Sweetness and light

Northern California is slipping into a late-summer lull. I love this time of year, when the sunlight loses a little of its edge and people begin to dig in their heels against the long slow downhill slide to fall. These are the kind of days that were made for napping under an open window. (Screened, of course. This is also bonanza time for bugs.)

It’s a fabulous farmer’s market time. There’s still a glut of stone fruit and berries and colorful tomatoes. Corn is everywhere; fresh herbs are plentiful. But there are also the unexpected summer treats, the ones that sit patiently by while everyone gorges on peach cobbler and tomato-mozzarella salad. There are seasonal ingredients that I’ve never tried before, but have intrigued me for years.

Like zucchini blossoms.

I’m a total sucker for pretty food. And zucchini blossoms are nothing if not pretty: soft saffron-tinted petals, draping lightly over each other like tissue paper. They’re also undeniably expensive, and notoriously delicate. They call for gentle treatment, moderate heat, and whispery sauces. Patience and precision. Not my strong suit.

When I’m working with unfamiliar ingredients, I tend to follow a fairly hiccup-y process:

  1. Stumble on a recipe that calls to me
  2. Find myself unable to stick to the recipe as written
  3. ???
  4. Profit

This is not a guaranteed strategy for success. (Exhibit A: the Great Salsa Verde Fiasco.) I get impatient, and I cut corners, and sometimes I end up knee-deep in a muddy mess.

But man, when it works, it really works.

In retrospect, of course, it would probably have been difficult to screw this one up. Take zucchini blossoms and saffron, add fresh sweet corn and white wine. Simmer with a splash of broth until the petals nearly melt and the saffron blooms golden. Stir in a tempered egg, and watch a wedding-white slip of a sauce come together as if by alchemy.

Then toss with pasta. Add a handful of greenery. Ahhhhhhh.

This is a gorgeous late-summer pasta: sweet, velvety, fresh and luxurious all at once. Turns out zucchini blossoms and summer corn are beautifully matched dance partners–floral and feathery against sweet and crisp. Add a pop of fresh herbs and a salty slick of grated cheese, and suddenly a late Sunday lunch is elevated to an Occasion.

If you thought lightweight indulgence was an oxymoron, you need to try this pasta.

Zucchini Blossom Pasta with Fresh Corn (serves 3-4)

Adapted from Orangette

10-12 zucchini flowers

1 ear of fresh corn, husked and de-silked

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp butter (this could be olive oil, too)

1 large shallot, finely diced

Pinch of crushed red chili flake

Small pinch of saffron (about 6 threads)

1/2 cup white wine

1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth

1 large egg

1/2 lb. pasta of your choice (I’m currently obsessed with gigli)

About 10 parsley sprigs’ worth of leaves, finely chopped

1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves

1/4 cup grated parmesan or pecorino romano

Salt and pepper to taste

Gently tear the zucchini flowers into strips, and discard the stamens and pistils inside. Cut the kernels off the ear of corn, and set them aside.

Heat the olive oil and butter (if using) in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute the shallots, red chili flake and a pinch of salt until the shallots are translucent. Add the zucchini flower strips and saffron, and stir gently to combine.

Increase heat to medium-high. Add the white wine and let it simmer until it’s almost gone, stirring frequently throughout. Repeat this process with the broth, adding 1/2 cup at a time. When the sauce has reduced to a thin film at the bottom of the pan, turn off the heat.

While the sauce is cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook the pasta until al dente. When the pasta is done, scoop out a scant 1/4 cup of the cooking water and set it aside before draining the pasta. Once this is done, return the sauce to medium heat.

In a medium-sized bowl, beat the egg lightly with a whisk. Add the hot pasta water to the egg, a little at a time, whisking furiously between each addition. The resulting mixture should be frothy and pale yellow.

Add the corn kernels to the sauce and let cook for about 30 seconds. Pour in the egg-water mixture, stirring vigorously to make sure it doesn’t scramble. Add the drained pasta to the skillet and toss with the sauce, letting everything warm up for another 30 seconds or so.

Stir in the parsley, thyme and cheese, and turn off the heat. Season with salt and pepper and serve.


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3 responses to “Sweetness and light

  1. Olivia

    I love stuffing the blossoms with a goat cheese/sun dried tomato mixer, coat in a wine batter and gently pan fry. They are better than any deep fried cheese stick in the world, much prettier too!

    Looks good, Zoe!

  2. Zoe, I made this for a dinner party a few weeks ago, and it was the perfect summer pasta dish. Light and rich and delicious, and the blossoms were so much fun to prep!

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