Photo: Claire Lower
I rarely cook according to recipes. It’s not a lack of desire – it’s more a matter of time and energy. After a long day of cooking, tasting, and thinking about food, I rarely want to tidy my kitchen just to prepare a whole new, real recipe. (I want to have snacks which I usually do for dinner.)
But recently I made it my business to try out the Smitten Kitchen Zucchini Butter Spaghetti, not just because The kitchen had essentially declared it a “summer dish,” but because I implicitly trust Deb Perelman and have a constant supply of garden-fresh zucchini.
It ruled. It continues to rule. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I did it. It’s everything you could want for a midweek dinner: quick, flavorful, and not fussy at all. Instead of salting and draining the zucchini, which is usually a big part of any recipe that includes the green squash, Deb chops them up and then cooks them until the water evaporates, leaving behind a concentrated hearty zucchini jam. The jam is dissolved and emulsified (and sprinkled with cheese) with some pasta water, and then tossed with spaghetti and fresh basil if you have it (I haven’t).
It’s a very good recipe, as I mentioned earlier, but the method of cooking a vegetable almost into a paste and then tossing it with pasta is useful beyond zucchini. Andrew Zimmer power a similar dish with broccoli, and I’ve been making a gaudy version with cucumber since last night.
Cucumbers are similar to zucchini in shape and color, but the former is a melon and the latter is a pumpkin. Both are technically fruit, but are eaten as a vegetable; but cooked zucchini is far more common than cooked pickles, at least in the United States. (Grilled cucumber go hard however.)
G / O Media can receive a commission
Photo: Claire Lower
This cucumber butter pasta is very similar to Deb’s zucchini butter spaghetti, only a little fruity and a little sweeter, with a hint of plant-based cucumber peel flavor (like you get from fancy “spa water”). It’s hearty, slightly sweet, and absolutely fantastic – a great way to use three medium-sized cucumbers when in this position. You can add parm, fresh herbs, red pepper flakes, or freshly ground pepper if you’d like, but none of these things are strictly necessary. You can also replace the butter with olive oil if you want to make it vegan. To do it you will need:
- 3 medium-sized cucumbers (about 1 1/3 pounds)
- 5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 6 tablespoons of salted butter
- 1/2 teaspoon table salt (double when using unsalted butter)
- 8 ounces pasta of your choice
- Optional: Freshly grated basil, about a teaspoon of red pepper flakes, fresh pepper, grated Parmesan cheese
Roughly chop the cucumber and set aside, then chop the garlic. Put the butter in a large pan over medium heat and place a soup pot filled with 6 cups salted water in intense heat. Add the garlic to the melted butter and cook until golden and fragrant; add pepper flakes if using then add the cucumber and raise the heat to medium. Add the pasta as soon as the water starts to boil.
Photo: Claire Lower
It will get very wet for a while, but that’s good. Not only will all of the water stop the garlic from burning, but it will eventually leave the pan completely, making the cucumbers a concentrated flavor mass.
As soon as the pasta is about a minute before the perfect al dente, take a cup of pasta water, drain the pasta, and set it aside. Let the cucumbers cook until they have a spreadable consistency. You’ll see a little green liquid here and there, but that’s fat from the butter and looks very different from thin, steaming water.
Add about a quarter cup of the pasta water to the cucumber and stir with a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned pieces that are stuck to the pan. Add the pasta, then another 1/4 cup pasta water and stir and cook over medium heat until the pasta is perfectly al dente and the cucumber is evenly distributed. Add some cheese or basil or pepper to taste and stir again (maybe with more cheese) before serving.