Zucchini blossom love

Last year my handful of zucchini plants produced almost no vegetables. Blossoms yes, but a paltry crop of zucchini.  Now that's pretty pathetic, because even non-gardeners know that zucchini grows like wildfire. So this year I overplanted in the zucchini department, and of course I have more than my family, houseguests, and neighbors can humanly consume. But in truth I grow zucchini for their welcoming, golden flowers. They greet you in the morning with a smile, their arms wide open. Before I go out for a morning run, I allow myself a quick tour of the garden, so as I run I can plan the day's menus, always dreaming up new ways to use up zucchini blossoms, which I consider a totally "free" byproduct of the vegetable garden. I chop them and toss them in a lunchtime frittata, stuff them with all manner of fillings -- leftover cheese, tabouleh, herbs and chopped zucchini -- and deep fry them,  give them a quick sauté, or gently steam them. I arrange them like spokes on a wheel for pizzas, paired with anchovies and capers, or arrange them on organic flour tortillas with cheese, tomatoes, and pickled peppers and set them on the grill. But the current favorite comes from zucchini blossom and pasta recipes inspired by good friends and colleagues Susan Herrmann (in her utterly complete Italian Farmhouse) and Johanne Killeen and George Germon (in their unbeatable On Top of Spaghetti). A mix of cubed zucchini, sliced blossoms, capers, black olives, and an avalanche of basil make for an idyllic July spaghetti sauce.

Spaghetti with Zucchini Blossoms, Zucchini, and Basil

Equipment: A food processor fitted with a small bowl; a large saucepan with a lid;  a 10-quart pasta pot fitted with a colander; 4 warmed shallow soup bowls.

4 cups loosely packed basil leaves

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 1/2 pounds fresh zucchini, trimmed and cut into a very fine dice

20 zucchini blossoms, cut into chiffonnade (4 cups loosely packed)

1 cup best-quality French brine-cured black olives, pitted and quartered

1/3 cup capers in vinegar, drained

1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, plus more for the table

1 pound imported Italian spaghetti

3 tablespoons coarse sea salt

  1. Combine the basil, 3 tablespoons of the oil, and the fine salt in the food processor and puree.
  2. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in the saucepan until hot but not smoking. Add the zucchini and cook for 1 minute. Add the blossoms and cook for 30 seconds more. Add the olives, capers, half the cheese, and the basil puree and stir to blend.
  3. In the pasta pot, bring 10 quarts of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Add the coarse salt and the pasta, stirring to prevent the pasta from sticking. Cook until tender but firm to the bite. Remove the pasta pot from the heat. Remove the colander and drain over a sink, shaking to remove excess water. Immediately transfer the drained pasta to the sauce in the saucepan. Toss to evenly coat the pasta. Remove from the heat. Cover and let rest for 1 minute. Toss with the remaining cheese. If dry, add several tablespoons pasta water to moisten. Serve in the warmed bowls, passing extra cheese for garnish. 4 Servings