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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.
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.
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).
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.)
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.
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.
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
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