The Spicy Pepper Pasta we posted yesterday was made for this dish. We picked up several summer squash in our weekly CSA share, and, because they’re bland, we find them a bit boring when it comes to cooking with them. It seems that, no matter how you prepare them, they’re just bland and boring. We figured that we’d pair them with a spicy pasta and see how that works.
We came up with this idea when we saw the Spicy Pepper Pasta. Since a common way of serving summer squash is sautéed in oil with salt, pepper, and a bit of red pepper flake, we figured that we could use the pasta in place of the red pepper flake, giving the same flavor profile, but with a different feel. And, just so you know, this is another of the Scratchin’ It original recipes.
Yes, you could use plain fettuccine for this dish — about 8 ounces would work — but we don’t think it would be the same. After all, we made the spicy pasta as a contrast to the bland squash. We used green garlic, which is nothing more than garlic picked while it’s still small and hasn’t developed cloves. It should be milder than mature garlic, but either will work. You’ll probably have to use mature garlic, since we’ve only seen green garlic in our CSA shares and perhaps at a farmers’ market.
Procedure in detail:
Toast walnuts. Since we’re doing so few walnuts, we just place them in a small skillet over medium heat, stirring often, for about 7 minutes. If we were toasting a lot of walnuts, they’d go into the oven at 350°F for 10 minutes. Whichever method you use, watch the nuts closely, as they can burn, and burnt nuts are something most people don’t like.
Drain squash. Put the zucchini in a colander, sprinkle with about 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt and some freshly ground pepper; give everything a toss to coat. Set the colander in the sink to drain for about 30 minutes. The salt will draw out some of the moisture from the squash, and will help provide flavor.
Cook onions. Heat oil in a large skillet — large enough to hold the squash and the pasta — over medium heat. When hot, add the onions, sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and translucent, about 8 minutes.
Add garlic. Add garlic and stir often, cooking until the garlic is fragrant. Garlic is easier to burn than onions, probably because it has less moisture, so you want to be careful. That’s why we suggest cooking just until you can smell the garlic wafting up.
Add squash. Add the squash and spread into an even layer. Cook, stirring just occasionally to prevent breaking the squash into small mushy pieces, until the squash is tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. If the squash is tender before the pasta is ready, lower the heat to keep it warm.
Cook pasta. Meanwhile, on another burner, boil salted water and cook your pasta. Right before you drain the pasta, scoop out about 1/2 cup of the pasta water. We find it easiest to use a heat-proof measuring cup and dip it into the cooking pasta to scoop out the water. Once the pasta is cooked, drain it in the colander that was holding the zucchini.
Add pasta. Stir or toss — this is a place where tongs might be better than a spoon — the pasta into the squash mixture. Add the reserved pasta water, and simmer, stirring or tossing occasionally, until most of the liquid is absorbed or evaporated, probably 1 or 2 minutes.
Serve. Divide among heated bowls — you did remember to put your bowls into a low-temperature oven, right? — and sprinkle with the toasted walnuts. If you wish, we think a bit of Parmesan cheese grated on top would be good, too.
How much can you do with squash and not have it seem like squash? We find that it’s not much. To us, summer squash always tastes kind of bland and a bit mushy, but that’s the way it is. We did like having the nuts on top; they accentuated the slight nutty flavor in the squash, and the spicy pasta added a nice zip to the entire dish. Since this is one of those dishes that we just made up, we’ll probably never make it exactly the same again. But, that’s okay; we’ll remember the technique of using a spicy pasta, and the toasted walnuts. Four stars.