I’m gonna take you back to an Italian-American family on the east coast (mine) in the 1980s…those were the days when carbs where king and fat was the enemy. What did we eat back in those days? Do you remember the nation’s obsession with Snackwells and pasta? Well, we ate lots and lots of pasta.
Pasta was such a central part of our diet, it could’ve been its own food group in my family. Pasta with fresh tomato sauce, pasta with pesto, fettucine alfredo – all of these delectable dishes were mainstays and by the time I got to high school I was pretty skillful at making all of them.
Unfortunately, my adult waistline couldn’t abide by the processed carb load of a two-pasta-bowl night—-and my hunger wasn’t satiated by an eight-ounce serving size. But a year ago, I discovered zucchini noodles.
I got the spiralizer and, suddenly, I could make my favorite sauces again. At the top of my list is pesto for two reasons: First, it’s a classic dish that reminds me of my childhood. And second, it’s incredibly flexible. I like to call pine nuts “tiny nuggets gold” because they are so delicious and so expensive. If you’re out of pine nuts (or if you simply don’t want to shell out the $$$ right now), you can make pesto with several different types of nuts–I’ve used walnuts, hazelnuts, and almonds and they’ve all been delicious. Just be sure to toast them first. Also, when basil isn’t in season, you can use baby kale or baby spinach.
A few cooking notes: I use pecorino romano, which is a sharp, salty, delicious sheep’s cheese. You can also use parmagiano reggiano. The zucchini really shrinks when you cook it, so never fear if it seems like A LOT at first. This amount of pesto and noodles with give you 3-4 hearty portions.
4-6 zucchini (courgette)
1 1/2 cups of fresh basil (tightly packed)
1/2 cup of grated pecorino romano cheese
1/4 cup of toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup of olive oil
1/4 – 1/2 cup of water
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
TO MAKE THE PESTO:
1. Place the pine nuts in a pan and turn on the heat. Toast them for about five minutes, watching them carefully to make sure they don’t burn. Shake the pan around occasionally to be sure they turn light brown on all sides.
2. Place the basil, cheese, pine nuts, and olive oil into a Cuisinart or blender. Pulse the mixture until it’s finely chopped.
3. If you can, drizzle the water in as the pesto is blending. I start with a 1/4 cup and if it’s just not geling, I slowly keep adding more water.
4. Once you get a consistency you like, add the sea salt and lemon juice.
5. The last step is very important: Taste your pesto! I find that I sometimes need to add more cheese or nuts to get it just right.
TO MAKE THE NOODLES:
1. Choose the medium setting on your spiralizer.
2. Cut the ends off of the zucchini and spiralize away.
3. Put a large saucepan on medium-high heat.
4. Add two tablespoons of olive oil and your noodles. Saute for about 3-4 minutes, until your noodles have softened but aren’t soggy — it’s a fine line, so watch them closely.
5. While the noodles are hot, stir in your pesto and mix well. Serve it up in big bowls and enjoy every healthy, delectable bite.