Thursday, July 19, 2012

Pasta with Zucchini, Corn and Mint

You can see the pattern. I know you can. Whatever the season, I manage to make pasta tossed with vegetables and a bit of cream (or half and half), often flavored with lemon. In the spring I made this version with asparagus and sugar snap peas and shortly before that it was caramelized onions and arugula (and red wine vinegar instead of lemon). In the winter it was roasted orange and prosciutto and in another summer, it was corn, yellow summer squash and bacon (again, no lemon).

My most recent variation on this theme included shredded zucchini (‘tis the season after all), fresh corn and fresh mint. I like to shred zucchini for pasta dishes, especially if I’m going to use a long pasta like spaghetti. It cooks down quickly to create a smooth texture that blends in well with the noodles. The addition of cream makes that texture even more luscious and since zucchini doesn’t have a particularly assertive flavor of its own, it picks up the other flavors in the dish, namely the lemon and mint.

The lemon juice and zest give the creamy sauce a nice bit of citrusy brightness and the sweet corn balances that flavor. The fresh mint, which is growing in proliferation in my own backyard, is a wonderful addition. I think there are many herbs that would do in its place, especially basil and possibly oregano, or you could just stir in a couple dollops of pesto if you have some on hand. There are other vegetables you could add as well, such as thinly sliced bell peppers (cook them with the onions) or shredded carrots (cook a little longer than the zucchini).

Well, as you can guess from my tendency to fall back on this style of dish for quick weeknight cooking, I could go on forever about variations, omissions, inclusions and flavor combinations. This is a basic idea that works really well and no matter what vegetables and herbs are in season, they could probably be featured in a pasta dish with citrus (or vinegar) and cream somehow. So, go forth and vary this theme to your own desire!

Pasta with Zucchini, Corn, and Fresh Mint
You could use half and half in place of the cream.

8 ounces dry spaghetti or other long pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup thinly sliced red onion
2 cloves garlic
2 cups shredded zucchini (about 2 small zucchini)
kernels from 1 ear fresh corn (about 1 cup)
¼ cup water
½ teaspoon coarse salt
½ teaspoon lemon zest
juice of ½ lemon
a few grinds black pepper
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup chopped fresh mint leaves
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more to serve

1. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water. Drain.

2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and just beginning to brown, about 5-8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook about 30 seconds more.

3. Add the zucchini, corn, water and salt. Cook, stirring often, until the zucchini is soft, about 4-5 minutes.  Stir in the lemon zest, lemon juice and pepper.

4. Add the cooked pasta, heavy cream and mint.  Toss to coat the pasta and cook until the mint is wilted. Stir in the ¼ cup Parmesan. Serve with additional Parmesan.

Makes about 4 servings.

1 comment:

  1. I had corn, zucchini, and cream, and I googled around to see what I could do with it and landed on your page. Made a very close version of it (with shallots and, alas, dried onion), but it was great. The lemon zest and lemon really are the magic touch. I love this kind of improvisational cooking.