Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Courgettes et Fleurs de Courgettes (Zucchini + Zucchini Blossoms)

If the courgettes in your corner of the world have grown huge and out of control, this recipe will have to wait until next year. But here in Paris, I’m still coming home from the market with relatively lilliputian ones. With thin skins and a refined flavour, these require nothing more than a quick softening in olive oil before tossing with fresh herbs and cheese, or combining with eggs. Using mandolin-fine slices, the cooking can be skipped altogether.

Tasty, easy and cheap, variations on courgette frittatas and salads are in frequent rotation right now. But good as they can be, none have approached the practically sublime pasta dish I made recently with sautéed courgette, basil and courgette blossoms. The vegetable base got an extra layer of flavour from chicken stock (obvious, perhaps, though I rarely use it in quick dishes), while the julienned basil and blossoms were thrown in just at the end, allowing them to retain a bit of texture and, more importantly, distinct flavours. Tossed with thin pasta and finished with fresh Parmesan, it was rich and fragrant, the kind of dish that warrants total attention while eating.

Served with an acidic, lightly floral Italian white wine (perhaps a Vermentino or Falanghina), it would make an elegant dinner for two. Yet even without someone present whom I could impress or seduce, it more than justified the (relatively modest) cost and time required. One for the files.

Pasta with Courgettes and Blossoms
adapted from a Chez Panisse recipe by David Tanis
Serves 2
Total time: 30 minutes: Active time: 20 minutes

Tanis’ original recipe used corn kernels and scallions. As both of those are hard to find in Paris, I substituted onion and upped the quantity of courgettes. In order to avoid overwhelming the delicate flavour of the blossoms, be sure to use courgettes which are small, firm and virtually seedless. Also, as the flowers will wilt quickly, this is a recipe to make on the same day as your market visit.

1-2 tbsp olive oil
3-4 slim, very small yellow or green courgettes (if your blossoms have tiny courgettes attached, use those in part)*
1 small onion
100-125 ml stock, preferably chicken
300-400 grams dried fettuccine or linguine (I like De Cecco brand)
4-6 courgette blossoms
Small handful fresh basil

Begin heating up the water for pasta. Dice the courgettes (it shouldn’t be necessary to peel them) and onion. Warm the olive oil in a large, heavy sauté pan over medium heat. Add the vegetables, season and sauté, stirring regularly to avoid sticking or excessive browning. When they are soft—up to ten minutes—add a good splash of stock and continue to cook, lowering the heat slightly. Put the pasta on to boil.

Allow the stock to reduce by ½ and the flavours to combine, another 5 minutes. Remove the stems and stamens from the courgette blossoms and julienne. Tear or cut the basil.

Add both to the sauce and toss to wilt. Drain the pasta and add to the sauce mixture, stirring well to combine and coat. Remove from the heat, adjust seasoning and serve immediately with grated Parmesan.

*A wide variety—along with the blossoms—can currently be found at Joel Thiebault’s market stall.

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