Wednesday, September 30, 2009

squirrel thoughts

As September draws to a close, I find myself both anticipating and dreading the full glory of fall in New England. As much as I love its pleasures (mulled cider, pumpkin soup, popcorn balls for Halloween), my animal brain knows that with the turning of the leaves also comes the distant whisper of winter. Even the knowledge that snow is still months away is not enough to soothe me, for winter and I have never been at ease with one another.

At the farmers' market, the stalls are setting up with squash and celery root and bitter greens, and the raspberries seem almost too bright, like embers that flare scarlet just before they turn to grey ash. When I gaze at the produce, I am seized by a sense of craving that has nothing to do with appetite. I wonder if the red squirrels I see in the mornings on my way to class feel the same way when they look at the acorns scattered beneath the oak trees.

I have been provisioning for the winter. Every trip I have made to the farmer's market in the past month has included purchases for future consumption. A second pint of raspberries, an extra pound of plums. Buying the promise of brightness, of sweetness to break the dead whiteness in the winter to come.

I lack the knowledge and equipment for canning. I doubt I could eat so much jam, anyway. But raspberries can be frozen just as they are, and stone fruit will freeze in a light bath of sugar and liquor. Yellow nectarines with dark brown sugar and amaretto. White peaches with light brown sugar and vanilla essence. Dusky, blue-skinned prune plums with white sugar and apple brandy.

My freezer space is limited, however, so I have been on a quest to remove everything that does not have to remain frozen. Last year's beef stock has finally found a home in carrot soup. Mediocre cake has become the base for luscious fruit trifle. And my "bread bag," an accumulation of odd bits of stale bread, has been emptied to make strata.

Like French toast, ribollita, and pappa al pomodoro, strata belongs to the family of preparations intended to prolong the life of a loaf of bread. It's the savory answer to bread pudding - a dish of stale bread cubes soaked in a mixture of eggs and milk, seasoned with whatever is handy, and baked until the center is agreeably soft and the top pleasantly browned.

Though strata is usually considered a brunch dish (and it does make for a satisfying meal late on Sunday morning), I find its warmth and softness comforting on chilly evenings, and so I like to prepare it as a light supper. Leftovers become breakfast the next day, and I find that they only improve after a night in the fridge.

The only downside is that I won't be making any more for the next few months. Not until I've made more room in the freezer, at least.

Sundried Tomato and Caramelized Onion Strata

The ingredients for strata are by no means fixed. Consider this recipe a starting point: feel free to add bacon or sausage if you would like meat, or black olives and artichoke hearts if you'd like something more Mediterranean.

(Serves one, with leftovers that are good for breakfast or lunch the next day.)

Take a small ceramic or glass baking dish, about seven inches or so in diameter, and rub it well with olive oil. Set aside.

Saute one finely sliced yellow onion in a little olive oil until soft and caramelized. Season with salt, dried mint and oregano, and deglaze the pan with a little water or white wine. Add the onion to a mixing bowl, and toss well with two or three handfuls of stale bread cubes (roughly two cups). Transfer the mixture to your baking dish.

Beat together two eggs, one cup of milk, and a generous pinch of salt. Add a handful of dried tomatoes, cut into strips. Give the mixture a good stir, and pour it into the baking dish. Set the baking dish in the fridge for at least an hour to give the bread some time to soften.

When you're ready to bake the strata, preheat the oven to 350F. Grate half a cup of strong cheese (Parmesan or sharp cheddar are good choices), and sprinkle it over the contents of the baking dish.

Bake for forty minutes or so, or until the top is nicely browned, and a knife stuck in the middle comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for five to ten minutes before serving. Green salad is a nice accompaniment.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

can haz lobster plz? or, crashing the O.N.C.E afterparty

I don't usually do internet memes. To be honest, I never quite understood why LOLcats became so popular. But when an e-mail announcing O.N.C.E. LOL (Lots O' Lobster) arrived in my inbox last week, the first thing that came to mind was that someone needed to create a LOL-lobster. (LOL-ster?)

(Above image pulled from Wikimedia Commons, and run through a LOLcat generator.)

Of course, the second thought - "I need to make a reservation!" - rapidly followed.

And so it is that when Friday evening rolls around, I find myself in a repeat of last winter's comedy of errors, trying to find a street near Union Square that seems to be missing a sign. Eventually, a helpful cashier at a pizza place points me in the right direction, and I'm only twenty minutes late when I arrive at the right address.

