There’s a lot of abundance in the mid-summer kitchen garden right now. Among all the summer favorites, the two vegetables vying for first place in this abundance are, no surprise, zucchini and cucumbers. I’ve grown zucchini for years, specifically my favorite Costata Romanesca, and have learned that one plant is enough and sometimes even too much for two people.
A single plant produces ribbed and striped squash steadily all summer. I like to harvest them when they are about eight inches long and an inch-and-a-half or two in diameter. Any I miss seem to double in length and diameter overnight, but fortunately, their sweet, nutty flavor and dense texture don’t diminish too much in the larger sizes.
Cucumbers are a more recent entry to my summer kitchen garden, thanks to encouragement from my friend Anne. She recommended Marketmore which I grew last year and again this year because its sweet flavor and crisp texture are so refreshing that even cucumber skeptics like them. Like zucchini, though, cucumbers produce steadily, stealthily on their ever-expanding vines, but I’m learning how to spot the perfect 8-inch cuke under a leafy camouflage and harvest it before it reaches blimp stage.
Two new-to-me recipes have made me glad for this abundance of zucchini and cucumbers. My current favorite zucchini recipe is David Tanis’ Summer Pasta with Zucchini, Ricotta and Basil. It’s easy to assemble and, as a bonus, uses another of those abundant summer vegetables, basil. Tanis recommends using “the best artisanal ricotta,” but even regular store-bought ricotta works. Or, you could become an artisan and make your own ricotta. Both Melissa Clark’s very rich version of home-made ricotta and the slightly less rich recipe from the Kitchn website are easy and delicious. And if you have access to Fresh Breeze Dairy’s superb milk, available on Lopez at Blossom Grocery, it’s sublime.
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced
2 pounds zucchini, sliced into 1/4-inch-thick pieces (for larger zucchini, cut in half lengthwise before slicing)
Salt and pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced, or 2 tablespoons chopped green garlic
1 ounce basil, about 2 cups loose leaves
1 pound ziti or other dry pasta
8 ounces ricotta, about 1 cup
Pinch of crushed red pepper
Zest of 1 lemon
2 ounces grated Parmesan, pecorino or a mixture, about 1 cup, plus more for serving
Put a pot of water on to boil. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the onions in 3 tablespoons olive oil until softened, 5 to 8 minutes. Reduce heat as necessary to keep onions from browning. Add zucchini, season generously with salt and pepper, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally until rather soft, about 10 minutes. Turn off heat.
Meanwhile, use a mortar and pestle to pound garlic, basil and a little salt into a rough paste (or use a mini food processor). Stir in 3 tablespoons olive oil.
Salt the pasta water well and put in the pasta, stirring. Boil per package instructions but make sure to keep pasta quite al dente. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup of cooking water.
Add cooked pasta to zucchini in skillet and turn heat to medium-high. Add 1/2 cup cooking water, then the ricotta, crushed red pepper and lemon zest, stirring to distribute.
Check seasoning and adjust. Cook for 1 minute more. Mixture should look creamy. Add a little more pasta water if necessary. Add the basil paste and half the grated cheese and quickly stir to incorporate. Spoon pasta into warm soup plates and sprinkle with additional cheese. Serve immediately.
To keep up with the abundance of cucumbers, my current favorite recipe is cucumber and tomato salad.
There are many versions of this classic combination, and the one I’ve been following lately is Pierre Franey’s 1988 recipe from his New York Times 60-Minute Gourmet column. The dressing, made with red wine vinegar, red onion, chopped fresh dill, ground cumin and olive oil is the perfect match for the cucumbers and tomato. It’s salad with a lovely echo of gazpacho.
So much to eat! Here’s to more summer days to enjoy kitchen garden abundance!
Yield: 4-6 servings
Time: 15 minutes
- 2 medium-size cucumbers
- 3 ripe tomatoes, 3/4 pound
- ½ cup chopped red onion
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
- 2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Peel the cucumbers and split them in half. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Slice the cucumbers crosswise. There should be about 3 cups.
- Core the tomatoes and cut them into 1/2-inch cubes. There should be about 3 cups.
- Put the onion, dill, vinegar, oil, cumin, salt and pepper in a bowl. Beat briskly with a wire whisk. Add the cucumbers and tomatoes. Toss well and serve.