Zucchini pesto is a bit looser than traditional pesto because of zucchini’s high water content, but some of the water will evaporate when you cook it. You can usually use any kind of nuts with a pesto, but creamy almonds work best with zucchini pesto. The almonds have a milder flavor than, say, walnuts, and also help with the zucchini texture.
All the flavors in today’s recipe taste bright and fresh. A generous pinch of crushed red pepper flakes adds heat, but you can omit them if you like.
You also can use any long or short pasta with the recipe. Thick spaghetti works well, but you can also try a short pasta like gemelli or cavatappi. The dish can be served hot or cold as a main dish or a side. Leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for a few days.
SPAGHETTI WITH ZUCCHINI PESTO
Serves: 6 / Prep time: 10 minutes / Total time: 45 minutes
3/4 cup blanched slivered almonds, divided
3 medium zucchini (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 pound favorite dry spaghetti or other pasta
1/2 cup fruity olive oil, divided
1 garlic clove, peeled, thinly sliced
Generous pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
1 1/2 cups freshly grated pecorino Romano or good-quality Parmesan, plus more for serving
1/2 cup chopped mint, plus more for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Spread the almonds on a baking sheet and toast for about 8 minutes, until just golden. Be sure to keep an eye on the almonds because they can easily burn. Remove almonds from oven, let them cool and then coarsely chop them. Reserve 1/4 cup for garnish. (You can toast the almonds several days in advance.)
Meanwhile, run the zucchini under cool water. Cut one in half and cut the half into matchstick-size pieces. Chop the remaining zucchini into 1/2-inch pieces. Set aside.
Bring water for pasta to a boil and cook pasta until al dente, according to package directions.
In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until fragrant, 1 minute. Add the chopped zucchini, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly golden, about 10 minutes. Scrape the zucchini into a food processor and add the remaining 1/2 cup of chopped almonds; pulse to combine. With the machine on, slowly add the remaining 6 tablespoons of oil until combined but still slightly chunky. Season the pesto with salt and pepper.
Scoop out 1 cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta. Turn off the heat, return the pasta to the hot pot and about 1/2 cup of the hot reserved pasta water, the pesto, lemon zest, 1 1/2 cups of cheese and 1/2 cup of mint. Stir until well combined. Fold in the zucchini matchsticks, being careful not to break them up. Transfer the pasta to bowls. Garnish with mint and the reserved almonds.
Serve, passing additional cheese at the table.
Cook’s note: You can make the zucchini pesto one day ahead and refrigerate it.
Adapted from Food and Wine magazine, September 2015 issue. Tested by Susan Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen. Analysis based on a generous 1 1/2-cup serving.
616 calories (39 percent from fat), 27 g fat (6 g saturated fat), 70 g carbohydrates, 23 g protein, 582 mg sodium, 17 mg cholesterol, 6 g fiber.