I stumbled upon this delightful combination of flavors in Parma, Italy, perhaps the unlikeliest of places to find a delicious plant-based dish given that the city is best known for its prosciutto and cheese. The name grabbed my eye on the menu and I was in heaven as soon as I took the first bite. The beauty of this dish is its simplicity, allowing you to really taste each ingredient in its full glory. For the best results, use a really great quality olive oil, choose mature (but not too overgrown) end-of-season zucchini, and do not skip the step of toasting and grinding the sesame seeds.
Prep time: 30m | Serves 4
2½ Tablespoons sesame seeds
12 ounces fusilli pasta, regular or gluten-free*
3 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 medium zucchinis, cut in half lengthwise and sliced into 1/4-inch half-moons
1 Tablespoon tahini
Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the sesame seeds and toast for 2–3 minutes or until slightly brown and fragrant, stirring often. If the seeds “jump” out of the skillet, lower the heat slightly. Remove skillet from heat, and when seeds have cooled slightly, transfer them to a mortar and pestle or mini-food processor and grind lightly. Set aside. (This step can be done ahead of time, but I would recommend not doing it too far in advance; same-day is ideal.)
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat and place the tahini in a small bowl. While you wait for the pasta water to boil, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the zucchini and a large pinch of salt. Cook the zucchini for about 10 minutes, or until lightly browned, flipping it once the first side has developed color. (If your skillet is not large enough to hold all the zucchini in a single layer, do this step in batches.) Once the zucchini has finished cooking, remove from heat and set aside.
When the pasta water is boiling, cook the pasta until al dente. Just before draining the pasta, transfer 3 tablespoons of pasta cooking water to the bowl with the tahini and whisk together. Once the pasta is drained, add it back into your pot, along with the tahini mixture, the cooked zucchini, the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, most of the ground sesame seeds (save a little for garnish) and ½ teaspoon salt. Stir well and serve immediately, garnished with the reserved sesame seeds.
* Jovial’s brown rice pasta is my choice for a gluten-free option.