Zucchini and Snap Peas with Sesame Oil

by rivka on June 29, 2011 · 4 comments

in easy-as-a-1-2-3, good for you, sides, vegetarian

In some sense, it’s hard to come up with anything insightful to say about a dish containing four ingredients, one of which is salt and the other three of which are in this post’s title. On the other hand, one taste had me going on and on about how simple, how delicious, it all was. It’s a dish of contradictions: complex flavor from very few ingredients, a celebration of the bounty of summer with none of the fuss involved in, say, sour cherry pie.

We’re talking about zucchini and snap peas, two of summer’s greatest-hit vegetables. If you’ve seen those very small zucchini at the market and wondered what to do with them, this is the perfect recipe for showing off their shape. (If you can’t find baby zucchini, regular zucchini sliced into thick coins will work just fine.) I’ve spent many summers sauteing zucchini coins in butter; never once did I consider ditching the butter in favor of water. (Ditching butter? Would I ever? No.) But this is an exception: when you’re dealing with summer’s freshest vegetables, at the peak of the season, a little salted water is all you need.

I first had simple blanched baby zucchini at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Theirs were blanched very briefly, kept still somewhat crunchy, then coated in sesame seeds and served just so, as a first course. Zucchini and sesame are a great match, and I echoed that pair here, but using sesame oil instead of the seeds. The blanched vegetables need little else: just some flaky salt to make the flavors really pop.

It’s important to really drain the blanched vegetables well. By the time you’re dressing them, you really want them completely dry, or else the oil will mix with the water and make a very diluted dressing at the bottom of the bowl. Usually I love that sort of delicious runoff, but here it’s not welcome. You’re looking for bone-dry vegetables, lightly coated in sesame oil and speckled with good, flaky salt. That is all. You will eat these on the porch, on a long summer evening. Or in the hot kitchen, off the platter, with your fingers. And then (I hope!) you will thank me.

Zucchini and Snap Peas with Sesame Oil

As I said in the post, you really want the vegetables to be completely dry before you dress them. Let them strain well for several minutes, and you’ll be all set.

Also, two different ways to serve this dish. The first is to drizzle the sesame oil and sprinkle the salt over the vegetables. The second is to serve the vegetables unadorned on a platter, and give each of your guests a small bowl with a tablespoon or so of sesame oil and a sprinkling of salt. That way, they can grab a warm zucchini, dip it in the salted oil, and eat with their fingers. I think I actually prefer the second method, but both are great.

Serves 4 as a side dish

1 pound zucchini (if using baby zucchini, leave whole; if using large zucchini, slice into 1/2-inch coins)
1 pound snap peas
3-4 T sesame oil
flaky salt

Put a pot of salted water over high heat and bring to a boil. Add zucchini to the pot and cook 1 minute. Add snap peas, cook 1 minute more, and drain. You’re serving these vegetables warm, so no need to use an ice bath; instead, you just slightly undercook them, and they cook the rest of the way while cooling.

If using coins of large zucchini instead of whole baby zucchini, add them at the same time as the snowpeas, and cook just about 1 minute, maybe 10 seconds more.

Drain vegetables well, wiping with a towel if necessary. Transfer to a serving platter. Drizzle with sesame oil, enough so that when you give the platter a few shakes, all the vegetables look thinly coated. Then sprinkle some flaky salt over the whole dish. Taste one. Does it need more oil? More salt? Adjust seasoning accordingly. Serve now, or later. They’re great at room temperature, too.

As I mentioned above, if you’d prefer, you can serve the vegetables plain on a platter, and put out the salted sesame oil in a bowl for dipping. I think I prefer the dish this way, but both work just great.

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