Once I'm inside, and up the stairs, I find myself in a high-ceilinged space that looks a little like a living room, and a little like a funky cafe. (I later learn that it's part of a community center.) There are several tables clustered together to create a dining room, but as I said, I've arrived late, and there isn't an open seat at any of them. Instead, I end up sitting in a sort of lounge area where couches and armchairs are arranged in a circle, paired with fold-out tray tables. It's off to the side, but it's right next to the open kitchen, so I have an excellent view of the action.

(No photos, as per my usual policy when dining out. But JJ has a few over on her blog.)

I settle in and make myself comfortable. My immediate neighbors have already struck up a conversation, so it's easy to join in. I make the acquaintance of JJ Gonson's mother, Dorothy, and chat a little with Annabelle, a nutrition student who also blogs (she's the mind behind Wholesome Cuisine.) Another of the guests seated at our "table" opens a bottle of cava, and offers everyone a glass. I gladly accept. I've brought a bottle of Vouvray, and I'll share later.

A few more latecomers trickle in, and then one of the servers starts to bring around platters of the "world's tiniest surf-and-turf:" toothpick skewers with cubes of garlic scape-marinated steak, and morsels of lobster with butter and lemon. They're just enough to whet our appetites, a promise of more good things to come.

Conversation revolves around - what else? - food. We discuss cookbooks and CSAs, and I admit that while it sometimes frustrates me that I can't find CSA boxes for one, I'm also relieved that I don't have to figure out what to do with mountains of squash and kale when fall gets underway.

Speaking of squash, the servers start to come around with big bowls of something that is probably pumpkin risotto, if the menu on the blackboard in the corner is anything to go by. We're served generous ladlefuls, and I eagerly set to work with my fork. The risotto is pleasantly creamy and faintly garlicky, with just a little bite left in the cubes of sugar pumpkin. When JJ (cheerfully clad in a bright pink apron with cartoon cat appliqué) comes around with another big bowl and offers us seconds, I eagerly accept.

We've been advised that it's going to be a long, leisurely meal, and so we settle back on the couches, relaxing before the next course arrives. When it does, however, we're all quick to sit up, attention fully seized by the sight of panko-crusted fried green tomato rounds topped with lobster salad. The combination is inspired: warm, soft, faintly sweet tomato in a crunchy coating, contrasted with cold creamy salad full of generous chunks of lobster. I hear one of my tablemates say that she's stealing the idea. I think I wouldn't mind stealing it myself.

We have lobster ravioli coming up next, and the conversation turns to pasta. I describe my own adventures in ravioli-making, and Dorothy asks me if I know anything about preparing Chinese dumplings. The answer is decidedly "Not much," though I know plenty about eating them. I tell her about xiaolongbao, and promise to get back to her with the name of a restaurant that serves them in Boston.

JJ appears once again with a big bowl, and carefully spoons lobster ravioli with vanilla butternut squash puree onto our plates. This is a dish I remember from the winter O.N.C.E. dinner, and I'm glad to see it making a reappearance. There's not quite as much lobster in the ravioli this time around, but the squash puree is excellent - sweet with vanilla, and wonderfully silky.

We settle back on the couches again, and at least one member of the table curls up for a brief power nap. It's starting to get late, but we've still got three courses to go.

Next up: we have to eat our vegetables if we want dessert. JJ has decided that our vegetable tonight will be a wilted arugula salad with apples softened in bacon fat, lightly seasoned with cinnamon and dressed with vinegar and olive oil. One of the servers calls it "apple pie salad," which isn't a bad description. It is a little odd, but I rather like the sweet-sour effect of the apples with the bitterness of the arugula.

A new arrival shows up in the lounge area after the salad. Apparently one of the tables in the dining area was set up for a solo diner, and he decided he wanted more in the way of dinner conversation. He's brought local wine to match the local food - a chardonnay from Turtle Creek Winery in Lincoln, MA - and offers it around the table. The Vouvray I came with has worked well enough with all the dishes so far, but I'm curious to try more local wine, and so I suggest that we switch bottles for a glass. It's a good move - the wine is faintly spicy, a little minerally, and when the Goan lobster curry shows up, it makes for a rather effective pairing.

The Goan lobster curry is the work of a guest chef, Arun, and it's the show-stealing dish of the evening. It's tomato-based with hints of coconut, assertively spicy, wonderfully complex, and completely unlike any curry I've ever eaten before. Odd as it might sound, the closest comparison I can think of is crab gumbo. I am regretful but unsurprised to hear that there will not be any seconds.

