The pasta of my childhood was all about the sauce, either a heavy red sauce, or an equally heavy white sauce, often loaded with cheese. I loved them both, and I still make slightly lighter versions every once in a while. But, over the past few years my taste buds gravitated more and more towards pasta with veggies. Now the sauce plays a secondary role, formed in part by a simple ladle of the pasta cooking water, full of the starch released during cooking.
The possibilities for this kind of dish are nearly endless. I’m fond of cutting zucchini to match long stranded pasta, like spaghetti or fettuccine. This recipe, which I threw together in minutes the other day, is perfect for weeknights: quick, simple to make, not too heavy, but substantial enough to leave you satisfied and happy at the end of a busy day.
PASTA WITH ZUCCHINI STRANDS AND SHRIMP
(serves two, amounts are pretty flexible)
dried spaghetti, fettuccine or any long strand pasta
12 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
2-3 medium size zucchini
1 shallot, finely diced
1 T olive oil
1/2 ounce goat cheese, crumbled
salt and pepper
Place a large pot with water to boil.
Prepare the zucchini by cutting off both ends and using a mandolin or food processor to cut it lengthwise into fine strands. Ideally, you want the dimensions of the zucchini to match the pasta, but don’t worry too much about it, just make sure to have long, even-sized strands.
When the water boils, add the pasta: while it cooks, heat a little olive oil in a large saute pan, add the diced shallot, season lightly with salt, and cook for a couple of minutes in medium heat. Add the shrimp and cook on both sides until opaque, do not overcook. Remove the shrimp to a plate and add the zucchini to the pan, increasing the heat to high. Season with a little salt and pepper, and when the zucchini cooks down return the shrimp to the pan. Cook it together with the zucchini for a minute.
When the pasta is cooked al dente, remove 1/2 cup of the cooking water and set aside; drain the pasta and add it to the zucchini/shrimp mixture. Add some of the pasta water to get the consistency you like, immediately sprinkle the goat cheese and mix everything gently to allow the cheese to slowly melt and incorporate into the dish. Right before serving sprinkle lemon zest on top of the pasta, and adjust seasoning if necessary.
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Comments: Zucchini strands or ribbons are a busy cook’s best friends! If you have a food processor, it takes just seconds to cut, but if you prefer not to deal with washing the processor, a mandolin or a box grater, which is what I used, works well too.
The amounts are flexible: the higher the proportion of zucchini, the lighter the dish will be. It’s is a wonderful way of “stretching” the pasta, by shaving off some calories without compromising flavor.
I like the combination of goat cheese with zucchini and shrimp. Some people find that seafood and cheese don’t go well together, but in this case I beg to differ.
You can make many variations on this basic dish – omit the shrimp, add black olives, sun dried tomatoes, fresh herbs such as oregano, mint, or basil. Zucchini is very “social”, enjoys playing with all sorts of flavors, so let’s profit from it 😉
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