When the zucchini come marching in -- as they do relentlessly every growing season -- it doesn't take long before the troops go on zucchini overload.
Danny Meyer, owner of the Union Square Cafe in New York City, has a delicious solution to the problem of what to do with the excess of this high-yield, low-appeal squash.
He turns them into a low-calorie pasta substitute, calling his dish pappardelle of zucchini, named after the broad noodle Tuscan chefs pair with game. While many other chefs have served thinly julienned zucchini (or yellow squash) "pasta", Meyer varies the theme with wide fresh-from-the-garden "noodles." He slices the squash into thin strips about 7 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide, the approximate dimensions of pappardelle noodles, then cooks them in a simple fresh tomato sauce flavored with saute'ed garlic and shallots, a splash of white wine, a generous pitcher of heavy cream, a sprinkling of fresh herbs and a grating of parmesan cheese.
Meyer's secret is to cook the zucchini strips only until they are barely limp. Once they become too soft or fall apart, they lose the surprising ability they have of deceiving the eye -- and even the tooth -- into believing they really are noodles. The dish has been fooling Union Square Cafe customers for two years and is so popular that it has survived five menu changes.
Whether picked fresh in the garden, fetched from a roadside stand or plucked from the supermarket produce shelf, the best zucchini are small (no more than 7 inches long), firm and have tender, glossy skin and tiny seeds.
The Union Square Cafe serves pappardelle of zucchini year round, buying the zucchini at the Union Square Green Market located a half a block away. This farmers' market attracts 10,000 people three times a week, and the restaurant serves a new lunch menu each time based on what's fresh at the market.
With zucchini as plentiful as they are today, it is hard to believe that once upon a time only Italian groceries stocked these green "pests" for customers feeling nostalgic for home. The French, who call them courgettes, dote on them too.
Whether or not you share their enthusiasm, throwing away good food feels wrong to most people. Those stories -- apocryphal or true -- of gardeners guiltily sneaking through the night to deposit bags of zucchini on the doorsteps of neighbors, who welcome them about as much as they would a sack of foundlings, do capture the spirit of what a plague these squash can be.
So this year, be a good neighbor. Prepare some pappardelle of zucchini and take that next door.
UNION SQUARE CAFE PAPPARDELLE OF ZUCCHINI (4 appetizer servings)
2 medium zucchini, peeled
4 plum tomatoes
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 shallots, chopped
1/4 cup white wine
3/4 cup whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon finely chopped fresh oregano, or pinch dried
1/4 teaspoon finely chopped fresh marjoram, or pinch dried
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh basil, or 1/4 teaspoon dried
3 tablespoons ground fresh parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
Using a mandoline or sharp knife, slice zucchini lengthwise in strips 7 inches long, 1 1/2-inches wide and 1/4-inch thick to imitate the dimensions of a pappardelle noodle. To prepare tomatoes bring a pot of water to a boil and have an ice bath ready next to it. Remove the core of the tomatoes and score the bottoms with an "X." Plunge tomatoes into hot water and blanch 1 minute. Immediately immerse into the ice water bath to stop the cooking. Peel off skin, cut flesh away from seeds and dice.
Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, shallots and zucchini and cook without allowing them to color. Add wine and reduce until zucchini is wilted. Do not overcook zucchini. Add cream, tomatoes, oregano, marjoram and basil. Reduce 2 minutes to thicken. Toss in 2 tablespoons of the parmesan. Serve in bowls and garnish with parsley and remaining parmesan