To cool things down after the curry, we have lychee ice-cream with fresh yellow watermelon for dessert. The lychees, explains JJ, are definitely not local, but they're a generous gift from a tiny grove in Florida. Lychees usually fall somewhere towards the bottom of my list of tasty fruit (too much unmitigated sweetness), but the ice-cream is lovely and subtle, with faintly floral overtones. The watermelon is also excellent, sweet and juicy.

It's now definitely late, and people start to call it a night. I'm not quite ready to leave yet, however, so I wander over to the kitchen area to see if any of the O.N.C.E. team would like a glass of Vouvray, and fall into a conversation with the crew. I learn how and why they each got involved with O.N.C.E, and I discover that the recipe for Arun's lobster curry, while not a secret, does call for a lot of spices that are difficult to find in this corner of the country. (Alas.)

It turns out that the pace of the post-dinner cleanup is largely limited by the dishwasher cycle, and so the crew moves over to the lounge area to put up their feet. The conversation continues as JJ does the books for the evening, and when the cleanup resumes, it only seems natural for me to stay and lend a hand.

I collect dirty silverware and used napkins, stack empty wine bottles in the recycling, and tackle some of the dishes. There's weird music on the stereo, and everyone's exhausted, but the mood in the kitchen is cheerful, even celebratory. I am crashing the O.N.C.E. afterparty, and having a blast doing so.

By the time midnight rolls around, I'm trying not to curse out the hot water supply, which has been on and off and frustrating my ability to clean the big stack of dirty pots and pans in the sink. (It's ultimately declared a lost cause, and JJ takes them home to be washed.) But I've heard JJ tell some of the stories behind the items on the menu, and I've even managed to snag a container of leftover uncooked panko-crusted green tomatoes to take home.

I can only conclude that while dining at a O.N.C.E. dinner is fun, being behind the scenes at a O.N.C.E. dinner is even better.

Monday, September 14, 2009

the memory of blueberries

During our weekend in Vermont, we mark time through blueberries.

i. friday evening

We leave Boston in the late afternoon, arriving in Vermont mid-evening. Bobbie Sue has held dinner for us, putting hot dogs on the waiting grill as we move our bags to the house and settle in. We eat a salad with fresh lettuce, garden tomatoes, kidney beans and diced avocado, scattered with cubes of sharp cheddar and sprinkled with sunflower seeds.

Once the dinner plates are cleared, Bobbie Sue presents us with blueberry buckle, a dense cake studded with blueberries, rich with cinnamon struesel topping. We portion out generous squares and demolish them in eager forkfuls, licking cinnamon sugar from the corners of our mouths.

ii. saturday morning

There are fresh blueberries with yogurt for breakfast, sweet-tart and deliciously chilled. When breakfast is over, Bobbie Sue takes the remaining berries from their Tupperware container and leaves them in a brown earthenware bowl on the kitchen table. Throughout the morning, we return to the bowl time and time again, seeking handfuls of sweetness at each pass.

iii. saturday night

The kettle on, the teapot ready. Mugs anticipating tea, strainer and tea-cosy awaiting use. We cut pieces of the remaining blueberry buckle, transfer them to plates. Time has intensified the sweetness, deepened the scent of cinnamon. It cries out for the fork to be discarded, for fingers to seek out the errant crumbs.

iv. sunday morning

I wake late, the sun streaming through the windows. I can smell coffee in the air, and so I roll out of the high-framed, crisp-sheeted bed and pad downstairs to the kitchen. Bobbie Sue is at the stove in a flannel dressing gown, and she is keeping a watchful eye on the contents of two cast-iron skillets. There are blueberry pancakes to be had.

She hands me the spatula and tells me to take over while she mixes up another batch of batter. I ladle generous spoonfuls into the skillets, dotting each round with fresh blueberries from another earthenware bowl. The batter spreads; small bubbles form on its surface. The edges turn golden brown. Later, the pancakes swim in rivulets of dark maple syrup, bathed in pools of melted butter.

v. sunday afternoon

The blueberry bushes are ready to be picked again. We pile into the car, a cooler and a stack of plastic buckets at the ready. I hide my hair beneath a hat, sunscreen coating my neck and face and arms.

The stand of bushes lies in sun-dappled shade. There is some conversation at the start, but soon we settle into a meditative silence, broken only by the soft thud of berries falling into our plastic buckets, a patter like gentle rain.

