Before moving to Atlanta for the summer, I knew very little about the city, despite my parents having lived here for nearly a year. That said, the little I did know has quickly shown itself to be true. Yes, the traffic is mind-boggling bad, to the point where you plan your day around not being on the road between 4:30 and 6:30 PM. Yes, the peaches are mind-boggling good. This morning, my mother said, rather extravagantly, that she has had more perfect peaches in the last month than she has in her entire life. And she might be right. And yes, Hotlanta gets hot, like consistently high-90’s hot, and not even a night of torrential rain like we had earlier this week offers much relief.
Don’t get me wrong; a lot of Atlanta has been unexpected, too. For one, I didn’t expect the green. Maybe my New York eyes have become too accustomed to asphalt and concrete, but the green here is jungle-like, lush, wild. Often you find whole plots of land, smack dab in the middle of a busy neighborhood, that have been left to whatever tangled mess of weeds, trees, and wildflowers Mother Nature sees fit to grow there. Not to mention the crepe myrtles, that ostentatious firework of a flowering tree, whose foliage spans the spectrum from ruby to fuchsia to deep violet and who tirelessly steal the show from spring into summer and — so I’m told — even into fall. I guess those torrential rainstorms do some good after all, even if they’re powerless against the heat.
Another aspect of ATL I didn’t expect was the friendliness. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised — since we are, after all, in the South — but this is a major metropolis, isn’t it? And aren’t city folk supposed to be cranky and aloof, too wrapped up in their busyness to chat with strangers in the supermarket or at the dry cleaners? This must be my jaded New York side again, because the Atlantans I’ve come across have so far blown that stereotype out of the water.
So here’s a recipe for Atlanta. It’s clean and simple enough to cool you off after a hot day stuck in traffic. It’s bright and colorful to reflect the natural beauty right outside your window. And wouldn’t you agree that lemon is just about the friendliest flavor you can think of?
lemony basil summer squash pasta
1 box of small pasta (I used shells)
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
2 small shallots, diced
1 medium summer squash, sliced into thin coins
1 medium zucchini, sliced into thin coins
1 pint golden tomatoes, halved
1 ounce basil, sliced into ribbons
juice of 1 lemon
salt & pepper
Cook the pasta in salted water until al dente. Drain and return to the pot. Add a little olive oil to loosen up those noodles. Set aside.
Per usual, I recommend you prep all your ingredients before starting the stir fry. That way, you can just sit back and relax once things start heatin’ up.
Heat oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add shallots and cook for a few minutes, until just beginning to brown. Add minced/crushed garlic and cook for a couple minutes more. Toss in the squash, salt and pepper it to your liking, and let cook until your veggies are soft and, if you’re lucky, just beginning to brown. This may take awhile, like 10 or 15 minutes. So be patient.
Once squash is fully cooked, throw in tomatoes and basil ribbons. Mix to combine. Let sit over heat for just a moment; you still want some crunch in those tomatoes.
And finally, for the coup de grâce, squeeze in every last drop from a single fresh lemon that you can get. Stir in the juice and turn off the stove. Add the cooked veggies to the pasta. All things are now ready.
This pasta tasted divine when topped with freshly grated Parmesan. On the evening I prepared it, all diners in attendance exclaimed over how strong and bright the lemon notes came through in each bite, and how refreshing it was to enjoy a simple, clean and colorful bowl on such a hot Atlanta night (I may have pumped the diners just a little for these glowing comments, but I swear the sentiment was sincere). And, as an added bonus, it tasted just as good if not better, when reheated the next day for lunch.