Thursday, September 15, 2016

Zucchini Ricotta Carbonara

My garden is still producing zucchini a little bit faster than I can use it. I’m continuing to make and freeze zucchini bread, but I’ve got to stuff zucchini into a few more places if I’m going to get rid of it all.

This is a pretty simple pasta application, inspired by pasta carbonara with chopped zucchini thrown in. Instead of the usual creamy, just-cooked scrambled eggs, however, this dish has a big scoop of ricotta cheese. I don’t know if the ricotta is any less heavy than the eggs would have been, but it sure is good.

The zucchini and ricotta are both fairly mild-flavored ingredients, so the bacon is really allowed to take over. And it’s everywhere in this dish. Not only is cooked bacon tossed in with the pasta, cheese, and zucchini, but the zucchini is cooked in rendered bacon fat, and some of that fat is stirred into the ricotta before it even goes into the dish. The original recipe called for some olive oil instead, but I thought, “Why? I have all this bacon fat!”

I was surprised by how much I liked this simple supper dish. I was afraid that a combination of relatively bland ingredients like ricotta and zucchini would just end up weirdly mushy and pasty. It’s not, however. In fact, the cheese is creamy with the pasta and the zucchini, properly cooked, is just firm and fibrous enough to add some chew. And as far as flavor goes, it’s bacon all the way. I suppose that’s just fine.

Zucchini Ricotta Carbonara
Adapted from Fine Cooking Aug/Sept 2014

8 ounces linguine (or other long pasta)
3 slices thick-cut bacon (or 4-5 thin slices), coarsely chopped
1 cup ricotta cheese
½ teaspoon black pepper, divided
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 pound zucchini, halved lengthwise (or quartered if large) and thinly sliced
¾ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil, plus more for garnish
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish

1. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking water. Keep warm.

2. While the pasta is cooking, place the bacon in a large (12-inch) skillet. Cook over medium heat until crisp. Remove the bacon and drain on a paper towe1.

3. Pour about 1 tablespoon of the rendered bacon fat into the ricotta cheese. Add ¼ teaspoon black pepper to the ricotta mixture and stir well. If there is more than about 3 tablespoons bacon fat in the pan, pour off enough to leave just about 3 tablespoons. Return to the heat.

4. Add the garlic to the pan and cook, stirring constantly for about 30-45 seconds, or until fragrant, but not yet browned. Add the zucchini and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until just tender, about 8 minutes.

5. Add the cooked pasta to the pan. Stir in the ricotta mixture, basil, and remaining pepper. Add some of the reserved pasta cooking water if necessary to loosen the mixture. Stir in the Parmesan and cooked bacon, tossing all together to combine well. Serve sprinkled with additional Parmesan and basil.

Makes about 4 servings.

Other recipes like this one: Pasta Carbonara with Garlic Scapes and Garlic Chives (substitute the garlic scapes with a few cloves of minced garlic); Pasta with Zucchini, Corn and Fresh Mint; Pasta with Yellow Squash, Corn and Bacon

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