There is an art to finding the ripe blueberries, the ones that have lost their purple tinge and are a true, deep blue beneath their pale bloom. It requires peering into the branches and looking up, because they hide in clusters beneath the leaves. Soon, the world narrows to the branches, the leaves, my hands. There is little eating as we pick. We have already eaten our fill; today, the blueberries are work.

vi. return to boston

I leave Vermont with a plastic bag filled with berries, ready to be frozen and carefully rationed through the winter. But first, I read through a copy of Bobbie Sue's recipe for blueberry buckle. I think of fresh blueberry pancakes with maple syrup. And I find myself in the kitchen, measuring out flour, creaming sugar and butter, and tinkering, just a little, to produce a soft, moist blueberry coffee cake, fragrant with maple and cinnamon. Something to mark the close of summer. Something to mark the memory of blueberries.

Maple-Blueberry Coffee Cake

Adapted from Bobbie Sue's modified version of the blueberry buckle recipe in the King Arthur Flour Cookbook.

(Recipe not for one.)

Preheat the oven to 375F. Grease a shallow ten-inch cake tin or cast iron pan.

In a small bowl, combine two-thirds of a cup of flour, two-thirds of a cup of white sugar, and two teaspoons of cinnamon. Rub in one stick of chilled butter, cut into pieces, until the mixture is fine and crumbly. Set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together two cups of flour, two teaspoons of baking powder, and a half-teaspoon of salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together half a stick of softened butter, half a cup of sugar, a quarter-cup of Grade B maple syrup, one egg and a teaspoon of vanilla until light and fluffy. Measure out half a cup of milk.

Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture in batches, alternating with the milk. Once everything is just combined, fold in two cups of fresh or frozen blueberries.

Spoon the batter into the pan and smooth it down. Sprinkle with the cinnamon mixture. Transfer the pan to the oven.

Bake for forty to fifty minutes, or until a knife stuck into the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool. Cake may be served warm or at room temperature, preferably with coffee.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

the dangers of vermont

I have it on good authority that should you ever visit Montpelier, Vermont in the summertime, you should never leave your car door unlocked.

This has nothing to do with the safety of the car itself. The chances that you will return to find your car damaged or vanished are low. Instead, locking your car door is a safeguard against returning to find your car exactly where you left it - but with several enormous, torpedo-size zucchini piled in the front passenger seat. This is apparently common knowledge to the point where there's even a stand at the farmers' market that advertises its squash with the slogan "Worth leaving your car door unlocked for."

Being a non-driver, I did not have worry about any drive-by zucchini-gifting when I went with Bella to visit her family in Montpelier this past weekend. However, Bella's family has a large vegetable garden, and the zucchini has been producing like, well, zucchini.

I love zucchini, but I usually encounter them when they're on their best manners at the farmer's market. I can choose young slender specimens for ratatouille and risotto, and I've (thankfully) never needed to dream up ways to use the ones that are almost the size of baseball bats. Still, when Bella's mother, Bobbie Sue, planned a gathering of friends and family for Sunday dinner, and asked us to come up with appetizer ideas, I felt strangely compelled to put a dent in the basket of zucchini set out on the porch. And so I declared that I could make zucchini fritters.

Fritters are one of my favorite appetizers for informal gatherings, the kind where everyone congregates in the kitchen before dinner begins. Like all fried things, fritters are best eaten as soon as they come off the stove, so they're perfectly suited to in-kitchen noshing. And even when we reach the point in the season when everyone is heartily sick of zucchini, they're quite appealing when enveloped in light, basil-fragrant batter and fried to a crisp golden brown.

So maybe you can leave your car door unlocked after all. I have it on good authority that what you really have to fear isn't drive-by zucchini-gifting in the summer, anyway. The real danger in Vermont is someone forcing you to take their extra homegrown squash at gunpoint in the fall.

(The photography is Bella's, and that this recipe works at all is thanks to Bobbie Sue, who helped troubleshoot the frying process.)

Zucchini Fritters

The number of zucchini required for this recipe depends on their size. If you are trying to get rid of monster torpedo-size zucchini, you'll want two. If they are large, but not monstrous, you'll want three or four. And if they're small zucchini, you'll want six or seven. It may seem like a lot of zucchini, but there's not much to a zucchini once you've drawn out all its moisture.

(Recipe not for one. Deep-frying really calls for an audience. Makes two dozen tiny fritters.)

