Let’s be honest, zucchini tastes best in disguise.
Chocolate zucchini bread, zucchini fritters, breaded, stuffed, deep fried zucchini flowers- all of the vegetable’s best iterations almost entirely mask it’s natural (watery, tasteless) flavor. To be fair, most of these recipes were invented in late August panics to use up all that extra zucchini- and frying never fails. This recipe keeps zucchini as close to its natural form as possible while enhancing its natural taste. You’ll actually be aware of the fact that you’re eating zucchini, but I promise you won’t mind.
Yes, there’s some gentle frying involved, but most of the fat gets drained off on paper towels. Plus the pasta-to-vegetable ratio is about equal and it’s fried in olive oil- we’re practically following the Mediterranean diet! With the addition of zesty lemons, salty parmesan, and a hint of spice, you won’t care what diet this adheres to. You’ll just want more.
And more you’ll get, because it’s late in the summer and not only are you trying to eat all your own produce, but your friends and coworkers are pawning their extras off you, too. This recipe is pretty straightforward and easy to memorize, so you only need to read it over once or twice before you get the hang of it. Then, you’ll know exactly what to do on Monday when you find a pile of gourds on your desk.
Start by boiling a pot of salted water. Then, pick your pasta. I prefer short pasta (farfalle, penne, rotini) for this recipe, but use whatever you like. Cook 1 minute less than package directions (you’ll finish it in the sauce), drain and reserve one cup of pasta water.
While the pasta’s on, heat a high-sided skillet with more olive oil than you’re probably comfortable with, and add a bunch of sliced zucchini. Fry until golden brown. Remove the zucchini from the skillet, make a quick sauce with more garlic than you’re probably comfortable with, lemon juice, and pasta water. Add pasta back to the sauce, toss toss toss, taste, toss, parmesan, toss, eat.
The zucchini gets a thin, crisp layer on the outside while it turns creamy and custard-like on the inside. The luscious vegetable contrasts with the al dente, whole wheat pasta and the bright, lemony garlic sauce. A flurry of basil leaves freshens everything up.
This dinner, full of seasonal produce and fresh herbs, reminds your palate that it’s still summer and shows what zucchini can be capable of- no disguise necessary.
- Salt to taste
- 1/2 lb penne farfalle, or other short pasta
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 4 zucchini or 1 lb, crosswise into rounds
- Flaky sea salt such as Maldon
- 6 cloves garlic peeled and smashed
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes to taste
- juice of 1 lemon about 1/4 cup, and zest
- 1/2 cup fresh basil or mint torn
- Parmesan cheese
- Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta 1 minute less than package directions. Drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta water.
Meanwhile, heat ⅓ cup olive oil in large sauté pan (preferably with high sides) over high heat. Add zucchini and fry until golden brown, 5-7 minutes, flipping halfway through. Work in batches so that you don’t crowd the pan. Transfer each batch to a paper-towel lined plate (layering each batch on top of the other in between paper towels), seasoning each batch with flaky salt.
Turn heat to low. Add garlic to the pan and cook until soft, 3-5 minutes. Add red pepper flakes, lemon juice and zest, and ½ cup of pasta water. Whisk the mixture until emulsified and slightly thickened, 2-3 minutes.
Toss pasta in the pan with the lemony sauce until well-combined, about 1-2 minutes, until the pasta is al dente. Add more pasta water if the sauce seems dry. Mix in the fried zucchini and basil. Top each portion with parmesan and freshly cracked black pepper if desired.
Okay, I also hate it when a recipe tells me to work in “batches”. Like, how much time do you think I’ve got?? You can totally just dump all the zucchini in at once and cook over medium heat for 8-10 minutes until they break down and get all jammy and delicious. They won’t have that pretty golden-brown edge, but they will still taste great.
The lemony pasta would taste great with an acidic red wine like Valpolicella, or a tannic Chianti. For whites, I’d go for a refreshing, summery Albariño or a good Pinot Grigio.