specimens I was forced to buy at Trader Joe’s a couple of weeks ago during a Tomato Emergency (two of my farmers’ market tomatoes went bad and I needed quick replacements).
The peeling of the tomatoes is much easier when you don’t blanch them too long, and I managed to do it right last night, which is surprising since I’d gone out for drinks after work to celebrate my managing editor’s birthday and didn’t get home until 8:00, yet decided to cook dinner because I am crazy, so I was rushing and a little…er, fuzzy-headed, and yet somehow the food turned out just fine, and in under an hour. Maybe gin and tonics are the secret to good cooking? In retrospect, eating the leftovers for lunch today, I decided I would have cooked the zucchini slightly longer (in my opinion, the recipe told me to do things in the wrong order, so the pasta was done too early and I had to hurry the sauce along—although just now, I realized that I cut the zucchini lengthwise into fourths and then cut it into cubes, rather than cutting it in half and then into thin slices, which would have made it cook much faster). Anyway, I've revised the order of operations here. But regardless, thumbs up. A was enthusiastic, although he also said, “I was a little suspicious of it until I saw you adding the cream.” A vegetable connoisseur he is not.
4 medium ripe tomatoes (about 1½ pounds)
4 medium zucchini (about 1½ pounds)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
4 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup heavy cream
15 large fresh basil leaves, shredded
1 pound penne pasta
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more to taste
1. Bring a large pot of salted water (4 quarts) to a boil.
2. Heat the oil and butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. While that's warming, trim the ends off the zucchini, cut them (the zucchini, not the ends) in half lengthwise, and slice them into thin half-moons. Add to the skillet and sauté, stirring frequently, until golden, about 10 minutes.
3. Once the water is a-boiling, cut Xs into the skin on the bottom of the tomatoes and drop them into the boiling water for just 20-60 seconds before removing them with a slotted spoon, running them briefly under cold water, and placing them on a cutting board. Then add the pasta to the boiling water. Peel the tomato skins off, core and seed the tomatoes, and cut them into ½-inch cubes.
4. When the zucchini is tender and just starting to brown, add the garlic to the skillet and cook for 1 minute. Then add the tomatoes, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring several times, until the tomatoes are heated through, about 2 minutes.
5. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Stir in the cream and cook, stirring often, until the sauce comes to a boil and thickens slightly, about 2 minutes. Stir in the basil.
6. When the pasta is al dente, drain it, then toss it with the sauce and the ¼ cup Parmesan. Portion out the pasta into bowls, sprinkle on a little extra Parmesan and pepper, and you're done.
Time: 45 minutes