In the 1970s and early 1980s, there was a sweet little bistro in Cotati called A` Chez Nous, operated by the Saulnier family, from Algeria with French roots. Sometime in the mid 1970s, one of the sons took over the cafe. I worked there as a server starting a couple years later.
Old Redwood Highway ran right in front of the bistro, and when a few blocks were dug up and remained so for months, business plummeted. On those dreadfully slow nights, Hubert, the younger of two sons, invited me into the kitchen to cook together.
The first thing he taught me was how to make a dish I call Algerian Carrots and Zucchini. Previous experiences had made me hate zucchini, including potlucks at Sonoma State University, where I was then a student, that always included zucchini loaves and zucchini bread that were just awful.
But Hubert made me taste what I had been serving for months. A single bite changed my life. When I began writing a column several years later, one of my first was titled “The Man Who Made Me Love Zucchini.”
I have been making this dish ever since. It’s my favorite way of preparing both carrots and zucchini.
Over the years, Hurbert’s recipe has evolved into my own, though the biggest change I have made is the addition of the herbs. Feel free to leave them out.
Algerian Carrots and Zucchini
Makes 8 to 10 servings
1 ½ pounds, approximately, zucchini
1 ½ pounds carrots
Juice of 3 lemons
3 tablespoons ground cumin
3 tablespoons minced garlic
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro, optional
Black pepper in a mill
Set up a steamer with about 2 to 3 inches of water in the bottom pot. Put the steamer on top and set it on the stove, over a burner set to medium-high.
Cut the zucchini into chunks, about 1 to 1½ inches wide. Put the zucchini into the top part of the steamer, put on the lid and cook until the zucchini is very tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.
While the zucchini cooks, prepare the carrots. Trim them, peel them and cut them into ⅛-inch thick diagonal slices.
When the zucchini is done, tip it into a large strainer or colander set over a bowl. Let it drain, stirring it now and then, until most of the excess liquid has drained off. If you like, you can add this liquid to broth or stock; otherwise, discard it. Tip the drained zucchini into a bowl.
Put the carrots into the steamer basket, set it over the pot with the water and cook until the carrots are just tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, let cool slightly and tip into a bowl.
Pour ⅔ of the lemon juice over the zucchini and pour the remaining lemon juice over the carrots. Add 2 tablespoons of ground cumin to the zucchini and 1 tablespoon to the carrots. Divide the garlic in the same way. Pour 3 tablespoons of olive oil over the carrots and the rest over the zucchini.
Toss the zucchini and the carrots, separately. Add the parsley to the zucchini and add the cilantro, if using, to the carrots.
Season the zucchini very generously with salt. Add a light sprinkling to the carrots. Season both with several turns of black pepper.
Taste and correct for salt, pepper and acid balance. If either dish tastes flat, it needs more salt.
Serve warm or at room temperature. To do so, put the carrots and zucchini next to each other on a serving platter — oblong is best — or in separate bowls, next to each other.
Enjoy right away or cover and keep in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Spaghetti Carbonara is named for black pepper, a primary ingredient the resembles bits of charcoal. A true carbonara never includes cream, basil or other herbs, or any of the other ingredients chefs toss in these days. If you want to dress it up, top each serving with a poached egg. This version replaces pasta — either spaghetti or bucatini — with zucchini. It’s an option for people who can’t tolerate gluten. It is traditional to use guanciale instead of either pancetta or bacon, but it takes considerable effort to find it in Sonoma County ever since Traverso’s Market closed in 2011. Here, I recommend bacon because it resonates beautifully with the zucchini.
Makes 3 to 4 servings
1 large or several medium-small zucchini
6 slices bacon
3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 large eggs, from pastured chickens
1 egg yolk
6 ounces (1 ½ cups grated) Pecorino-Romano, see Note
¼ cup hot water
Black pepper in a mill
Kosher salt or Maldon sea salt
Trim off the stem and flower ends of each zucchini.
With a mandoline or a spiralizer, cut the zucchini into ribbons about the size of spaghetti. If using a very large zucchini, rotate it so most of the “noodles” have skin on them. The interior, where the seeds are, can be tricky, so you may want to set it aside to use for another dish, such as vegetable stock or soup.