When zucchini strike, I tend to use them in Provencal-type ways — in a stew of some kind (call it a ratatouille if you like), stuffed (a lot of work, but delicious) or baked in a gratin dish (sliced and overlapping in rows, alternating with rows of tomato slices, atop pre-cooked onions and garlic, with plenty of olive oil and thyme). All of these are served just tepid, never hot.
But one recent evening, an extra guest turned up for dinner. There was enough food…maybe. Or maybe not. Jackie and I felt we needed an additional side dish to help eke out the main course. Happily, there were a couple of zucchini in the house. I could have sliced and sauteed them, but even that seemed too time-consuming and labor-intensive, especially as we had already begun soaking up our pre-dinner drinks.
Then I remembered from a TV program or book that Julia Child used to grate and saute them in no time flat. So I, too, grated zucchini and sautéed them in olive oil — and, yes, in no time flat. Total preparation and cooking time was 4 or 5 minutes, if that. Nothing to it, and it was delicious, seasoned with just salt and pepper.
It was delicious enough to attempt again later in a fine, light pasta dish, albeit in a slightly more complicated form. For three to four portions, I slowly sweated a big clove of garlic and the white part of a medium spring onion, all thinly sliced, in butter with a few leaves of sage, slivered. (I did this in advance, using a deep skillet large enough to, eventually, hold the cooked pasta).
When it was time to eat, I got the pan medium-hot again, put in some fresh butter and added two medium (unpeeled) zucchini grated at the last minute on the coarsest side of a box grater. These took only a minute or two to become tender — helped toward the end with a splash of hot salted water in which the pasta was already boiling. I finished the zucchini with the grated zest of a lemon and another couple of slivered sage leaves and checked for salt and pepper.
In went the cooked pasta (to satisfy a yen, I used spaghettilike fresh egg pasta, but the original plan had been to use regular dried spaghetti or linguine, which would have been every bit as good but might have called for olive oil rather than butter). I combined it with the zucchini mixture using tongs and verified the salt and pepper. It was a little dry, so I added another splash of pasta water, then served it up in a warmed bowl. No cheese for this one, please.
The fragrant lemon zest made it seem particularly summery — as did the various green tones, ranging from the pale green of the zucchini flesh to the stronger colors of the skin and sage. It tasted pretty much the way the colors made us think it would, too. (And, going back to the original scenario, the pasta dressing on its own would make a great, fairly quick, side dish.)