Today's post features a simple, very fast, pasta that is truly one of my favorite pasta recipes for summer. The sauce can literally be made in the time that it takes to bring the water to the boil and cook the pasta. The recipe is from Susan Herrmann Loomis's Italian Farmhouse Cookbook. If you don't own any of Susan's cookbooks, I highly recommend them. I was fortunate to get to spend some time working with Susan at her home in France and I know that she is detailed in her research and meticulous in the testing of her recipes. Susan's cookbooks reflect an in depth knowledge of, and an admiration for, the cultures that she writes about. She is also a very fine cook and a good teacher—I learned a lot from her.
I frequently make this pasta exactly as it is written in the book. But I have recently begun to add lemon zest and toasted pine nuts and I think that this is the way I like this pasta the best...for the present, at least. The recipe would also be good with a little smashed garlic, or maybe a few chopped black olives or some halved cherry tomatoes. But I have refrained from adding too much to the recipe because part of the beauty of it is its simplicity. I often think that one of the biggest mistakes that young cooks (and some experienced ones) make is adding too many things to a dish—making for dishes that are muddy in flavor because they are so overwhelming to the palate. Sometimes one or two ingredients is all you need. If they are beautiful, pristine ingredients, there is nothing better. So, if you don't have lemons or pine nuts on hand, rest assured this pasta is very good with basil and zucchini alone.
Pasta with Baby Zucchini & Basil
1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil
1 c. (gently packed) fresh basil leaves, cut into thin ribbons
1 lb. penne, farfalle, fusilli, or any other short, sturdy pasta
1 lb. small zucchini, trimmed and cut into very thin rounds (this works best with a mandoline slicer)
6 T. grated Parmesan
Place the oil in a large bowl along with the basil; stir to make sure the basil is completely coated with the oil.
Bring 6 quarts of water to the boil in a large stock/pasta pot. Add 2 to 3 T. of salt. Add the penne and cook until almost al dente—it should still be quite firm in the center. Add the zucchini rounds and stir. Continue to cook until the penne is al dente and the zucchini is tender—this should take 1 to 2 minutes. Drain.
Add the pasta and zucchini to the basil oil and toss to combine.
Add the Parmesan and toss again. Add some of the pasta water if the pasta seems stodgy or dry (for this dish you may need as much as 1/4 c. of the pasta water). Taste and correct the seasoning. Serve immediately. Serves 4 to 6.
My Variation: Add the zest of 1 large lemon and 1/4 c. toasted pine nuts to the olive oil with the basil.
Recipe from Italian Farmhouse Cookbook by Susan Herrmann Loomis)