- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 5, 2009

How to use those ubiquitous summer zucchini creatively is every cook’s dilemma this time of the year. The popular vegetable grows with abandon in home gardens, makes star appearances in all shapes and sizes at local farmers markets, and is a perennial item at roadside farm stands.

Recently, while flipping through the pages of a cookbook I had bought in France, I saw a recipe that put this summer squash to inventive use.

Grated zucchini and minced garlic were sauteed in olive oil, then combined with capers and tossed with strands of linguine. In my version, a few red pepper flakes give the dish a hint of heat, while grated Parmesan and crumbled feta cheeses add creamy and salty accents. A handful of chopped basil, stirred in at the last moment, provides another flavor punch as well as verdant splashes of color.

Offered with a loaf of crusty peasant bread and a green salad, this dish would make a tempting and light vegetarian main course for an alfresco meal with friends. Or, use it as a side dish paired with sauteed shrimp, grilled lamb kabobs, or roasted chicken breasts or thighs.

Linguine with zucchini, garlic and capers
Makes 4 servings as a light main course or 6 servings as a side dish.

2 pounds zucchini (about 6 medium zucchini)
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons finely minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup capers with some juice
Kosher salt
12 to 14 ounces fresh pasta such as linguine or spaghetti
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano Reggiano
1/2 cup crumbled feta
1/4 cup chopped basil plus some sprigs for garnish

Set a large pot of water over high heat, and once it comes to a boil, cover, and lower the heat so the water remains at a simmer.

Rinse and dry the zucchini, then trim and discard the ends. Cut zucchini in half through the middle, then grate each half using the largest grating surface of a hand grater. Grate until you have 4 cups and each zucchini has no more skin. Save center cores of zucchini for another use, such as in a summer vegetable soup. Blot grated zucchini as dry as possible with paper towels.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. When the skillet is hot, add garlic and pepper flakes and saute only a minute or less until garlic starts to take on color. If garlic starts to color immediately, remove pan from heat for a few seconds.

Add zucchini and cook and stir until softened but still bright green, 5 to 6 minutes. Stir in capers. Taste and season with salt. Set aside in pan.

Remove lid from pot of water, raise heat, and bring to boil. Add linguine and 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt. Cook until pasta is al dente, according to package directions (usually 3 to 4 minutes for fresh). Drain pasta and return to pot in which it was cooked. Stir in Parmesan and feta. Parmesan will melt completely, but feta might not melt completely.

Add the cooked zucchini mixture to the pasta, and, using two forks, toss to blend. Stir in the basil, then season with salt as needed. Serve mounded in 4 shallow bowls and garnish each serving with a basil sprig. Or use as a side dish and mound in a shallow serving bowl with a bouquet of basil in the center.


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