A few weeks ago my husband and I met out-of-town friends passing through western Massachusetts for an al fresco dinner at The Waxwing, a new restaurant in Hatfield. Our pals—as passionate about food as we are– were anxious to try the latest eatery in the area. No one was disappointed. Our group loved the pork belly with toasted corn, jalapenos, and queso fresco, as well as chicken schnitzel with lemon aïoli, fennel, and arugula, plus hake (a mild white fish) with creamed corn and fried onion slivers.
However, it was the rigatoni with zucchini, mint, and toasted breadcrumbs that caught my attention. Sadly, I didn’t order it (nor, due to Covid, did I get to taste it), but my pal, Carrie, swooned with each bite she took of this simple creation. At home, I put together my own version, quickly sautéing sliced zucchini in some garlic-scented olive oil and cooking penne until al dente I tossed the pasta with a little butter, and then added ricotta, grated Parmigiano, lemon zest, and the zucchini. Torn mint leaves and a garnish of toasted breadcrumbs were the finishing touches.
The dish is ideal for all that zucchini your garden-loving friends are dropping off at your back door right about now. Pair this delicious pasta with a salad of mixed greens, tomatoes, and cucumbers, and offer bowls of sliced peaches topped with whipped cream for dessert.
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Penne with Zucchini, Mint, and Toasted Bread Crumbs
1 pound (about 3 small) zucchini
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 medium garlic cloves, peeled, halved, and smashed with the back of a knife
12 ounces penne, farfalle, or rigatoni
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
1/3 cup ricotta
1/3 cup grated Parmesan, preferably Parmigiano Reggiano
1 teaspoon lemon zest
Freshly ground black pepper
Scant 1/2 cup mint leaves, torn into small pieces (plus 4 mint sprigs for garnish, optional)
Toasted bread crumbs (recipe follows.)
1. Cut off and discards ends from zucchini. Then cut into 1/4 -inch rounds. Place zucchini on a paper towel-lined baking sheet or large platter. Sprinkle zucchini rounds with 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and let stand 10 minutes. Then pat dry with more paper towels
2,Meanwhile, line another baking sheet or platter with paper towels. Heat 4 tablespoons olive oil in a large (10 inch or larger), heavy skillet set over medium heat. When hot, add the garlic, and cook, stirring, until golden, only 2 to 3 minutes. Watch carefully so they do not burn. Remove with a slotted spoon and save for another use. Pour off 2 tablespoons of the oil in the skillet and set aside.
3. Add enough zucchini slices to fit comfortably in a single layer in the skillet. Sauté, turning once or twice with a small metal spatula or with tongs, until golden on both sides, about 6 minutes total. Remove to drain on paper towel-lined baking sheet or platter. Add just enough of remaining oil to coat bottom of skillet lightly, and repeat with remaining zucchini. You may have some oil left over (use in salad dressings) depending on the size of your skillet. (Zucchini can be sautéed an hour ahead. Leave, uncovered, at room temperature.)
4.When ready to serve, bring a large pot of water set over high heat to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon kosher salt and the penne. Cook according to package directions or longer until al dente, or just tender to the bite. Drain in a colander and return the pasta to the pot and place over very low heat. Stir in butter and when melted, stir in ricotta and Parmesan cheese. Then stir in lemon zest and zucchini. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in mint and mound pasta in four shallow bowls. Sprinkle with some toasted breadcrumbs. Pass extra bread crumbs in a small bowl. If desired garnish each serving with a mint spring. Serves 4.
Toasted Bread Crumbs
1/2 cup torn pieces of bread from a good quality peasant or country bread (sourdough works particularly well) with crusts removed
11/2 teaspoons olive or canola oil
1. In a food processor, process enough pieces to make 1/2 cup coarse crumbs.
2. Heat the oil in a medium, heavy skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the crumbs and cook, stirring constantly, until they are crisp and rich golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. (Bread crumbs can be stored in a plastic self-sealing bag and refrigerated for up to one week.)
Makes 1/2 cup.
Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2021