Have you ever seen the Federico Fellini film, La Dolce Vita? There’s this iconic scene where ridiculously glamorous Anita Ekberg hops into the Trevi Fountain, clad in a full-length black evening gown. She wades around, oozing this beautiful-and-damned carelessness, full skirt wilted and clinging to her legs, arms thrown wide, embracing the night. Minus the extreme bustiness, I can almost remember a time when I felt like that: arms open, unworried about tomorrow, taking it all in.At the risk of sounding disingenuous—I am only, after all, in my mid-twenties—that carefree embrace of the world seems very far away, most days. My passions have become tempered with a concerned urgency. Even my motivation to cook, which remains a happy place in my life, is more utilitarian nowadays. Kinda boring and sad, huh? I am a bit of an old soul, and I’ll be the first to admit, but certainly being (or feeling) old doesn’t preclude a naïve sense of wonder.If there is ever a time to reignite that arms-flung-wide sense of wonder, though, it is summer. We wear very little, splash around, eat with our hands and spit out the seeds. This weekend was my first taste of that this year: wading, eating around a newsprint-covered table, living outside from dawn to dusk. The early summer vegetables are coming, too, and their color and texture are panacea for kitchen utilitarianism—because the best part about summer veggies is that you have to do so little to them to enjoy them. This is important, as it leaves more time for bare feet and lightning bug watching. The first baby zucchinis have arrived at a farm down the road from us, and I picked up more than I really needed. I’ve been making a really simple salad with it (if you can even call it a salad), one that I’ve taken to calling “zucchini crudo”, since, like Italian foods dubbed with the same adjective, the zucchini is kept raw and sliced thinly onto the plate. A bright, garlicky parsley pesto cuts the creaminess of the raw squash. People are of mixed opinions about raw squash, which I’ve never really understood, but if you count yourself in the “dislike” camp, I’d suggest trying to find very small, baby zucchinis, which are sweeter and less pithy. Slicing the zucchini lengthwise and very thinly, this way, makes the “salad” something akin to sheets of paper-thin pasta, perfect for slicking with a bit of olive oil. I’ve seen recipes for raw squash that call for salting and “sweating” the zucchini beforehand, but I don’t think there is much of a difference. Like summer, with this sort of thing, less is really more.
Zucchini crudo with parsley pesto
You will need
- 4 small zucchini
1 cup loosely packed parsley leaves (some stems are okay, too) + more for garnish
Approximately 2 tablespoons olive oil + more for drizzling
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 clove of garlic, peeled
- Remove the stem ends from the zucchini. Using a mandoline (alternatively, you can use a sharp knife to carefully cut thin slices), slice the zucchini lengthwise into long, thin strips, about 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch thick. Arrange the strips on individual plates or on a platter. (I like to arrange mine linearly, but you can tumble them together as well.)
In a food processor, whirl the 1 cup parsley, 2 tablespoons olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic. The pesto should be thick, but not pasty. If you think it needs more oil to thin it out a bit, add it and pulse a few more times. Taste for salt, and add salt if desired.
Dollop the pesto onto the sliced zucchini liberally. Drizzle with a bit more olive oil, and garnish with parsley leaves. Serve immediately.
Yield: 4 small salads, or a big salad for 2.