When Michael and I were graduate students in Santa Cruz, our best friends were living in Oakland and many weekends we drove the hour and a half up to visit with them. They were broke and we were broke, but still sometimes we would take ourselves out for a meal at a restaurant near them called Spettro, where we would split some small number of salads and pastas and bowls of mussels from their exciting menu. This is my version of one of their dishes which, given that I haven't actually eaten their version since Ben was a baby, is only loosely interpreted here and has changed somewhat over the years. But holy moly it is so good--packed with a profound flavorfulness that simply cannot be captured photographically: bright with lime zest, sweet with corn, richly creamy, super herbally green-tasting, and with just a bit of mouth-warming heat from the jalapenos. In short: insanity. But you know what? I just looked at their menu and see that it is shrimp, not zucchini, that they use. Aha! If I had shrimp languishing in my vegetable drawer, believe me, I'd use them instead. But I don't. So I always make this as a way to thrill everybody with zukes. And believe me--it does. I want to mention the obvious, too: with less herbage and no jalapenos, this could be a more approachable dish for little ones, and one that you can tinker with as they grow into it. Call it "Creamy Corn Pasta" so they're sure to recognize their three favorite food groups.
And I was just going to write a short little introduction here. I thought: this time, I'll just get right to the recipe and not waffle on and on about my feelings and memories and feelings. But guess what? I have to waffle a little. Because looking at the Spettro menu? It was like a sledgehammer of nostalgia to my poor self. Our friends live in Providence now which is, comically, almost an identical-lengthed drive from Amherst as Oakland was from Santa Cruz. They are no longer together, and the children are no longer babies (in fact, they just joined us on our camping trip and I couldn't help noticing their leggy tween-ness), but oh I have my memories. It's not that I want it back. I don't. I am so happy to sit and eat a meal without nursing somebody under the table or walking somebody up the stairs and down the stairs and up the stairs and down the stairs or jiggling them around the block hoping they'll nod off before my half-order of Booberry Salad arrives. I love these people who read menus and sit happily in their seats and make fascinating conversation about capitalism or deserted islands. But in retrospect, it all feels so sweetly fleeting. And I look at Anni, this burstingly ripe young almost-mama who is living here under our roof, whose baby is due in September, and yes, her eyes fill constantly with tears, and yes, while she's talking about something beautiful or sad she puts a protective hand on her belly, but-- But. I look at her, and I think, as kindly as possible: "You have no idea."
Herby Summer Pasta with Zukes, Corn, and Lime
Total time: 30 minutes
You could use all of one of the herbs here--cilantro or mint or basil--but the combination is truly intoxicating. And while the dish works better with heavy cream, you can swap in half and half need be: just be sure to reduce it a bit in the pan before adding the lime juice, or it will be inclined to curdle slightly (which is not a big deal, but still, it's nicer to look at if it doesn't). Final notes: whole wheat pasta makes this a more wholesome dish, and if you want to boost it's main-dish status, you could certainly add some shrimp (really? did the Spettro dish always have shrimp?) or some sliced grilled chicken.
1 1/2 pounds zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
1 large clove of garlic, pressed or finely chopped
3 ears of corn, sliced off the cob (or 1 1/2 cups frozen corn kernels)
1 cup of heavy cream (or half and half)
1 cup of chicken or vegetable broth (I like Rapunzel Vegan Vegetable Bouillon with Sea Salt)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon pickled jalapenos, finely chopped (optional)
The zest and juice of 1/2 a lime
12 ounces egg noodles or whole wheat pasta
1/2 cup (combined) mint, basil, and cilantro, finely chopped
In a wide skillet over medium-high heat, heat a large bloop of the olive oil (1-2 tablespoons) then add the zucchini and salt and sauté, stirring occasionally, until it is starting to brown, around 3 minutes.
Add the garlic and corn and sauté for another 3 minutes, until the veggies are just starting to get tender, then stir in the cream, broth, sugar, jalapenos, and lime zest, and simmer until thickened, around (say it with me) 3 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta in heavily salted water until just tender, then drain.
Add the lime juice to the skillet and taste for salt, then stir in the pasta and herbs and bring it all to a gentle simmer. Taste for seasoning (add more lime zest or juice or more salt if the pasta needs a lift) and serve.