My favorite side dish takes five minutes to make. It has only three steps. No garlic or shallots get minced, nothing gets topped with butter, and shockingly, it involves no truffle salt. It has only two ingredients, and the only reason I’ve held out this long telling you about it is because when I see a recipe that swears it will combine two ingredients in an entirely new and innovative way, I roll my eyes.
But this doesn’t mean that you should be limited by my jaded expectations. In fact, I’d be spectacularly sad if you were, because this is wonderful. Fantastic. It’s so fresh but deep, so simple but eloquent. I have craved it incessantly this week, and am certain I could eat it morning, noon and night.
I had it for the first time at the Red Cat restaurant in Chelsea a few years ago. I liked it, but found it a tad oily for my tastes. I don’t like it when something as innocent and taste in its original packaging as zucchini is rendered into something excessive. (Fine, you got me, I’m lying.) I started making a version of it at home with far more minimalism, not to mention improvisation: I don’t measure a thing about this. That’s right, nothing gets measured. If you want a high almond-to-zucchini ratio, go for it. If you want more zucchini than almond, this will work for you as well. The only two things that matter are that the almonds get brown and toasty in the pan, and that you only cook the zucchini for one minute.
It cannot be made in advance. It benefits from a good salt and pepper seasoning. You can throw some thin slices of parmesan on or skip it, as I often do, but beyond this, no matter how hard I try, I can not make this any less simple than it is. It is impervious to my need to make everything more difficult than it actually is. It will not bend to my fusspot will. It wants nothing to do with my fluted tart pans, my differently textured salts and my lightly fried discs of garlic. This recipe could be my Lord Voldemort; I’m convinced it mocks me.
The last time we ate at the Red Cat, they inserted the recipe for this with our check. I have to admit, I snickered. Two frying pans? Adding ingredients to each half at a time and setting them aside? A quarter-cup of olive oil? Apparently somebody figured out how to make this dish high-maintenance, and for once, it wasn’t me. For a minute there I gloated, until I realized that the joke was on me because they’d already figured out how to market it for eight bucks a serving. Thank goodness I’ve got no qualms about giving the goodies away for free, eh?
Quick Sauté of Zucchini with Toasted Almonds
Inspired by the Red Cat, NYC
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons thinly sliced almonds
1 to 2 small zucchini, cut into 1/8-inch matchsticks with a knife or julienne blade on a mandoline
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Few ounces pecorino romano or parmesan cheese, in thin slices — a peeler works great for this
Heat the oil on high in a large skillet. When it is hot but not smoking, add the almonds to the pan. Cook them, while stirring, until the almonds are golden-brown, approximately a minute or two.
Add the zucchini to the pan, tossing it with the oil and almonds until it just begins to glisten, about one minute. The idea is not to cook the zucchini so much as warm it.
Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately, with or without cheese on top.