Early Summer, Ripe for Change (and Zucchini)

You know what’s pretty great? This pasta.

early summer pasta carbonara

It’s nutritious, delicious, and mostly meat-free. And it’s got zucchini (!), which is always a fun word to say. Perhaps most importantly, it is excellent for aiding in the recovery of sleepless whirlwind weekends and providing the necessary sustenance to enable one to gracefully roll with the punches…. Both of which I have had some firsthand experience with in the last few days.

First, something pretty great happened this weekend. And then yesterday something not-so-great happened. I am still reeling from both, feeling alternately aflutter and adrift.

Ever the optimist, I am hopeful that these not-so-great things will turn out to be great things in disguise; doors closed that lead to doors opened and all that. But sometimes, despite all your positive thinking, you can’t help wondering: How do I decide what the best course of action is? What if I’m wrong? What do I do if this ends up being a big mistake? And why does it seem like there are far more ways to screw something up than there are to get it right?

Yesterday, grappling with these questions was turning out to be a losing battle. I was starting to feel overwhelmed, and so out of sorts that my faith in myself was shaken. When that happens, I find the best thing to do is immerse yourself in something familiar and comfortable: Get your hands busy doing something you know how to do; something that will make you feel capable and grounded and help you get your Little Engine That Could-feeling back.

Also, it is worth mentioning that dealing with life-changes on an empty stomach is rarely a good idea.

So I peered into my fridge, my freezer, and my cabinets — where I saw (in order) two soon-to-be-sad zucchini, a bag of smoked bacon ends from the farmer’s market and another of frozen petite peas, and a newly-purchased bundle of locally hand-made, crazy-high-protein emmer fettuccine — all waiting patiently for me to turn them into something better than the sum of their parts.

zucchini and petite sweet peas the setup nicely browned and oh-so delicious

So I did. Because pasta is comfort food, and pork fat is a panacea for all things (except possibly heart disease). And because I’d read this post a while ago and it had disabused me of my misguided notion that carbonara is  (a) really bad for you (turns out it’s only somewhat bad for you) and (b) really difficult to make (it’s not). And it was delicious: All of my variously pitiful and plucky ingredients made very-nice with each other, the simple combination of peas, zucchini, basil and bacon married nicely by the eggs, the sharp cheese, and the bite from the black pepper.

Even better than simply tasting great, this was so inexpensive, versatile and easy to make that I plan to add it to my slowly-growing list of weekday/fallback favorites.

While it’s too soon yet to see how the events of the last two weeks will change my life, I’m pretty sure they’re going to — in a pretty big way. In the meantime, it’s comforting to know I can still peer into my refrigerator, quickly eyeball a recpie or two, consult my stomach, and let some mysterious combination of experience and innovation take over to pull together a wholesome, delicious meal: one that fills me up and fuels me for what comes next… whatever that may be.

pasta carbonara

Early Summer Pasta Carbonara

Serves 2

  • 1/2 lb emmer (or some other whole-grain) fettuccine
  • 3 cubes of smoked bacon ends (or guanciale or some other fatty cut of aged pork), a scant 1/4 cup chopped
  • 2 fresh zucchini
  • a few big handfuls (roughly 1/3 cup) frozen petite peas (or more if you’re like me and adore peas)
  • 1 small clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 eggs (+ 1 egg yolk, if you’re not lazy like me)
  • 1/2 cup finely-grated romano cheese
  • coarse salt, freshly ground pepper, and olive oil
  • five or six large basil leaves

First, put up a big pot of water and a dash of salt to boil. Finely chop your garlic, slice your zucchini, grate your cheese, and wash & dry your basil leaves.

Set the bacon/guaniale/pork cubes in a pan over medium heat and let them sit there, undisturbed, for four or five minutes until they start to sizzle and release some of their fat. Give the pan a shake, and let them cook a few more minutes on the other side, until you’ve got some crispy bits and a good amount of melted fat. Remove the bacon bits and set aside.

Add your zucchini rounds to the same pan and repeat the process, allowing them some time on each side to get some nice color. Give them a shake (or manually flip them over, if you’re a little OCD when it comes to that kind of thing), and let them sit another minute or two. (If you’re using fresh peas, add them in now).

After one more minute, add in your garlic. Let it sit until the garlic is just starting to get fragrant (about a minute), then remove the pan from the heat.

By now your water should be boiling. Put the pasta in. While that’s boiling, beat your eggs in a small bowl and add in a small drizzle of olive oil, a pinch of salt, a healthy amount of fresh-cracked pepper, and about half your grated cheese. Finely slice your basil.

When the pasta is almost done, put your frying pan with the zucchini in it back on the heat. Toss the peas into the hot pan (unless you’ve already added them in), give them a quick stir, and a minute later add the bacon back in there to heat everything through. You want it nice and hot for tossing.

Drain the pasta, reserving a tablespoon or two of the cooking liquid, and place in a big bowl–NOT (as Robin is sure to point out) back into the hot pot you used to boil it. Immediately, while the pasta is still steaming, pour the egg & cheese mixture over the pasta it its not-hot bowl and toss quickly. Add in the zucchini, peas and pork, and toss again.

If the mixture looks a little dry or sticky, add in a tablespoon of the pasta cooking liquid.

Serve topped with a big pinch of grated cheese, a slightly smaller pinch of slivered basil, and a few good grinds of fresh-cracked pepper.

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