Grate your zucchini. Place them in a large bowl and sprinkle a tablespoon of salt over. Allow to sit for half an hour, then transfer to a colander and press to get rid of as much liquid as you can. The goal is to get the zucchini dry as possible; if you have cheesecloth, wrap the zucchini in it and squeeze. If not, take handfuls and squeeze.

Once your zucchini shreds are as dry as possible, measure out two cups' worth. (If you have a lot of zucchini left over, it can be sauteed with onion and used to fill an omelette.)

Get out a big mixing bowl and whisk together half a cup of flour, half a teaspoon of baking powder, half a teaspoon of salt, one egg, and half a cup of milk. Stir in fresh torn leaves of basil (be generous), and a little fresh thyme, if you have it.

Pour the batter over the zucchini shreds and stir gently to mix. Now we're ready to start frying.

Set a cast iron pan or other deep, heavy-bottomed pan on the stove over medium to high heat. Pour in a generous amount of canola or peanut oil. Watch the oil. Once it starts to shimmer or tremble, you're ready to fry. (The oil shouldn't be smoking, however - turn down the heat if it is.)

Drop a teaspoon of the batter into the pan, and flatten it gently with the back of a spatula. Cook on one side until the edges are golden brown, then flip it over and cook the other side.

The first of a batch of fritters is the test run, and like the first of a batch of pancakes, will probably not come out perfectly. That's fine. If it comes out pale, your oil probably isn't hot enough; if it browns nicely but is still raw in the middle, your oil is probably too hot. Adjust the temperature accordingly.

Cook the fritters in batches of three or four, depending on the size of your pan. Transfer them to a paper-towel-lined plate as they cook, and sprinkle them generously with coarse salt. Serve immediately.

Friday, September 4, 2009

when life gives you peas, make risi e bisi

When I first started blogging, one of my greatest fears was that I'd run out of things to write about. I worried that after a few months, I would have told all the amusing anecdotes I could think of, and that I'd be reduced to writing facile musings on the pleasures of dark chocolate and the fear of dining alone.

If only I knew.

I've gone from "Oh! I can blog about this!" to "Oh dear. I really should blog about this." I'm still getting pleasure out of writing (the day that stops is the day I turn out the lights on the blog), but my to-do list is looking just a little... unwieldy.

My corkboard is papered with Post-Its on which I've jotted ideas and recipes. My recipe bookmark list is longer than the credits for the Lord of the Rings movies. My drafts folder should probably be labelled "Here be dragons." And I have ten to fifteen posts languishing in various states of unfinished at any given time.

Sometimes they languish because they weren't all that great to begin with. Sometimes they languish because something new and more exciting came up before the blog post could be written. And sometimes, they languish due to technical difficulties, like being unable to procure crucial ingredients.

For two years running, I have tried to make risi e bisi for the feast day of St. Mark, patron saint of Venice. For two years running, I have failed, because I couldn't get my hands on any English peas when the day rolled around. For whatever reason, it is virtually impossible to find fresh English peas in the pod in the Boston area in late April - or in any other month, for that matter. Either the English pea farmers have all retired, or Green Giant has poached them all to produce frozen peas out on farms somewhere in the Midwest.

And risi e bisi is not a dish that will accept substitutes. Risi e bisi means "rice and peas" in the Venetian dialect, and it is just that: a sort of soupy risotto of rice and peas, with a little onion for flavoring. The rice is there for body; the dish is all about the sweet, green flavor of the fresh peas. No peas? No point.

If there's one thing I have learned from blogging, though, it's that you take your chances where you find them. On my last trip to Haymarket, I wasn't there to browse. It was pouring, I was freezing, and I just wanted to get in, pick up my lemons and limes, and get the hell out. And then a heaping pile of green pods caught my eye. They were too fat to be sugar snaps. Could it be?

It was. I had finally found English peas in Boston. Though it was nowhere near the feast day of St. Mark, it didn't make the risi e bisi any less delicious. Being able to clear one languishing blog post from the docket might have been even better.

As for the other fourteen... well, maybe it's time I put the delete button to use?

Risi e Bisi

The traditional preparation of this dish calls for the pea shells to be simmered in the stock to give it extra flavor. If your peas are organic or homegrown, it's not a bad idea, but if you're uncertain of their provenance, it's better to skip that step.

(Serves one, with leftovers.)

You'll need about a pound and a half of unshelled peas: a pound for the pot, and half a pound to snack on as you shell, for an end product of roughly two cups of shelled peas. Substitute frozen peas only if you wish to go to that circle of culinary hell reserved for those who make French onion soup with canned broth.

