Zucchini, mint and chili are a trifecta to which I've always gravitated -- the pleasant blandness of summer squash proves a great foil for the searing heat of chili and the sweet perfume of fresh mint. Frequently while summer squash is in season, I'll just sauté a batch of sliced zucchini in a little olive oil, adding a pinch of red pepper flakes and chopped mint right before serving. When I'm feeling particularly ambitious, I experiment with further additions like lemon juice or pine nuts.
The other week, I decided to try a fresh chili instead of the dried chili flakes, and to take the acid element a little further by adding a generous splash of sherry vinegar; I thought I'd counteract the rough edges with a little sugar, and finally throw in some toasted almonds for crunch. The result was one of my better successes. The chili is pretty assertive, so if you're not fond of a lot of heat, either use a smaller amount or opt for red pepper flakes instead of the fresh chili.
Sautéed Zucchini and Summer Squash with Chili, Mint and Toasted Almonds
Serves 4 as a side dish
1. Toast the almonds in a pan over medium heat until golden, watching carefully, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
2. Trim the zucchini and yellow squash and cut each one in half lengthwise, and then in half again, so you have four long quarters. Slice each quarter into 1-inch chunks. Put about 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a wide sauté pan with high sides and set over medium-high heat. When the pan starts to smoke, add the zucchini and squash and a large pinch of salt, and turn the heat up to high. Sauté the squash, tossing frequently, until it’s well-caramelized but still has a bite, about 3 minutes.
3. Lower the heat to medium and add the chili to the pan. Cook for another minute, tossing occasionally. Sprinkle the sugar and vinegar over the squash and toss to combine. Cook for another minute or so. Turn off the heat and stir in the mint. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt if necessary, and then fold in the almonds. Serve immediately.
4. A variation: cool the cooked squash and serve at room temperature, shaving some ricotta salata or parmesan over the top.
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