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The End of an Era, and a Zucchini and Mint Pasta Recipe

The ability to handle change is a skill that I want to instill in my children. The best way to teach something, of course, is by example. Unfortunately, I'm about as good at being adaptable as an elephant might be at riding a bicycle. Change is not something that comes easily to me. It took me decades to get into therapy (representing more of a cause than a symptom, perhaps), and I've lived in the same apartment for fifteen years. That is about to end.

I like my apartment, despite its four flights of stairs, its crazy lack of heat in the middle of the night, and its ugly-as-sin kitchen cabinets. All of its flaws have always been redeemed by two key facts--its price, which has been below market for years, and its location, which in real-estate parlance is all that matters, matters, matters.

The cracked bathroom tiles and the odd placement of the refrigerator (it's actually in the hall) are not driving me from my nest. My landlords are. I've never had a lease, and on Friday I received a notice of termination. We've been given thirty days to get out. The low-rent bohemian dream is over. It is time to wake up to the realities of the current real-estate market. 

I'm confident that we'll manage the transition to a new place just fine. For the past few days, though, it's been rough going. I'm shocked, of course, to be served a notice from a lawyer. During those fifteen years, I was never once late with the rent, and I kept an eye on the building when the landlords, who live on the second floor, weren't around. How many times have I shoveled the snow from the sidewalk in front of the building while the owners were off in Florida? Who made sure that the building's garbage cans didn't blow down the street on a windy day? Who didn't chop vegetables on the kitchen counter, lest the knife mar the Formica? I treated this place like it was my own.

I'll get around to telling the story of how we ended up getting thrown out. It has its funny parts, but as the maxim goes, comedy equals tragedy plus time. I need a little more time to deal with it. The short story: our new downstairs neighbors, who have since moved out, could not tolerate the pitter-patter of little feet. The day they arrived, before even saying hello, they ran upstairs at 6pm to complain about the sound of our kids running around the apartment.  They acted as if we were raising pachyderms, not children. They were implacable. We did our best to keep them--and by extension our landlord--happy. It didn't work. Neville Chamberlain never had it so bad.

Now I have a grand opportunity to demonstrate my own adaptability. Fortunately, there's one arena where I often get to practice the skill: cooking. Take the other night, for example. I had been planning to make a zucchini-pasta recipe from Mark Bittman. The recipe calls for basil. I had purchased the fragrant herb earlier in the week. I washed it right away, which helps it last longer in the refrigerator. Life intervened, though, and I never got around to using it. The leaves turned black and soggy and I had to throw the bunch out.

I never made the dish. The zucchini, on the other hand, held up just fine. So, a week later, when I wanted to cook the dish I had almost all the ingredients. I was out of basil, but I did have mint. Santa Maria had purchased a bunch a few days earlier for a leg of lamb I was making for an erudite friend, and my former roommate, in town from London. We ate the lamb, but not the mint. So, there it was. Would the mint taste as good as the basil in the recipe? I was pretty sure it would. In the end, I think, it was better. Hopefully our housing situation will turn out the same way.

Pasta with Zucchini, Ricotta, and Mint
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 or 4 small zucchini, rinsed and diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 to 1 cup fresh mint leaves, washed, dried, and chopped
  • Penne or other pasta
  • Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, optional

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it.

Heat a large frying pan and add the oil.

Sauté the zucchini, stirring occasionally, until it browns and gets tender. Do this in batches if necessary. The important thing for browning is insuring that there's sufficient surface area on the pan for the zucchini.

Start to cook the pasta.

Stir the garlic in with the zucchini.

Warm a serving bowl and put in the ricotta. When the pasta is ready, drain it and reserve the cooking liquid. Use this, a little at a time, to thin the ricotta until it is the consistency of a sauce.

Toss the pasta, zucchini, and mint into the bowl. Add the Parmesan, salt and pepper.


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