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I travelled to the southeast of France last weekend to visit my parents, and because they’re renting a little apartment, that meant a lot of home-cooked dinners. Although I normally like to eat out in France to get inspiration from the different menus and plates, there was something satisfying, spontaneous, and real about constructing something special out of little local finds—living à la française.
We took a drive across the Italian border to Ventimiglia where we heard there was a market. And there, I found my vegetal Holy Grail: zucchini flowers. The market was vivid yellow with them. All around, they were arranged in great bridal bouquets, sold for only one euro for ten flowers. I could have swooned.
In Nice, where I had been they day before, they serve zucchini flowers on the streets as fried beignets in a batter that’s doughy but still crisp. In addition to those, I also made my own version of another dish I had had in Nice the night before: Tagliatelle au Pistou—wide, fresh pasta tossed in a very intense, garlicky pesto. Instead of basil, I used squash blossoms, mashed with garlic, olive oil, and walnuts. Made with fresh pasta from the Italian market, flowers just cut from the plant, intense garlic (if you’ve ever been to the South of France, you know how intense), and walnuts with a woody flavor like none I had ever had before, the result was spectacular—mellow, vegetal, and nutty. Even my pistou-hating stepfather ate half the pot. If you want to make something different and feel a little breeze from the Riviera, try this.
- 500 grams or 1 pound fresh tagliatelle
- 14 large zucchini flowers
- 12 walnut halves
- 1 clove garlic
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Parmesan on top
Bring a large pot of water to boil, and salt the water. Separate the strands of pasta, and drop them into the water. Cook according to package instructions, careful not to overcook the pasta (it should take about 2 to 3 minutes to cook). Reserve a mug full of starchy pasta water, and drain the pasta.
While the pasta is cooking, roughly chop the zucchini flowers, garlic, and walnuts. Put them in the food processor with the olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Blitz until you have the smooth consistency of a pesto. Add the pistou and the tagliatelle back to the pot, and moisten with two spoonfuls of pasta water. Toss to coat the pasta in the pistou, adding more pasta water if needed. Serve right away, with grated good Parmesan to sprinkle on top.
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