A vegetable garden is a wonderful thing. Not just for the food it produces, but for the attention it requires. No, really. Hear me out on this.
I’ve had a garden in some shape or form for more than ten years. Aside from getting the beds established and the end-of-year cleanup, I don’t think a garden is hard work. It is work, of course. But good work. Good in the sense that it causes you to slow down and pay attention.
I think we can all benefit from something that makes us intentionally be more mindful. Most of us are too busy to get the chance throughout a typical day. In some ways, a garden is meditative and relaxing, despite being work. Even if your garden is made up of just a few containers on your back patio, it can be a welcome distraction and provide you with a little food in the process.
And this is my annual reminder that if you’ve never grown anything of your own, please try a couple of pots of herbs. Your cooking will greatly benefit from the fresh addition, it’ll save you a little money and it’s really not difficult if you remember to water them once in a while.
By taking morning and evening (sometimes even lunchtime, if I’m lucky) walks through my garden, I can easily tackle small tasks. I look out for harmful bugs, see if anything could benefit from a little fertilizer, and incrementally pick things as they’re ready for eating. Instead of letting tasks build up for days to become a big chore, I keep it all manageable with just a few minutes here and there. It also helps that my wife and I share the responsibility.
This zucchini and mushroom pasta recipe is a product of me taking the time to slow down in the garden this year. Each morning I pinch back some basil to prevent flowering, and each day I keep an eye on the zucchini, picking them as early as possible. So far, the basil has yet to flower, and I have yet to find myself with a four-foot-long zucchini.
This simple dish combines zucchini and basil from the garden with mushrooms, onions, and garlic. After cooking in olive oil and a little white wine, the vegetables are tossed with pasta. Instead of topping it off with cheese, as I so often do with pasta dishes, I toasted panko breadcrumbs and mixed them with lemon zest for a nice crunch and burst of flavor. It’s a quick meal yet gives the impression that it took much more time and effort—kind of like my garden.
You could easily make some changes to this. Sundried tomatoes would be a nice addition. Or if you want a protein, mix in cooked chicken or tofu towards the end. Feel free to use broth in place of the wine and if you need, parsley in place of the basil. Any type of mushroom you prefer works fine, as does any pasta. To stretch this to six servings, use a whole pound of pasta, use more breadcrumbs and oil, and increase the number of vegetables by a third to half.
12 ounces of pasta
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup panko bread crumbs
zest of 1 lemon
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 medium onion, chopped
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced 1 cup white wine or vegetable broth
2 small zucchini, thinly sliced
¼ chop roughly chopped basil
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add a couple of good pinches of salt and pasta. Cook according to the package directions until al dente. Save a cup of the pasta water before draining and set aside.
Heat a large deep pan or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When hot, add the breadcrumbs and cook for about 5 minutes until brown. Stir often. When done, remove from the pan and set aside on a plate. Mix in the lemon zest and ½ teaspoon of salt.
Return the pan to heat and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the red pepper flakes. Sauté the onion in the oil for about 10 minutes until soft and golden. Add the mushrooms, garlic, and remaining salt, and cook for another 5 minutes. If needed, add another splash of oil. Pour the wine or broth into the pan and simmer for a minute before tossing in the zucchini. Continue cooking another 5 minutes or so until the zucchini is tender. Avoid overcooking and creating mushy zucchini.
Off heat, toss the pasta with the vegetables and basil until combined. Serve warm topped with the lemon breadcrumbs.