I’m an all-or-nothing gal: if there are schemes and contrivances afoot in my life you’ll either never hear the end of it or you’ll be completely innocent of their existence. To that end, it occurs to me now that I’ve still not mentioned here that I’ve spent 2022 working full-time on my Master’s degree. (Before we get too excited that I’m embarking on a new era of financial stability and societal worth, it’s a degree in creative writing.) Having lost a lot of time to illness, and with my due date bearing down on me like an energetic mosquito, I’ve entered a kind of fugue state where I only exist within the fluorescent-lit walls of the library, consuming an unholy quantity of tamari almonds from the vending machine to keep my essential salts up as I toil and study and format and edit.
And so a recipe like this Roasted Zucchini with Spinach-Peanut Pesto is just what I need for those brief inbetween times when I’m not at the library: dazzlingly, conspicuously green and vitamin-rich, a solid easy-to-make to aesthetic-pleasure ratio, compelling enough to wrench my somnolent face away from my laptop, and of course, delicious. I’m already a bigtime Bryant Terry fan (I’d hate to imagine life without his molasses loaf) and his book Vegetable Kingdom is more of the same excellence; including this recipe which I adapted just a little — he used collards in the pesto, I had a bag of spinach in the fridge so went with that instead. I imagine any robust green leaf could work, although I’m not sure if I’d place my trust in silverbeet unless it was blended with other greens.
It really is simple: just chop and roast zucchini (or courgette, as they’re more commonly known in these parts outside of a game of Scattergories, but with apologies to the French, the Italian term sounds cooler), blend up some leaves and nuts, there’s your recipe, it just looks — I hope — more complicated when you pile it all into a serving dish. The zucchini turns buttery and tender in the oven; the pesto is — despite spinach not having a wildly discernible flavour profile — boisterously salty and tangy. According to Terry, the inclusion of peanuts is inspired by a dish from Chad; they have an earthy near-bitterness that works well with the slightly metallic edge of dark-green leaves; while also softening and adding richness and welcome crunch.
If you’re not consuming this as a mere conduit for vitamins to your gasping brain cells, consider it a useful vegetable side dish that asks little of you — you can throw the zucchini in the oven while other things are cooking, and they taste just as good at room temperature as they do hot (and I can confirm that this tastes especially good next to Thai Yellow Curry Mac’n’Cheese); or serve it as part of a table groaning with small plates; I’d also be happy to eat it stirred through pasta (and I’d go for something short and curly or ridged) or ballasted by any of the other usual carbs. Either way: so delicious, so easy, so green.
Roasted Zucchini with Spinach-Peanut Pesto
A charmingly — and deceptively — simple way to serve this vegetable, and a delightful way to eat your greens. This recipe is adapted slightly from Bryant Terry’s Vegetable Kingdom. He used collard leaves in the pesto and if you can get hold of them that’s obviously the best choice; otherwise kale, cavolo nero, or a mixture of these robust greens would be great.
- 4 large zucchini (aka courgettes)
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 cups spinach leaves, loosely packed
- 1/3 cup roasted peanuts
- 3 tablespoons white miso paste
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar (or fresh lemon juice)
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- extra chopped roasted peanuts, to serve
1: Set your oven to 220C/450F. Cut your zucchini in half lengthwise, then slice into half moons about 1/2 an inch thick. Or chop them however you like! This is just what I did.
2: Toss the zucchini slices with the tablespoon of olive oil and a little salt and freshly ground pepper on a roasting tray — the sort that comes as a pull-out shelf in your oven is ideal, depending on how clean it is — and arrange the zucchini slices in a single layer. Roast for about 20 minutes or until softened and browning around the edges — bearing in mind that the slices may look pale on top but will be browned underneath, so have your tongs at the ready to check.
3: While the zucchini is roasting, put all the pesto ingredients except the olive oil into a food processor and pulse to combine, then blend while pouring olive oil through the feed tube till it becomes a fantastically green puree. Now, if you only have a blender to hand as I did, stick to pulsing rather than full-on blending, otherwise you’ll lose all the texture, and start by adding half the olive oil with maybe a tablespoon of water to keep things moving, then add the rest of the olive oil and pulse again to combine. And finally, taste to see if it needs more salt, more sour, more texture, etc.
4: To serve, dollop spoonfuls of the pesto onto a wide, shallow bowl, pile the roasted zucchini on top and sprinkle over a handful of extra chopped roasted peanuts. Put any remaining pesto in a small bowl with a spoon for people to help themselves, or just tip it on top of the zucchini.
Serves 4 as a side, or with other sides added to it.
I bought two of those little bags of chopped roasted peanuts that you can find in the baking aisle for this recipe — it’s not as elegant as roasting whole peanuts and chopping them yourself but they are always cheap and it cuts out an extra step for you.
Glass by Yukihiro Takahashi, from his 1981 album Neuromantic, something in that raindrops-on-concrete opening really dances inside my brain and I love its slow-moving yet persistent urgency.
Plainsong, by The Cure, if anything can make you feel alive after doing a thirteen-hour stint in the library it’s the celestial starburst opening to this song.
Soliloquy by Joshua Henry from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel. In my correct opinion, it’s time for baritones to shine again and Joshua Henry shines in this song; if you don’t care enough to watch the whole thing then at least do yourself a favour and skip to the last minute, it’s spectacular.
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