Tuesday, April 15, 2008

the changing of the squash

It is a sure sign that the cold weather is behind you when you make the shift from hearty winter squashes to fresh summer squashes. The colors brighten from orange to green, and everything is a bit peppier. Last night's pasta was a favorite of mine from my cookbook god, Marcella Hazan. The first time I ever had it, it was actually Gene that made it. It's one of those pasta sauces that you might not be entirely sure about when you look at it on the page, then you try it and can't believe how good it can be: Tuna, Zucchini, and Lemon Pasta.

The star, of course, being the fresh tuna, which you have to be quite careful not to overcook. The first time it goes in the pan, it only stays for a minute or two before you remove it. I prefer that it barely even have any color on it. In the picture above, you might notice that I screwed up and minced the garlic and was unable to remove it as the recipe called for. You're supposed to keep it whole, just a little smooshed, so that it infuses the oil but doesn't start to burn and go bitter. Oh well, it didn't get bitter, it was delicious. The zucchini also only cooks for a couple of minutes, I much prefer vegetables with a bit of bite. And finally, the lemon zest, which brightens up the dish and makes it truly feel like spring. Marcella recommends penne or fusilli for this sauce. I used orechiette because it's what I had, and it was great. Recipe after the jump:

Adapted from Marcella Says... by Marcella Hazan

1 lb short pasta such as penne rigate, fusilli, or orechiette
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly smashed
2 bay leaves (preferably fresh)
3/4 lb fresh tuna steak
1/4 cup dry white wine
3/4 lb zucchini
3 tbsp chopped fresh Italian parsley
zest of 1 lemon
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup grated pecorino romano cheese

Wash and dry the zucchini very well in cold water and cut into a 1/2-inch dice. Rinse tuna and pat dry with kitchen towels, then dice into the same size dice as the zucchini. When the pasta goes in the water, heat the olive oil in a 10 or 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the bay leaves and the garlic cloves and saute until the garlic just begins to brown. Using a slotted spoon, remove the bay leaves and garlic and discard. Turn the heat to high, add the tuna to the pan and turn once or twice until it just begins to take on color. Do not cook tuna completely as it will be added back to the heat later. Remove the tuna to a plate and set aside. Add the white and let it sizzle away. Add the zucchini, lemon zest, salt and pepper, and parsley to the pan and saute just until the zucchini is tender. You can prepare the sauce up to the point and stop if the pasta has longer to cook. Once the pasta has only 2 minutes left, season the tuna with salt and pepper and add back to the skillet, tossing well. Drain the pasta and transfer to a large serving bowl. Add the sauce to the pasta and toss well to incorporate. Serve with grated pecorino romano cheese.

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