Nancy Vallarella, the market manager at the Nesconset Farmer's Market and a food columnist for smithtownmatters.com, lives in Nissequogue with her husband and two daughters.
How long have you been cooking?
I grew up in a household where my mom walked from the butcher, to the baker, to the dairy. We didn't have a lot of packaged or processed food. Maybe Jell-O or noodles, but that would be it. My first order from Scholastic Book Clubs (now Scholastic Reading Club) was a cookbook. My parents were into cooking. Our heritage was Polish. It was a pierogi factory in our house, with everyone in the kitchen. It's not just about the food, it's about doing things together, the community, and it just stuck with me.
What is your focus these days?
I had a career in technology before having kids, but since moving out here from Nassau County I've been actively involved in green markets. These days, I'm really trying to concentrate on showing people at the market how to bring the fresh produce to the table with quick and simple recipes. I want to get kids especially to be interested in vegetables, to acquire that palate.
What first attracted you to spiralizing?
I just thought the spiralizer was such a fun idea. So I bought one. My whole family was very enthusiastic at first, but when I started spiralizing everything, they thought I went a little crazy. When I do demos down at the farmers' market, the kids, even the ones who usually don't even eat vegetables, love it. With the zucchini, it's like making pasta, but it only takes 15 seconds. It's an event, because you're changing the shape of something, replacing something traditional with something new. If parents went ahead and tried spiralizing carrots or zucchini, their kids would just love to eat those vegetables raw.
What items work best in the spiralizer?
I do cucumbers, replacing them for soba noodles in some recipes. Beets, butternut squash. The unit I use has different blades, so I can make potato chips. My husband can't believe how happy I am when I'm spiralizing.
Any tips for spiralizing zucchini?
Score your medium to large zucchini before spiralizing, to avoid strands that can be several feet long. Just one long ¼ inch incision along the length of the zucchini should do the trick. Zucchini are 90 percent water. If you don't draw out the water before cooking, you will have a watery dish lacking taste. So, prior to cooking the zucchini noodles, let them weep.
What's the best way to do this?
Place the lightly salted noodles in a colander and place the colander in a larger bowl. Let the salted zucchini sit for at least 15 minutes or overnight in the refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap. You should see the liquid pooling in the larger bowl. If you are in a hurry, lay out a clean thick terry kitchen towel. Line the kitchen towel with clean paper towels and place the zucchini noodles on top. Spread out the noodles. Roll up the towel and give it a gentle ring.
MAMA'S SPIRALIZED ZUCCHINI PASTA WITH POACHED CHICKEN TENDERS
4 medium zucchini, spiralized into noodles the size of cooked spaghetti
1 to 2 pounds chicken tenders
Ground black pepper
3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 shallots, minced
2 grated or minced garlic cloves
1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes (optional)
4 cups jarred marinara sauce
Grated Parmesan cheese
1. Lightly salt and weep spiralized zucchini. Remove white tendons from chicken tenders and lightly season with salt and pepper.
2. Heat large nonstick skillet on medium heat and add 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil. Once oil is warm, saute shallots until just tender, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and stir until fragrant, another minute. Add spiralized zucchini and hot red pepper flakes if using and saute until zucchini has reached desired tenderness, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer zucchini mixture to a large serving bowl.
3. In the same skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add the chicken tenders, leaving room between each. Do not crowd. Cook 3 minutes on each side. If necessary, cook in two batches, transferring first batch to a plate and adding an extra tablespoon of oil to the pan for a second batch.
4. Return all chicken to pan, add marinara sauce, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until sauce is warmed through, 5 to 6 minutes. Pour sauce and chicken over spiralized zucchini, garnish with grated cheese to taste, and serve. Makes 4 to 6 servings.