Corn and Zucchini Pasta’s inclusion in Chez Panisse Vegetables is more of a concept than a recipe. Alice provides ingredients and technique leaving the vagaries of measurements and time to the individual cook. This is recipe trading grandmother style. “What do you mean measurements? You can just feel when you’ve got it right.”
It’s a gift. You learn more in the making than you ever could in rote execution. Here’s what I’ve learned:
- Practice your knife skills. Cut the zucchini down into a 1/4″ dice, approximately the same size as the corn kernels.
- Fresh pasta isn’t just un-dried. Fresh pasta is traditionally made with eggs and soft wheat “00” flour while dried pasta is made with just hard durum wheat and water. An easy rule of thumb is to use fresh pasta for light dishes and cream sauces. Dried pasta is your choice for heartier sauces like Bolognese and Carbonara.
- Large pasta is tough to mix with small ingredients. When tossing the corn and zucchini with the fresh fettucini that Alice recommends, you end up with all the veggies in the bottom of the bowl. Orzo is easier to mix through.
- Butter is a condiment. Add it at the end. Don’t even think of leaving it out. It adds a necessary richness.
Corn And Zucchini Pasta
This tastes just as good hot as it does as a cold pasta salad.
- 2 tbs olive oil
- 1 large candy sweet or yellow onion, diced
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1/2 jalapeño, minced
- 2 cups zucchini, finely diced (about 1-2 medium)
- 2 ears corn, kernels removed
- 1 cup Orzo, uncooked
- 2 tbs butter
- 2-3 tbs chopped cilantro or parsley
- Champagne Mimosa or Sherry Vinegar
- Bring a 4 qt pot of water to a boil and salt heavily, 2 tbs.
- Heat olive oil in a 12” sauté pan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened.
- Add garlic and jalapeño and cook 30 seconds until fragrant.
- Turn up heat to medium high and add zucchini.
- When you add the zucchini to the pan, add the pasta to boiling water.
- When zucchini is softened but firm add corn and cook 1 minute.
- When pasta is still undercooked – firm in the center, strain it, reserving 1 cup cooking liquid. Add pasta and liquid to vegetables. Cook until water has evaporated.
- Add cilantro and butter. Season to taste with vinegar, salt and pepper.
I’m insecure about ideas. I blame it on education.
Remember in school how it was drilled into our heads to credit ideas? Footnotes, bibliographies and quotes ensured that original ideas were separated from those you learned. This was not friendly acknowledgement of those who had travelled an intellectual path before you, no, this was punitive. Signed ethics statements made it clear this was about fear and cheating.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe in offering credit where it is due, but learning is supposed to be about becoming our own thinkers. We should take joy in watching our ideas grow up, move out of the house and go on to live new, exciting lives of their own.
For a long time I struggled with claiming recipes as my own or writing them down. After all, I thought, I knew the inspirations that had created each of them: a flavor combination from Alice Waters, technique from Christopher Kimball. It’s what I’ve learned from Julia Child, Deborah Madison, Rosso and Lukins, Mollie Katzen and my Mom that inspire my cooking. Every pat of butter I add reminds me of Joanne Creelman’s shirred eggs. Every vinaigrette is a testament to Sean Holland.
Crediting inspiration for me has become less about transparency and more about surrounding myself with the company of dear friends: those I know and those I keep close on the book shelf. Every recipe is a team effort, and the joy comes in watching those techniques and discoveries come together right in front of me, then sending them home to be practiced and enjoyed by someone new.
Cream soups always seem institutional, the purview of cans and dining halls. At their best, they are comforting carb and fat bombs, warming us on cold, wet days. But cream soups have never been an expression of the Socratic ideal of their centerpiece, be it broccoli, mushrooms or asparagus.
When I first started working with Alice Waters’ asparagus soup recipe, it was a revelation. Potatoes and onions, not cream or flour, thicken the soup, delivering heartiness without dulling the flavor. The flavor of spring’s fresh asparagus is brought front and center by first simmering the tough ends of the stalks in stock and then cooking the tender ends of the asparagus for as short a time as possible, 5-7 minutes, before running the soup through a food mill or processing it with an immersion blender.
Two pounds of asparagus seems like a lot, but after all, this is asparagus soup and you want that to be the primary flavor. Over time I’ve learned that the soup almost always benefits from a tablespoon or two of rich, farm-fresh butter for richness and a splash of sherry vinegar to brighten the vegetables. Spoil yourself with a dollop of crème fraîche.
Creamy Asparagus Soup
- 2 bunches asparagus, about 2 pounds
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tbs chopped parsley, reserve stems
- 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 2 tbs olive oil
- 2 medium red potatoes, diced
- 2 leeks, white and light green parts thinly sliced
- Sherry vinegar
- Fresh parsley
- Snap tough ends from asparagus. Add to a 4 qt saucepan with stock, thyme, bay and parsley stems. Simmer for 20 minutes.
- Melt butter in a soup pot over medium-low heat. Simmer potatoes and leeks in butter without browning. Add a little water as needed. Cook until potatoes are soft.
- Strain stock into soup pot and cook for five minutes. Cut asparagus into 2” pieces and add to stock. Remove 10-12 tips after 3 minutes.
- When asparagus is just tender – no more than 5-7 minutes total – pass soup through a food mill* or processor. Stir through parsley.
- Season to taste with salt, pepper, butter and vinegar. Garnish with asparagus tips and fresh parsley.
*If you use a food mill, you will end up with a smoother soup, but some of the fibrous asparagus will be left behind. Add the stock back in a little at a time until you achieve the desired thickness.