Recipe: Summer Squash and Ricotta Pasta
Twice a month, Berkshire native Alana Chernila, mother of two, and author of the cookbook, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making (Clarkson Potter), contributes a thoughtful and heartfelt essay/recipe created exclusively for Rural Intelligence readers. Her first cookbook has achieved top-seller status, and Chernila has a new one in the works, tentatively titled “Meals from the Homemade Pantry,” due out in 2015. This week, she shows us a delicious way to use the bounty of squash turning up in your garden, it seems, daily.
When I was little, my grandparents ran a vegetarian bed and breakfast on Rt. 23 heading out towards Monterey, Massachusetts. My grandfather had a huge garden behind the kitchen that existed solely to fill frittatas for summer breakfasts served to tourists and Tanglewood musicians. Shredded zucchini. Asparagus trimmed on the diagonal. Dill and basil. He’d layer it all four or five inches deep before pouring the egg overtop and baking it in a big rectangular pan. Those frittatas were layered like a green diagram of the crust of the Earth. And between fritattas and the daily loaves of whole-wheat zucchini bread from my grandmother’s oven, I don’t think there was ever a question of what to do with all those hundreds (thousands? I’ll never know) of zucchini and summer squash that grew from each blossom in his garden.
Right now, as the summer squash go into turbo mode, the zucchini questions come with a certain panic: What do you do with all that summer squash and zucchini?
And yes, there are frittatas and loaves of zucchini bread. But beyond that, it depends on the day. Sometimes, I marinate thick squash and zucchini slices slices in olive oil, lemon, tamari and herbs for a few hours, and then I grill them before tossing them with mint and parmesan, or mixing them with leftover grains needing rebirth from the refrigerator. If it’s not a grill kind of night, I’ll chop them into half moons and fry them with butter and rosemary. And when there’s no answer to dinner better than a big bowl of pasta on the back porch, I pick every herb in the garden and slice my zucchini thin with a mandoline. I make a sauce of ricotta loosened up with the starchy water from the pasta pot, and I pile up the warm zucchini over the creamy pasta. That’s been the treatment of the moment, and for now, that’s my go-to answer. It’s quick, it works, and it uses what needs to be used, thereby filling all the requirements of perfect summer dinner food.
Summer Squash and Ricotta Pasta
serves 4, with leftovers
1 lb dried spaghetti or fettuccini
1 tbsp olive oil
1 lb zucchini, yellow summer squash, or pattypan squash, root and stem ends removed, sliced as thin as possible (preferably with a mandoline)
salt and freshly ground pepper
squeeze of lemon juice
1½ cups whole-milk ricotta cheese
handful basil leaves, torn or roughly chopped
handful flat-leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until tender, 7 to 9 minutes. Use a ladle or measuring cup to remove 1 cup of pasta water from the pot, set it aside to use in a minute, then drain and rinse the pasta.
2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the zucchini and stir constantly until it’s soft and just a bit brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Give the whole pan a sprinkle of salt, a few grinds of pepper, and a squeeze of lemon. Remove from heat and set aside.
3. Pour the cup of pasta water into a large serving bowl. Stir the ricotta into the water to create a creamy (although lumpy—that’s okay!) sauce. Stir in the basil and parsley, then toss the pasta in the sauce. Top with the zucchini, and more salt and pepper to taste.