Long Reads

Patricia Wells' Zucchini Carpaccio with Avocado and Pistachios

September  8, 2011

Every week, Food52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today's lesson: When you just can't look another zucchini in the face, put it on a pedestal.

Zucchini Carpaccio

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- Kristen

The spread of the word carpaccio in describing anything other than a plate tiled with raw beef could have stayed lodged in the 1990s like ye olde raspberry coulis (may she rest in peace).

So it's a good thing carpaccio proliferation slid under our foodie radar into the 21st century, because that means we get to eat other things shorn into paper thin strips. And stripping down does wonders for other things, namely zucchini.

Patricia Wells Salad as a Meal

Raw zucchini can be spongy, bitter and strangely sticky, so it's a good idea to pamper it, as Patricia Wells does in her revelatory cookbook Salad as a Meal. She shaves logs of the squash into delicate ribbons, then bathes them in a lemony marinade (a technique refined from an earlier version, published in Vegetable Harvest in 2007).

mandoline  shaved zucchini

A trusted mandoline makes a big difference here -- and if you don't have one, you're better off opting for a vegetable peeler than a sharp knife. You want planks as thin as flower petals.

Grinding up your own lemon zest salt -- which at first might seem unnecessary -- is another stroke of genius. It busts out the fragrant oils in the zest and spreads them around to travel through the salad with the salt. (There will be leftover lemon salt. Swirl it into buttered pasta; dust it on blanched green beans; put a pinch on a dark chocolate cookie.)

zesting a lemon  lemon zest salt

Wells' recipe is a valuable lesson in restraint. At first, the aggressive Californian in me wanted a saucier, more acidic dressing but I'm glad I listened to Wells and her subtle French sensibilities. The modest marinade is just right and the zucchini drinks it up, without leaving any to pool on the plate.

dressing jar  marinade

Avocado, soft and buttery, doesn't need adornment and nestles up bare against the zucchini, which hangs on to a bit of its al dente snap. Salted pistachios, thyme leaves, and big flakes of salt punctuate the scene.

Planning a recipe based on hue isn't always going to be successful -- you might end up with lavender with grapes, or strawberries with steak tartare. But here, they're all in sync, a study in green and nutty.

Zucchini Carpaccio

Of course you could just tumble it all together and serve the salad in a heap like pappardelle. But if you drape it across the plate like we did, all composed and fancy, it will make facing down the season's 400th zucchini suddenly seem glamorous and new.

Patricia Wells' Zucchini Carpaccio with Avocado and Pistachios

Adapted slightly from Salad as a Meal: Healthy Main-Dish Salads for Every Season.

Serves 4 (as a meal).

For the Lemon Zest Salt:

1 tablespoon lemon zest, preferably organic
1 tablespoon fine sea salt


For the Salad:

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon Lemon Zest Salt
3 tablespoons best-quality pistachio oil (such as Leblanc) or extra-virgin olive oil
4 small, fresh zucchini (about 4 ounces each), rinsed and trimmed at both ends
1 large ripe avocado
1/2 cup salted pistachios
Leaves from 4 fresh lemon thyme or regular thyme sprigs, with flowers if possible
Fleur de sel

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Want more genius recipes? Try Alice Waters' Ratatouille or Jeni's Splendid Lemon Ice Cream.

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

Photos by Joseph De Leo


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28 Comments

Bill C. January 29, 2012
I own a copy of Well's Salad as a Meal, and I made this recipe tonight and was blown away by it. Afterwards I was curious if my plating matched what was intended, and I searched for the recipe online to see if anyone had pictures of their plating. I came across this site and I'm grateful for your pictures. Since your glowing positive assessment of this recipe matches my experience with it, I've signed up for your email updates and I look forward to other things you have to share. Thank you very much.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. January 29, 2012
Welcome! Glad you found us.
 
adelaide September 30, 2011
Make sure to salt RIGHT before serving - otherwise the zucchini leaks quite a bit of water.
 
thespicegirl September 20, 2011
I cannot wait to try this. It looks so good. I am going to give it a try tomorrow for my hubby's birthday and will report back! I may give it an asian flare. Thanks for such a great recipe!
 
midnitechef September 13, 2011
I love zucchini, this is a refreshing way to eat it. Thank you!
 
Eat O. September 12, 2011
This was amazing! It looked too simple to taste this good. And now I have some great lemon salt in the fridge to use!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. September 12, 2011
Love hearing that! Recipes that sneak the goodness in while you aren't looking are the best, aren't they?
 
mcs3000 September 9, 2011
I gave this book as a gift, but I don't have it myself. Eager to make this soon. btw: really enjoying this series. it is genius :)
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. September 12, 2011
Thanks so much, mcs3000. Patricia Wells and her vegetables are a force to be reckoned with.
 
dailykale September 8, 2011
This is nothing short of brilliant. Wow.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. September 12, 2011
Thanks, dailykale! I hope you'll give it a spin.
 
nogaga September 8, 2011
I am so glad you have highlighted the great Patricia Wells here. There is a recipe for lentil salad in her Bistro Cooking which has been one of the founding stones of my cooking life. This is a wonderful choice!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. September 12, 2011
I'm all over that lentil salad. Thanks for the tip!
 
The C. September 8, 2011
I have her book, Vegetable Harvest, and this recipe is in it as well! It's a refreshing antipasto with full-on flavors and textures! I enjoyed it so much I posted it on my food blog last year. YUM!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. September 12, 2011
I thought about featuring that version instead, but she updated it a tiny bit, so I went with the newer one. In this one, she mixes the lemon zest salt into the dressing instead of sprinkling it on top and also decreases the oil by a tablespoon. Both versions are pretty great.
 
Lizthechef September 8, 2011
I don't even really like zucchini, yet faithfully grow it and eat it every summer. This recipe is a lifesaver...Thanks!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. September 12, 2011
Why do we do that to ourselves, Liz?
 
EmilyC September 8, 2011
I love the idea of combining the zucchini ribbons with avocado and pistachios -- can't wait to try this! I don't have this cookbook, but I love her Vegetable Harvest cookbook. It's full of approachable yet inspired recipes.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. September 12, 2011
I can't wait to page through Vegetable Harvest more -- I'd love to know your favorites.
 
creamtea September 8, 2011
love the idea of the lemon zest salt.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. September 12, 2011
The scent alone is worth pulling out the spice grinder.
 
Fairmount_market September 8, 2011
I'm a big fan of Patrician Wells, but don't know this recipe. Thanks for sharing. It sounds delicious.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. September 12, 2011
My pleasure.
 
thirschfeld September 8, 2011
I was just eyeing a few of the last beautiful zucchini in the garden and wondering what to do with them. As usual Patricia Wells knows just the right carrot to dangle in front of my nose. This will be delicious tonight for dinner.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. September 12, 2011
A dangled zucchini works just as well, it seems.
 
Tamio888 September 8, 2011
Just right...! At the NYC greenmarkets, there is a squash - half yellow/half green - called zephyr. I know that Bodhitree Farm has it, now. Nevia, the farmer, had advised me that the best preparation was raw, shaved, with lemon juice and salt. It was great. No doubt a perfect fit, here.
 
Niknud September 8, 2011
Yum - maybe with a little shaved parmesan on top?
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. September 12, 2011
Those zephyrs are so pretty. They would be lovely here.