Everything Pasta: How I Discovered Lemon Zucchini and Became Enlightened
What do you call someone who comes up with a lemon zucchini?
A benefactor to humanity.
Okay, I'm not the first one, but I think I found a new twist. My neighbors up the street have llamas and zucchini on their property. I think their pet unicorn died. Anyway, they were hosting our Sunday meditation group while our regular hosts are on vacation. I didn't become enlightened, but I did return home with three fresh zucchini.
I had intended to use the stuff in a ratatouille, but you know how things go. You start sticking it in everything. So here's the situation. We were low on food in the house. Time for my everything pasta.
McMan's Lemon Zucchini Everything Pasta
Hmmm. What's in the fridge? Ah, some kielbasa sausage (low fat) and mushrooms. Something to work with. The mushrooms happened to be the button kind rather than my preferred portabella, but I have a remedy for that.
First the sauce. Since this is going to be a quick pasta, I have to opt for speed. I dump a large can of tomatoes in the blender and turn the setting to mutilate. Then I pour the pinkish slop into a sauce pan. No time to boil down to the desired level of thickness. A small can of tomato paste takes care of that. Some powdered garlic and basil (alas, I was stuck having to shake the stuff out of an - ugh - shaker), and a little heat, and - voila! - instant sauce. Today, I'm going for ultra-thick.
Meanwhile, my pasta water is heating up.
Next order of business, about a third of the kielbasa sausage, sliced diagonally. I brown these in a frying pan with a bit of olive oil, remove from the pan, set aside, and pour off the excess fat.
By now, I have about a third of a box of penne pasta going in the water, with some salt and a bit of olive oil. Penne pasta is the perfect pasta for everything pastas. Literally, you can dump anything into penne and then lie to your guests about the dish being based on a 500-year-old Tuscan recipe.
Now it's the mushrooms' turn. Mushrooms, tofu, and sponges all belong to the same species of plant. They are real flavor-soaker-uppers. So here's my pan infused with heavenly sausage taste. In go the mushrooms with some olive oil and low fat butter and a bit of garlic powder (alas, no real garlic on hand). Out go the tastiest morsels this side of Tuscany.
Time for the zucchini. Here we have a pan literally brimming with flavor. You lucky zucchini, you. Then my eye lights upon a lonely lemon in a largely deserted fruit bowl. My moment of zen. A mysterious invisible force seizes hold of me. Is this the enlightenment I have been seeking all these years? That Fourth of July in my head that keeps eluding me? My neurons are tingling. Something is about to go off.
Yes! I feel it! It's happening! My head explodes under the force of the realization. Enlightenment!
As the zucchini goes into the pan for a quick browning, I feverishly zest the lemon peel over the top and squeeze in the juices. Lemon and zucchini - the ultimate cosmic connection. I will never be the same.
It's time to come back to earth. I remove the zucchini. Now to a very important rule of cooking. Never wash that pan. Not yet, anyway, not with all those beautiful flavors lurking on the bottom. Keep that pan hot and splash into it whatever liquid you have on hand. Wine is a chef's favorite. Juice will work just fine. I happen to have some balsamic vinegar within arm's reach. You want to boil this down into what they call a reduction, scraping and blending in the tasty pan bits - the fond - as you go. I reduce mine to nearly a syrupy consistency, then pour it into the "everything" bowl where my sausage and mushrooms and zucchini are idling, along with a lot of the liquids they were cooked in.
By now, my penne is ready for draining.
Once drained, the penne goes back in the pan it came from. A few seconds in the dry heat will take care of any excess moisture. Now this is important. My everything pastas are not about consistency. No uniformity of sauce for me. We're going to have liquids from three sources entering that pan - four including the fond - and we want to create the impression of worlds in collision.
So first I pour in some olive oil and give the pasta a stir. Next goes my bowl of everything ingredients, along with the liquids. Another stir. Finally, in goes about half of my pasta sauce. It's extra thick, remember? It's not about to lose its separate identity.
Time to plate my creation. I ladle over the top the remaining sauce. Now this is where most trendy restaurants dispense goat cheese from a chute that drops from the ceiling. I don't have any goat cheese in the house, but I have something better, fresh avocado. Beautiful mushy chunks of congealed California sunshine.
Some salad and bread and I'm good to go. Parmesan optional. Serves two.
So here I am with my everything pasta, savoring the profusion of flavors. The penne, soaking up all those liquids - yum. Some tomato pasta sauce taste competing with the olive oil and pan juices and the reduction, all coming at me from different directions - yum-yum. Sausage, mushroom, avocado - I've died and gone to heaven.
What's this? A new taste? I have a zucchini morsel in my mouth and it's - lemony. It's delicious! Better than delicious. This could make a vegetarian out of me. Anyone familiar with zucchini and its eggplant sibling knows these pathetic odes to precipitously bland are best buried under four pounds of cheese and tomato sauce. But little did we know. Little did we realize that all these years that this unprepossessing distant cousin of soylent green was Fred in search of Ginger.
I have a modest request for my burial. Let "Lemon Zucchini" be carved into my headstone. "Benefactor to Humanity" is redundant.