I’m back – whoa. I don’t think I’ve taken a month off from here in five years, and I didn’t intend to now. I don’t ever feel the need to escape from here – this is my escape – but we took the kids to Europe for the first time that they’ll remember, and I turned off everything else so I could focus on seeing two weeks through their wide eyes.
I brought back a holiday souvenir for you guys: a recipe for those of you overrun by late summer’s giant zucchini plants, like my friend Jojo outside Munich. We cooked zucchini for days, but this veggie-enriched pasta carbonara, enjoyed by zucchini-weary adults and kids both, was the ultimate effort that most successfully cleared out Jojo’s neverending stockpile.
A delicious week in Paris was just a prelude to our main event: six days in Bavaria with the greatest of friends. My husband and I did the same trip – Paris, followed by Munich – once before in 1999 for the wedding of this couple, close friends from New York City. And now there are 12 of us instead of 4, our kids matching theirs in tidy pairs: teen boys, preteen girls, young boys and younger girls.
I wondered if things would be different this time. In the two years since we last gathered, our eldest have morphed from big kids to full-blown teens who shave, use hair products and sleep through breakfast.
The kids don’t communicate in between our rare visits – the 9-hour time difference on top of too many schedules – but when we get together we squeeze all the time lost into a few days of intensive togetherness. And that, it turns out, is enough. All eight connected easily with the comfort of cousins.
We spent hot days eating soft Bavarian pretzels and creamy gelato, swimming, kayaking and paddle boarding in the lake.
It wasn’t until the end of our visit that we went into Munich. We wanted to wander the Viktualienmarkt – the huge, 200-year-old farmers market off Munich’s central square Marienplatz. It’s normally open every day but Sunday, but on this Saturday much of the city was closed for a religious holiday (the Assumption of Mary).
We didn’t time our visit for a performance, but it was still fun to see the landmark Glockenspiel in Marienplatz.
During the week outside Munich, we would occasionally see people dressed in traditional Bavarian lederhosen and dirndls. But most of the Marienplatz crowd were tourists, including this colorful posse of dirndl girls.
The only thing open at the Viktualienmarkt was the beer garden, where we stopped for a snack. Here the tap rotates democratically through six major local breweries – the popular ones cycle through quickly, while locals wait for tourists to guzzle through the less-preferred brands.
Biergarten eats: fantastic Bavarian sausages from small links to fat slices, warm, vinegary potato salad, mounds of sauerkraut and pretzels big enough to feed a small family.
The maypole, a fixture in every village here, is not just the center of May Day celebrations. Before widespread literacy, the figures on the village maypole communicated the local trades and crafts in town, important information in the German apprenticeship tradition.
Our plans to meet Jojo’s sister’s family (another crew of 6) at a beer garden that night were thwarted by rain. The kids weren’t too disappointed to stay at home.
Jojo and I took inventory of our sparse supplies (the religious holiday took us by surprise) and thought about how we might feed 18. In the fridge: cheese, some bacon, plenty of eggs. In the pantry: pasta. And in the garden, exploding zucchini plants. What else but pasta carbonara, with as much zucchini as we could reasonably pile in?
It ended up being a fantastic way to slay zucchini. I cooked up a literal gallon of it in batches. Jojo’s sister’s family went out to dinner, so we ended up with a zucchini-heavy carbonara: two pounds of squash for every pound of pasta.
Zucchini has a lot of water, so it cooks down quite a bit.
Jojo chopped up all the bacon she could scavenge, plus garlic and a little onion to flavor our zucchini mountain.
Three eggs per pound of pasta, mixed with plenty of grated Parmesan.
The rest was just assembly.
Drained pasta back into the hot pot. Pour in the egg mixture immediately so the heat can melt it into a sauce. The cheese in the eggs helps prevent them from becoming scrambled.
Add the bacon/onion/garlic.
And the zucchini mountain. A lot of black pepper, a little salt, and a bit of reserved pasta cooking water to loosen up the sauce.
A one vat meal.
We dished out bowl after bowl, and even then we had a comical amount left.
The zucchini was absorbed well into the pasta and sauce. With extra cheese at the table, even the kids gladly ate it all.
A belated thanks to all who participated in my blogiversary giveaway. Congratulations to winners Lisa Sellers, Carolsue, Hilary, Lingling and Christine – hope you enjoy your new cookbooks!
Carbonara purists may recoil, but this is a great way to use up zucchini in late summer. Cubed and sauteed, a lot of zucchini can disappear into this dish, which makes excess zucchini a pleasure instead of a chore.
- 2 pounds zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 5 cups)
- 1/3 to 1/2 pound bacon, diced (150-225 grams or 6-8 medium-width slices)
- 1/4 cup diced onion (1/2 small onion)
- 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 eggs, beaten
- 1 cup grated Parmesan, Pecorino Romano or a mix (about 100 grams or 3 1/2 ounces)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound (450 grams) pasta
- Extra cheese, for serving
- Minced parsley, for garnish (optional)
- Trim ends of zucchini and cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch slices. Cut again lengthwise into 1/2-inch sticks, then across into 1/2-inch cubes. Set aside.
- Dice onion and mince garlic (or squeeze through a garlic press). Set aside.
- In a bowl, beat eggs well and mix in grated cheese. Set aside (don’t refrigerate, unless you are prepping for much later).
- Cut bacon into small pieces, using a sharp knife or kitchen shears. Set aside.
- In a large skillet, cook the zucchini in two batches (zucchini should be in a single layer). Heat the skillet over medium-high heat, then add 1 tablespoon of olive oil followed by 1/2 of the diced zucchini. Saute zucchini, stirring occasionally, until it is soft and partially browned (turn up the heat if it seems too watery, or down if it starts to burn). Season well with salt and pepper, then remove to a bowl. Cook the remaining batch and add it to the bowl of cooked zucchini.
- Put a large pot of water on high to boil.
- Heat the same skillet on medium heat. Add the diced bacon and cook, stirring frequently, until it softens and the bacon fat melts. Add the onion and garlic and continue to cook until bacon is brown but not yet crisp. Turn off heat and set aside.
- Add salt to boiling water in the pot (at least a tablespoon; should be salty like the sea). Add pasta and immediately give a stir so it doesn’t stick. Test the pasta as time gets close – it should still have a bit of chew in the center. Save some of the water from the pot, then drain the pasta and add it back to the hot pot.
- Stir a splash of hot pasta water into the egg/cheese mixture and immediately pour it over the hot pasta. Stir well until egg mixture is heated and pasta is coated. Add bacon/onion/garlic and the cooked zucchini. Stir well and season generously with black pepper and additional salt to taste (because of all the zucchini, you’ll need a lot more seasoning than with regular carbonara). Add splash of pasta water to loosen the sauce if needed. Garnish with minced parsley (if you have it) and serve with grated cheese.
- Carbonara is traditionally made with pancetta (cured pork belly) or guanciale (cured pork jowl), neither of which is smoked like bacon. But bacon is a staple in the US, and to me carbonara is an indispensable bacon-and-eggs pasta dish to make when you have nothing else in the house.
- Onion is not traditional to carbonara (garlic is more common), but with all the zucchini some extra aromatics are nice. Use more or less onion and/or garlic to suit your preferences.
- When it’s not zucchini season, peas are also a good fit with carbonara sauce (only a cup at most).
Here’s the link to a printable version.