JULY IS HERE, and all I want are delicious foods made from fresh fruits and vegetables. And maybe a few grilled things smelling of smoky goodness. And ice cream. Homemade ice cream. But, I digress.
I spent a year in Washington, DC, not so very long ago. While I was there, I created some very strong food memories. It was in DC that I had my first (amazing) Ethiopian food. It was where I learned how to make a good red wine reduction. It was where I ate chili cheese fries at Ben’s Chili Bowl while listening to “Man in the Mirror” right after Michael Jackson died. And yet, the strongest food memory I took away from me in DC was its produce.
As a California girl, I expect supermarkets to be brimming with beautiful, firm, fresh fruits and vegetables. In DC, particularly in the summertime, I would enter a Safeway to find limp green onions and sad-looking lettuce. The one refuge from the effects of a humid city far from places that grow tropical things was Whole Foods. I was the ghost that wandered the aisles, a girl on a budget who just wanted to be in the shiny, well-lit place with piles of perfect red, yellow, orange and green peppers that could have been a Crayola advertisement. On a very rare day I would let myself shop for ingredients for one dish, a rare splurge.
So what does that have to do with anything? It has to do with farmer’s market pasta. It’s a dish that really blooms with fresh ingredients (hence, the title). But, at the same time, the combinations of flavors (including the pesto and the bacon) means that it can rejuvenate some vegetables that might not have made it past the Whole Foods audition. And so I exhort: if you can, get the freshest vegetables for this dish. But if you can’t, it will still be pretty darn good.
FARMER’S MARKET PASTA, adapted from Zucchini, Corn, and Basil Fusilli in Gourmet, July 2008
1 pound fusilli
8 slices bacon
4 ears corn, kernels cut from the cob
1 1/2 pounds zucchini, coarsely chopped
10 ounces (1 package) grape tomatoes, halved or quartered
5-7 ounces pesto
freshly-grated black pepper
Cook bacon until crispy. When cooled, chop into small pieces and set aside.
Cook fusilli in a pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve enough water to cover the bottom of your pot with 1/2″ of hot water. Drain and rinse pasta with cold water to stop cooking.
Add zucchini and corn to pot and pour reserved hot water on top. Cook on medium-high heat, stirring, for 2 minutes. Drain.
Combine zucchini, corn, and pasta in large bowl. Add pesto and mix until combined. Add grape tomatoes and mix.
Dish up pasta, garnish with bacon, fresh pepper, and fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold.
Use a very sharp knife when slicing the grape tomatoes, and halve or quarter depending on size. The grape tomatoes add a nice zing that cherry tomatoes, in my opinion, do not. Though, in full disclosure, I must admit that I’ve never been a huge fan of cherry tomatoes. When my brother and I were young, we were given the chore of harvesting from our mother’s horrifyingly-plentiful cherry tomato plants. We picked the tomatoes, and promptly had a cherry tomato war whose memory has outlived our mother’s wrath.
A thought on pesto: the easy thing to do is buy a container of pesto to mix into the pasta. It’s a perfect easy-fix on a weekday night, and this dish is bound to create leftovers (though not for lack of trying). Because it seemed like an adventure, and because Things Created For A Food Blog Should Be Homemade, I made my own with this recipe. It wasn’t particularly flavorful, and seemed like it needed a lot more garlic. Maybe next time I’ll try Ina’s buy-all-the-garlic-in-Gilroy pesto.
Health-conscious? Use bacon anyway. (Just a little! It’s not like you’re using the drippings, too.) Okay, okay. If you’re set on not incorporating bacon, you can substitute prosciutto, or probably a number of meat alternatives, or forego the meat altogether. That’s the beauty of this recipe. It likes a lot of different ingredients. But it loves bacon most.
And finally… I never knew that zucchini has an ugly side, but it does: zucchini come from the Cucurbitacea family (say that three times fast), along with cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, melons, and gourds. While this sounds like a downright pleasant (and delicious) family reunion, all of these family members produce chemicals known as cucurbitacins that can cause bitterness. Most of the time, they exist in such low levels that we don’t taste them at all; however, on a rare occasion, they can ruin your dinner. So how do you protect your favorite pasta dish? Well, there’s an old wives’ way and the PBK way. An old wives’ tale (or an old internet tale, though the two seem to be becoming awfully similar as time goes on) is that the smaller, not as deeply green zucchinis are less likely to be the rare bitter old codgers, but I have yet to find a scientific reason backing this up. So I suggest the PBK method: for every zucchini you chop up, eat one piece of it just to be sure it’s a good one. Maybe two pieces, if the chopping is slow.