Thursday, June 30, 2011

Pasta with shaved fresh fennel, garlic scape pesto, and zucchini

Every Wednesday we get a new CSA box, and that first night it's always a challenge to come up with something to make without going to the grocery store to augment our pantry supplies. This week, we still had most of a bunch of garlic scapes (previously featured in tuna au poivre), and gained a lovely bulb of fennel and some zucchini. I was already starving by the time Janet arrived with the vegetables, so I needed something quick and simple. These sorts of vegetables just scream 'pasta' to me, so this is what we came up with.

It really came together very nicely — the slight heat and grassy greenness of the garlic are nicely balanced by the sweetness of the fennel, and the zucchini adds just enough tooth to make the texture interesting. Be sure to get a tasty and interesting extruded pasta (we used trottole) and this will make a lovely early-summer dinner.

The real star of this show is the pesto. It has the familiar flavor and slight heat of garlic, but without the astringent bite of white bulbs. The Marcona almonds contribute a creaminess to the mixture that you wouldn't get from the usual sort; if you can find the Marcona, they're well worth having around (they're great on salads, too!), but if you can't track them down, regular almonds or whatever other nuts you choose will do.

  • 1 lb. good-quality extruded pasta
  • 1 bunch garlic scapes, chopped
  • 1/2 c. virgin olive oil plus additional for sautéing
  • Kosher or coarse sea salt
  • Coarse-cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 c. grated parmesean
  • 1 handful (ca. 1/3 c.) Marcona almonds
  • 1 bulb fennel, stalks and root base removed,
  • 2 medium zucchini, ends removed, sliced into 1/4 in. medallions

Cook pasta according to package directions. Be sure to use enough salt in the cooking water — it should be about as salty as sea water. If the water isn't sufficiently salty, the pasta will taste bland. When it's done, drain it, but reserve a cup or so of the cooking water.

While water is coming to a boil and pasta is cooking, chop up the garlic scapes small enough to fit into your food processor. Add 1/3 c. virgin olive oil, then run processor on high speed until it forms a smooth paste. If the mixture starts to look dry or has many large chunks that won't mix in, add more oil and continue. Once you have a paste, add the almonds and the parmesean, then continue processing until the pesto is smooth, again adding oil as needed. Set it aside (if you can resist dipping some bread in it).

To prepare the fennel, cut off the stems and fronds along with the tough root base. You want only the body of the bulb for this preparation:

If the outermost layers are tough, pull them off and discard, then run the bulb over a box grater. If you can manage to get long strips like grated cheese, great! If not, mushy shreds will work too. Once the fennel is ready, set it aside. Cover it with plastic or put it in a bowl of water with a bit of lemon juice if it's going to sit out for a while, as the exposed cut edges will brown in a few minutes in air.

Slice the zucchini into medallions. Having some particular exact thickness isn't as important as consistency here; thicker slices will take longer to cook through than thin ones.

Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a large sauté pan. When it's hot, add the zucchini, 1 tsp. salt, and 1 tsp. cracked black pepper. Toss or stir the zucchini in the pan frequently so they don't stick or burn. Cook until the slices are tender and golden but not mushy.

When the zucchini are done, add the pasta and the pesto to the pan with them along with half a cup of the reserved pasta water. Stir the mixture gently to distribute the pesto over the pasta and heat it up. If the pesto is too dry to distribute well, add the rest of the water. When the pesto is distributed and the pasta is glistening and starting to turn green, remove the pan from the heat, stir in the fennel, and serve!

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