Know what I hate? “Zoodles.” I don’t hate the way they taste—they are quite good—but I hate the implication that long, skinny strands of zucchini are in any way comparable to actual pasta. In fact, whenever I’ve eaten zoodles, I haven’t been able to enjoy them one bit, because all I could think about was how I was being deprived of regular pasta. If you want to use zoodles for a salad or a proper zucchini dish, I’m all for it. As “pasta,” though? Just stop it with the lies. If you’re craving pasta no amount of zucchini will satiate you, because what your body wants is carbs, not “thing shaped like pasta.” Your body can tell the difference and would like you to stop treating it like it was born yesterday.
If you want to eat pasta while also eating a whole bunch of zucchini, this is the way to do it. Summer squash has a ridiculously high water content, which makes it the perfect summer sauce when steamed and pureed. Throw in a bit of basil, cheese, and toasted nuts, and you’ve got a thick pesto “cream” sauce without the need to spend $60 on groceries to make a small pint of pesto. You can 86 the cheese or swap it out for a plant-based alternative to make this sauce 100% vegan, and yet still it will taste luxurious and creamy in the way that makes you think your heart might stop beating at any moment. And isn’t that the physical experience we’re all hoping to get from lunch?
Zucchini Pesto Pasta
- 1/4 cup slivered almonds or pine nuts
- 3-4 Tbsp. olive oil
- 4-6 fat cloves garlic (follow your heart), roughly chopped
- 2 lbs. zucchini, roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup water, stock, or white wine (your choice)
- Zest and juice of 1 large lemon
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving
- 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, packed
- 1 lb. rigatoni
- Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
Start by filling a pasta pot with generously salted water, cover, then put on a burner set to high.
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In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, cook the almonds with a tablespoon or so of olive oil, stirring occasionally, until they’re beautifully toasty brown, about 3-4 minutes. Remove the almonds to a small bowl and set aside. When cool, mince 3/4 of the almonds into teeny-tiny pieces.
Add another two tablespoons of olive oil into the saucepan. Add the garlic, cooking while stirring for about 2 minutes until golden. Add a handful of zucchini with a pinch of salt and stir; repeat until all the zucchini has been added. Add the lemon juice and 1/2 water (or stock/wine), put a lid on the pot, then turn the heat down to medium. When the pot starts steaming crack the lid a little bit, then let the zucchini cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes or so until completely soft.
While the zucchini is steaming, the pasta water should come to a boil. Throw in the rigatoni, give it a good stir, and let it cook while you finish up the sauce.
Whenever the zucchini is soft and mushy turn off the heat, throw in the Parmesan and 2/3 of the fresh basil, then use an immersion blender to puree the sauce. Give it a taste and season with salt and pepper as you’d like.
When the rigatoni is ready, use a large mug or liquid measuring up to scoop up a bunch of the cooking water, then drain the pasta. Throw the noodles back into the pan, add half the sauce, and cook while stirring over medium heat for about a minute. Turn off the heat, add a bit of pasta water to thin out if you need it, then stir in the minced almonds.
Serve the pasta with torn basil leaves, toasted almonds, freshly cracked black pepper, and more grated Parmesan cheese, to taste. The pasta that remains in the pot will thicken up as it sits, so when you go back for seconds (or packing up your leftovers), use some more reserved pasta water to thin it out. Any leftover zucchini pesto sauce will last in the fridge for about five days, or it can be frozen indefinitely.