When a new cookbook recently came across my desk, my first thought was this was just another vegetable book with a clever title. How wrong I was. “The Vegetable Butcher” ($29.95, Workman Publishing) by Cara Mangini should be an essential part of your cookbook library.
It is THE guide for selecting, preparing, slicing, dicing and, of course, cooking all things vegetable.
In “The Vegetable Butcher,” you will find butchery essentials interspersed throughout the book, and dishes like corn fritters, celery root pot pie and eggplant steak with salsa verde will make you want to run to your local farmers’ market.
The following pasta is replete with summer’s bounty; zucchini, corn and basil naturally go together. I’d keep this recipe on hand as the summer continues, since you may often buy lots of these ingredients.
This bright summer pasta is flavored with fresh lemon juice and studded with pine nuts and mozzarella. Author Mangini rightly reminds us that salting the pasta water is imperative because it flavors the simple sauce. Enjoy this with a chilled chardonnay or sauvignon blanc.
■To shuck the corn, hold the husked corn on the vertical and slide the chef’s knife down the sides releasing the corn kernels. There are corn tools that will strip the kernels right off the cob. You can find them at your local gourmet store.
■Use a swivel peeler to grate the cheese into thin shards.
■Toast the pine nuts by placing them in a nonstick skillet on medium heat and toss them until they turn light brown and smell fragrant, 3 to 4 minutes. Cool.
■Chop the basil just before cooking so it stays green.
Zucchini, Sweet Corn and Basil Penne with Pine Nuts and Mozzarella
Fine sea salt
3/4 pound good-quality dried penne
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small red or yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 medium zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch by 3-inch sticks
Kernels from 2 ears fresh corn
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
2 ounces mozzarella cheese, torn into bite-size pieces
2 to 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Freshly shaved Parmesan cheese, for garnish
Your best extra-virgin olive oil, for garnish
Lemon wedges, for serving (optional)
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it generously (add 1 tablespoon of salt for every 4 quarts). Cook the penne according to package instructions until just shy of al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain the pasta, reserving at least 2 cups pasta water for the sauce.
Heat the oil in a large, deep skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it starts to brown lightly, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until it becomes fragrant, 30 seconds. Add the zucchini, turn the heat up to high and cook, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini softens, 6 to 8 minutes. (You will need to add up to 1 cup of the reserved pasta water, a little at a time, as the zucchini cooks and becomes dry and sticks to the pan.)
Adjust the heat to medium and add the corn, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, the red pepper flakes and the butter. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Add the penne and 1/2 cup of the pasta water, and stir well to incorporate. Cook, stirring often, until the pasta is well coated and the sauce has thickened, about 2 minutes.
Turn off the heat and add half of the basil, the pine nuts and the mozzarella. Add the lemon juice to taste and stir well to incorporate it. Scoop the penne into individual shallow bowls, making sure to evenly distribute the zucchini and corn. Top with the remaining basil, a fresh shaving of Parmesan, and a drizzle of your best extra-virgin olive oil. Serve with lemon wedges if you wish. Serves 6.
Per serving: 380 calories; 14 g fat (4 g saturated fat; 33 percent calories from fat); 53 g carbohydrates; 6 g sugar; 12 mg cholesterol; 91 mg sodium; 13 g protein; 4 g fiber.