There are two kinds of people in this world: those who start with the recipe, and those who start with the ingredient.
One of the things I admire most about you, ma cherie, is that you fall mostly into the camp of the latter. You start with the ingredient. Or, rather, you start with an ingredient and a question. You pick up a leek and think, “I wonder what this would taste like if I glazed it in brown sugar….” or you see some beautiful golden beets at the farmers market and pick them up on a whim, knowing that you’ll come up with something delicious to do with them. And then a few hours later, voila – a recipe of your own invention that is nothing short of sublime.
I, however, fall strictly into the category of the former – I love to read recipes (I’ve been known to keep cookbooks like this one from you on my nightstand as evening reading), regardless of whether I ever actually make them. My seduction begins with a beautiful illustration of the finished product; my follow-through comes from having the recipe clearly laid out before me. I take comfort in knowing that a chef has blazed the path to culinary bliss, and all I have to do is follow their recipe and I, too, can get there.
Which is how I came upon this David Tanis recipe for Summer Pasta with Zucchini, Ricotta and Basil recently in the New York Times. I was browsing the Dining section mindlessly one night and did a double-take at the photo. Together with the Tanis pedigree and the article’s headline – Fresh Ricotta Turns a Simple Pasta Dish Sublime – (they had me at “Fresh,” “Simple” and “Sublime”), and I knew I’d have to try it out.
I’ll share the recipe with you here, but I can’t help but wonder the “what if’s…” you’d be asking yourself if you had a stash of fresh ricotta or summer squash in your fridge. Would you go savory or sweet? Breakfast or lunch? Salad or pasta? The possibilities would be limitless, the results, no doubt, amazing.
Summer Pasta with Zucchini, Ricotta and Basil
David Tanis for the New York Times
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced
2 pounds zucchini, sliced into 1/4-inch-thick pieces (for larger zucchini, cut in half lengthwise before slicing)
Salt and pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced, or 2 tablespoons chopped green garlic
1 ounce basil, about 2 cups loose leaves
1 pound ziti or other dry pasta
8 ounces ricotta, about 1 cup (see recipe)
Pinch of crushed red pepper
Zest of 1 lemon
2 ounces grated Parmesan, pecorino or a mixture, about 1 cup, plus more for serving
Put a pot of water on to boil. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the onions in 3 tablespoons olive oil until softened, 5 to 8 minutes. Reduce heat as necessary to keep onions from browning. Add zucchini, season generously with salt and pepper, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally until rather soft, about 10 minutes. Turn off heat.
Meanwhile, use a mortar and pestle to pound garlic, basil and a little salt into a rough paste (or use a mini food processor). Stir in 3 tablespoons olive oil.
Salt the pasta water well and put in the pasta, stirring. Boil per package instructions but make sure to keep pasta quite al dente. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup of cooking water.
Add cooked pasta to zucchini in skillet and turn heat to medium-high. Add 1/2 cup cooking water, then the ricotta, crushed red pepper and lemon zest, stirring to distribute. Check seasoning and adjust. Cook for 1 minute more. Mixture should look creamy. Add a little more pasta water if necessary. Add the basil paste and half the grated cheese and quickly stir to incorporate. Spoon pasta into warm soup plates and sprinkle with additional cheese. Serve immediately.
Top with copious amounts of Chili Crunch.