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.


librariane said...

Oo--I have a zucchini languishing on my counter and this will be perfect. I also have tomatoes that need to be used, but not enough to make a full sauce.

And does the pantry count as part of the kitchen? I bet you can tell loads by a person's pantry. And fridge. And cupboard. :)

adele said...

Librariane - A pantry definitely counts. I love the "Fridge Friday" meme, too - it's fascinating to see what other people have in their fridges!