How are you all holding up in the heat? I don’t know about you, but I am struggling to ward off severe heatwave-induced crankiness, and I’m not sure how much more of this I can take. However, one of the few things that this brutal summer heat has to recommend for itself is that it coincides with zucchini season. And that means that you can make yourself a Quick Zucchini Sauté over and over again, and you’ll only have to turn your stove on for three minutes to make it.
It is the ideal summer dish, one that won’t cause you to break a sweat. It’s pretty too, for the zucchini are cut into pristine little matchsticks: pale in the centers but tinged with dark green on either end. These matchsticks are practically perfect already, but once they spend less than a minute in a skillet with a bit of olive oil and garlic, they become quite special. And when these tender-crisp zucchini are crowned with a scattering of slivered almonds and chopped fresh mint, the whole dish truly sings.
I was first introduced to this recipe at The Red Cat, a favorite restaurant in the Chelsea neighborhood, and it definitely changed my attitude towards about this vegetable. It’s not that I hated zucchini as a kid, but I preferred it mixed into dishes where there were lots of other vegetables to disguise it. When it was served on its own, I usually experienced it overcooked, steamed within an inch of its life which rendered it mushy, bland and totally unappealing. But The Red Cat made me rethink—dare I even say, CRAVE—this vegetable once I experienced their Quick Zucchini Sauté. And I was happily reminded yesterday of how much I love this recipe when I had lunch in Chelsea with my violinist friends Kristina and Ming.
The girls and I were in all-day rehearsals with Harry Connick Jr. in preparation for his 15-concert run at the Neil Simon Theater, and suffice it to say, we were all very excited about embarking on this new adventure this month. I realized that The Red Cat was conveniently located around the corner from our rehearsal studio, so as soon as the morning session ended, the three of us packed up our violins and made a beeline for the restaurant. Neither Kristina nor Ming had ever been there before, so I was happy to introduce them to a new place that they both loved.
We had just enough time for a most delightful lunch before going back for more rehearsals with Harry, and even the extreme heat seemed a little more bearable after that lovely meal. Maybe it was the zucchini sauté that cheered me up, though it also could have been the scrumptious risotto with fresh corn and basil that changed my attitude. Perhaps slurping down a grown-up version of an Orange Julius float for dessert made me feel like a kid again, one who was happy to be on summer vacation and didn’t care one bit that it was ridiculously hot outside. My attitude change could have been directly related to my excitement knowing that I’d get to spend the next three weeks playing old standards like “It Had To Be You” and “The Way You Look Tonight” with Harry Connick himself. But regardless, it was truly a delicious day from start to finish.
QUICK ZUCCHINI SAUTE WITH ALMONDS
Adapted from a recipe by Jimmy Bradley of The Red Cat
The Red Cat does their sauté very simply with just the zucchini and almonds and topped with a bit of Pecorino cheese. I love the original version, but I also love my take on it that omits the cheese and substitutes a little garlic and fresh mint to give it liveliness.
4 small zucchini, washed and patted dry (try to find ones that are the same size)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
Salt and pepper
Prepare the zucchini by cutting into matchsticks using the following method: slice off the ends of each zucchini, then make several long lengthwise cuts, about 1/8-inch thick. Stack these lengthwise pieces on top of each other and cut them crosswise into ¼-inch long matchsticks.
In a very large sauté pan or heavy skillet (preferably non-stick), heat the oil and butter over medium-high heat till very hot. Add the garlic and zucchini to the pan and toss to coat all of the zucchini with the hot oil. Quickly sauté for 45 seconds, then remove from heat. You want the zucchini to be tender-crisp; do not overcook. Sprinkle with the chopped mint leaves, season well with salt and pepper, and serve immediately. Serves 4.