Every time I make an Ottolenghi recipe, I become convinced that he has finally lost his mind. Really, turmeric, black sesame seeds and parmesan together? Three tablespoons of fresh oregano? A full half-cup of tahini? And as my anxiety grows — you see, I, too, understand the bubble of time, ingredients and trust that we invest into new recipes, which, when popped, leads to the kind of frustration that can only be righted with a scalding review — I wonder if this will be it, the day I finally make an Ottolenghi recipe that’s just plain off. And, without fail, we sit down to something so spectacular in a way I hadn’t even considered before, I’m in awe of his talent and relieved that I ignored every instinct not to follow his recipe faithfully.
This was no different. It looks like a basic pesto pasta, doesn’t it? But it’s not really. Sure, there’s basil and olive oil. But it lacks the other ingredients of pesto genovese — garlic, toasted pignoli and parmesan. Instead, basil is blended with flat-leaf parsley, and the zest of a whole lemon, tablespoons of capers and torn chunks of fresh mozzarella are stirred in. The star of the show is three zucchini, cut into thin discs, fried until golden and then soaked in a bit of red wine vinegar to make something that’s neither crisp nor chip-like nor pickled but more intruiguing than all three. And then there’s the edamame, yes, the soybeans popular in East Asian dishes, here in a pasta-pesto combo. I couldn’t do it! It was too strange to me and I became bent on securing fresh shelling peas, which I think would be fantastic here, only to leave the Greenmarket in a pout (likely because I was still carrying 10+ pounds of things I hadn’t intended to buy, as always) because they’re not in yet.
Now, I know that not everyone is keen on frying vegetables for a weeknight dinner. But, I would argue that it’s the easiest way to do this. Roasting a zillion thin discs would take forever, and never come out so evenly brown. And — does anyone else do this? — at least according to my measuring cup, the zucchini absorbed all of a single tablespoon of oil in the frying process. Considering how much I’d use for roasting or sauteeing, I’d consider this a good deal.
The resulting dish was one of the best things we’ve eaten in a while, a glorious green, complex and vegetal summer pasta dish that I kicked myself for suggesting that my husband take the leftovers to work, in case you were wondering if I’m actually a nice person. I mean, sometimes I am? Just not with Ottolenghi leftovers, it seems.
Two years ago: Broccoli Parmesan Fritters
Three years ago: Dobos Torte
Four years ago: Strawberry-Ricotta Graham Tartlets
Five years ago: Pickled Sugar Snap Peas
Six years ago: Breakfast Apricot Crisp
Seven years ago: La Vignarola (Spring Vegetable Stew)
Pasta and Fried Zucchini Salad
Adapted, barely, from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi
Salt and black pepper
2/3 cup sunflower or safflower oil, or any type of oil you like for deep-frying
3 medium zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3/4 cup frozen edamame or peas, fresh or frozen
2 cups basil leaves, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup parsley leaves
1/3 cup olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
9 ounces strozzapreti or penne pasta
Zest of 1 lemon
1 1/2 tablespoons capers (or more to taste; my husband votes for 2)
7 ounces buffalo mozzarella, torn into chunks
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
While you’re waiting, in a medium saucepan or skillet, heat sunflower oil over medium-high heat. Fry zucchini slices in batches for about 3 to 4 minutes, flipping once, until golden on both sides. [Update to add: If your zucchini isn’t browning right away, bump up the heat until it does in just a few minutes.] Drain in colander, shaking with a couple pinches of salt, then transfer to a large bowl and pour vinegar on top. Set aside.
In the hot water, cook edamame for 3 minutes, frozen peas for 3 to 4 minutes, or fresh peas for 1 to 2 minutes (to taste). Drain and run cool water over until lukewarm. Set aside to dry. Leave pot boiling, then cook pasta until al dente in it. Drain and rinse under cold water.
Combine half of basil and all of the parsley and olive oil in a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth, then season with salt and pepper.
Transfer pasta back to empty pot. Add fried zucchini and any juices, basil-parsley oil, edamame or peas, lemon zest, capers and mozzarella. Stir gently together, then season generously with salt and pepper. Right before you serve it, stir in remaining basil leaves.
Do ahead: Assembled dish keeps in the fridge for at least a day, or so I hear.