There is such satisfaction in bringing together a meal, especially on a dreary day. Where most people crave blankets and movie screens on cloudy weekends, I am the type to crave the kitchen. The kitchen is a place of birth and discovery–a space for testing ideas and seeing what works, for creating combinations that nourish and delight–and when the dreary day you’re facing stems from more than the weather, discovering new things is like medicine for the soul.
Nashville brought just this sort of blessing our way recently, a deluge of cloudy, crummy weather on an afternoon in which Tim and I had been sitting on the sofa, discussing disappointments that made my eyes pour like storm clouds. I’ve always been an easy crier, so the fact that I’d been crying was nothing incredible. I cry in movies and from blog posts; I cry because someone else does. I cry when I’m overwhelmed with happiness; I cry when I don’t know what else to do. Sometimes, I even cry because I taste something so good, tears are what come out. This particular afternoon, however, was a different sort of sadness, a deeper one. It’s the sort of sadness I’m not ready to write about here.
Tim needed to work a few more hours, so he set up camp at the table. I stood and went to the kitchen, dim with drizzly light. From the fridge, I pulled out two long, green zucchini. On a cutting board, I chopped off their ends and peeled off their skins. Steady, repetitive strokes on the mandolin turned two gourds into a full colander of thinly sliced, almost translucent ribbons, salted and set in the sink to drain.
In a food processor, I watched olive oil, lemon juice, toasted almonds, garlic, parsley and salt become one of the thickest, creamiest pestos I’ve ever had. I ate full spoonfuls of it, straight out of the Vitamix, standing at the counter. Then I combined it with the zucchini, rinsed and dried and thrown in a bowl.
By the time I brought the plates to the table, each of them piled high with strands of zucchini as thick as pappardelle, I was so full of wonder at what I held, I was smiling again.
“This was so much fun!” I said to Tim, almost breathless as I tossed parsley on our plates, then, red pepper flakes.
Days like these, I’m so glad I have the kitchen to return to, both a balm of comfort and a space to create. I’m thankful for the faithful pleasure of watching something that was not, become, right before my eyes. It is, at its very essence, a sort of hope.
Zucchini Ribbons in a Vegan Pesto Alfredo Sauce
Serves two as a meal; three to four as a side
This particular creation developed from a random thought about zucchini ribbons, coupled with a desire to use up other ingredients we had on hand. I had full intention of adding some leftover cheddar to the pesto when I started, but once I tasted how good it was on its own (slivered almonds have no skin, ridding them of bitterness, and the extra step of toasting ups the depth of flavor, pushing the nuts towards sweet), I didn’t want to change a thing. We’re calling the sauce a pesto alfredo sauce because the resulting mixture was such a creamy, faux-cheesy combination, alfredo was the thing that came to mind.
2 large zucchini (mine totaled just over a pound in weight)
for the vegan pesto alfredo sauce:
1/2 cup to 3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup slivered almonds
Big handful of parsley (about half an ounce) chopped
Juice of two small lemons, about 1/8 cup
2 cloves of garlic, grated
1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more for soaking zucchini
chopped parlsey and crushed red pepper flakes, as desired
Begin by chopping off the ends of your zucchini and peeling off the skins.
To create the zucchini ribbons, pull out your mandoline (or, you may use a peeler or even, very carefully, a sharpened knife, to create the same idea; the size of your ribbons will just be different). Place one zucchini at a time on the cutting board and slice off rustic ribbons that run the length of the vegetable, turning the zucchini and working around it as you go. When you get to the center, you may have a little nubbin left over; you may eat it, add it to the ribbons, or use in something else.
Place the zucchini ribbons in a colander set over the sink. Once all the ribbons are cut, salt the top of the pile and let it sit, draining slowly, while you continue working.
Set a sauté pan on the stove and add 1/2 cup of slivered almonds. Warm over medium-low heat until toasted.
In a food processor, combine 1/2 cup of olive oil, 1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds, chopped parsley, lemon juice, grated garlic cloves and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Blend until well mixed and similar to the texture of a pesto. Add up to another 1/4 cup olive oil; blend. Taste, and adjust for salt if desired.
Run the colander of zucchini ribbons under cool water to rinse; dab dry with paper towels.
Place zucchini ribbons in large bowl and add pesto alfredo sauce. Toss thoroughly to cover ribbons.
To serve, garnish zucchini with chopped parsley and crushed red pepper flakes, as desired.