Put a pot on the stove and add two cups of stock (either chicken or vegetable) and one cup of water. Bring to a simmer.

Heat olive oil (or a mixture of olive oil and butter) in a heavy-bottomed pot over low heat and add one finely chopped white onion. Cook until the onion is soft and translucent, then add one cup of arborio, carnaroli, or other risotto rice to the pot. Stir the rice until the grains are warm to the touch, then add a ladleful of chicken or vegetable stock. Once the liquid has been absorbed, add the peas and another ladleful of stock. Keep stirring.

Repeat this process until the rice is tender, but still has a little bite. (If you're running low on stock, top it up with water.) The mixture should be thick, like risotto, but a little soupier. Check for salt; adjust to taste. Turn off the heat, and let the risi e bisi stand for five to ten minutes before serving. You can serve it with Parmigiano-Reggiano, but it's quite optional.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

other people's kitchens

When it comes to learning about people, I'll always choose kitchens over bedrooms.

I've heard it said that you can figure out exactly what kind of person someone is from looking at their bedroom. Honestly, though, I've never been able to divine anything more from someone's bedroom than where their preferences lie with respect to blankets or comforters, and whether they like to read in bed. A bedroom might be able to tell you how someone sleeps, but a kitchen will tell you how they eat. And I, naturally, am far more interested in eating.

I learned to cook in other people's kitchens. My first KitchenAid mixer was the one in the Hillel kitchen, and my first cast-iron pans were those belonging to the hippie vegetarian co-op I lived in during senior year of college. The gadgets and appliances I've desired have only rarely been products I encountered in stores or catalogs; I've usually seen them in someone else's kitchen first.

Jake's kitchen, for example, is a gadget haven. As the son of a food writer who occasionally reviews kitchen products, Jake has a whole collection of tools and devices I don't own - or would never have thought to acquire. (His can opener is perhaps the most futuristic object I've ever seen in a kitchen.) When I cook in his kitchen, I can sometimes try out recipes or techniques I normally wouldn't have the equipment to execute.

Zucchini has featured heavily in the meals I've prepared recently, but it's taken the forms easily achieved with a chef's knife - pedestrian slices and cubes. Jake's collection of kitchen implements includes a mandoline, which will cut a zucchini into long thin strips that turn into delicate ribbons once they're cooked. The zucchini ribbons end up bearing a certain resemblance to wide pasta, and so I decided to prepare a pasta dish with a loosely-trompe l'oeil effect.

The sauce for this pasta is a simple base of fresh heirloom tomatoes with garlic and smoked pepper flakes. It's quite thin, barely slicking the pasta, and assertively garlicky, with just a little kick from the smoked pepper, balanced out by the sweet mildness of the zucchini. The finished dish makes for a pleasantly light lunch or dinner, and it's almost enough to make me buy a mandoline of my own.

"Almost" being the key word, however. I'm not ready to give up cooking in other people's kitchens just yet.

Zucchini Ribbon Pasta

This is really more of a fresh egg pasta dish than a dried pasta dish; use ready-made fresh egg pasta if you're not up to making your own. Fettuccine is good, but pappardelle is probably best. You'll want half a pound for this recipe.

(Serves one, with leftovers.)

Put a kettle of water on to boil.

Take one large heirloom tomato, cut an X in the bottom, and put it in a small bowl. Cover with boiling water and allow to sit for a minute; remove with a slotted spoon and peel away the skin. Seed the tomato and chop it into small pieces. Set aside.

Take one green zucchini and one yellow zucchini, and cut them lengthwise on a mandoline to make long strips, then cut the strips in half lengthwise so that they're about half an inch wide. Set aside.

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil.

Finely mince three cloves of garlic, and add them to a big, heavy-bottomed pan with a little olive oil. Cook over low heat until the garlic starts to smell good, then add a dash of smoked red pepper flakes. Add the tomato and bring to a simmer. Stir occasionally, using the back of a wooden spoon to break up the tomato pieces.

Once the contents of the pan are looking thick rather than liquidy, add a quarter-cup of stock, either chicken or vegetable. Allow to reduce, then add the zucchini to the pan. Sprinkle generously with salt.

Cook, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini softens. Check for salt; adjust to taste.

Once the zucchini are close to being cooked through, add your pasta to the pot of boiling water. Cook, drain, and add it to the pan. Throw in a few torn-up leaves of fresh basil, and toss carefully. Serve immediately. A little grated Parmigiano-Reggiano is a nice extra, but not strictly necessary.