Probably the prize recipe in my repertoire is the one my family just calls “spaghetti.” It’s an amalgamation of two recipes, one from Marion Cunningham’s Boston Cooking School Cookbook, and the other from a women’s magazine that I glanced through in a waiting room about ten years ago. Marion Cunningham’s “Fresh tomato sauce” is just ripe, fresh tomatoes stewed in olive oil and a great deal of dried basil and thyme (about a tablespoon of each) for half an hour. The magazine’s offering was called something like “Vegetable ribbon spaghetti” and it required the shaving of peels of zucchini and carrot into the cooking water in which your pasta was already boiling. After finishing cooking and draining this, you “served it forth,” as old cookbooks say, topped with a jarred tomato sauce.
To boil zucchini and carrot with pasta would be to wash away the delicate flavors of both vegetables, so I changed things, keeping the use of the vegetable peeler to render the vegetables quick-cooking, and adding Marion Cunningham’s fresh tomatoes and heavy spices. The beauty of this dinner is that it’s as healthy and fat free as you want it to be – the addition of butter or Parmesan cheese at the end is up to you – and it can be done, start to finish, in one hour. That includes all the peel-and-chop preparation which, often, “30 minute” recipes do not include. Let’s call it …
Celebration vegetable spaghetti
4 Tbsp. olive oil or butter, or a combination of both
1 large onion, chopped
1 leek, washed well and diced
1 to 2 cloves garlic, peeled and diced
1 Tbsp. dried basil, or 2 to 3 leaves fresh basil
1 tsp. dried thyme, or 4 to 5 small fresh thyme sprigs
1/4 cup white wine (optional)
2 carrots, peeled and left whole
2 small zucchini, left whole
3 to 4 fresh tomatoes, quartered
1 pound of angel hair pasta
Melt the olive oil and/or butter in a heavy skillet. Add the chopped onion and cook over medium heat for at least five minutes, or until the onion turns golden. Add the leeks, and continue cooking as the leeks soften. Add the garlic, stirring, and cook only for a minute, so the garlic releases some aroma but does not burn. Add the basil and thyme, and stir in. If using white wine, add it now, and let it bubble and deglaze the pan a little.
Use a vegetable peeler to peel strips of the zucchini and carrot into the pan, scraping the vegetables down to their inner cores and then discarding the rest (or save the cores to put into a soup stock). Stir them in thoroughly with the onion and herb mixture. Place the fresh tomatoes atop the vegetables, add salt and pepper to taste – 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, to start – and cover the pan with a tight fitting lid. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, until you are able to break up the softened tomatoes.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and boil the pasta. Cook 5 to 6 minutes, until done. Drain and serve the sauce over the pasta, and pass a bowl of fresh grated Parmesan cheese if desired.
This sauce will be thin because the vegetables give off so much moisture, and it will be rough-looking, full of hunks of tomato and big strands of fresh herbs if you have used them. You can fish out the herbs and tomatoes, and perhaps thicken it with tomato paste if your family blanches at a “watery” sauce. You can also vary the vegetables endlessly: fresh mushrooms are a delicious addition, as would be spinach or perhaps asparagus tips. It’s a good recipe, too, for hot weather months, since it is quick and takes advantage of the bounty of summertime produce. That’s always something to celebrate.