Spaghetti with Zucchini, Parmesan + Garlic (Noodles + Zoodles)
Zoodles on their own just don't do it for me. I eat an entire bowl of them and am starving 10 minutes later. Just me? I also love pasta so freaking much that damn it how can you say the two are the same? Ok don't worry, this isn't a rant on zucchini noodles. They too have their merits. They are delightful in salads and excellent when you want to keep things light and tight. And even more so, they're perfect when you want zucchini with your pasta, but not huge chunks of veg that don't really blend in.
I am a firm believer that a solid pasta dish must feel cohesive. Chunks of chicken or vegetables when improperly cut usually just get lost in the dish. Especially when it comes to spaghetti, these globs overwhelm the noodles and end up as castoffs on the side of the plate, left to be eaten when the best part is over.
I felt very connected to Sara Jenkins when I read her article on Food52 about spaghetti with meatballs. She says that the American version of this dish doesn't really exist in Italy. In fact, years ago, Italians were " so dazzled by the wealth and abundance of American food; that they [could] simply add meat to everything in one form or another." She makes a better version that originated in Puglia, with tiny lamb meatballs and orechiette. The baby meatballs fit perfectly into the cup of the orechiette (which cutely means ear), ensuring that each bite tastes equally delicious. Now this, this makes sense to me.
Taking inspiration from Sara, I thought about how to make this work for spaghetti. Rather than using half-moons of zucchini, why not try zoodles? They cook quickly and add a nice freshness to an otherwise rich dish. They're affordable and easy to make at home. They blend right in. The best part about the whole thing is the recipe I concocted is a riff on Martha Stewart's infamous one-pot pasta method, which is SO FREAKING EASY & DELICIOUS. You [quite literally] only need one pot, 15 minutes, and voila! Dinner is served.
For the zoodles, you can buy them pre-made, or make them yourself. I used an inexpensive, handheld OXO spiralizer (below) on some beautiful romanesco zucchini that came in my CSA box. If you're not familiar with CSAs, they're produce boxes delivered right to your door from local farms. CSAs are a great way to get familiar with what's in season and to cook with delicious, organic produce at an affordable cost. I get mine delivered from Lancaster Farm Fresh, which you can sign-up for directly or order from Fresh Direct. A box costs between $25-$40 and comes with an abundance of farm products. You can also sign up for one that includes eggs, yogurt and cheese! Check out what CSAs are available in your area by using this website :)
Finally, for those of you who are gluten-free, I am so happy to report I have tried this method with both regular and gluten-free pasta. The latter works just as well, with a few modifications. I've broken out the recipes below so please refer to the GF section. Some GF pasta brands that I recommend include Bionaturae and Garolofo.
Spaghetti with Zucchini, Parmesan + Garlic
1 lb spaghetti, regular or GF
extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
2 large zucchini, turned into zoodles (approx 2 cups)
Fresh cracked black pepper
red pepper flakes
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus a bit more for the plated dish
For those of you using regular spaghetti:
1. To start, find a pot that is wide enough to hold the spaghetti without breaking it, and deep enough to hold 4-6 cups of water. Add a glug of oil to the warm pan with your sliced garlic.
2. Make sure the heat is on medium and cook the garlic until golden brown. When done, remove and set aside.
3. Place the pasta in the same pot and cover with enough water so that the noodles are fully submerged. I used 4.5 cups of water. Salt the water generously, turn the heat up to high, and stir constantly for about 6 minutes.
4. At this point, the pasta should be almost al dente. Add the zoodles, stir them so they are also covered with hot water, and put the lid on.
5. Cook for 2 minutes, until the zoodles have barely softened. It is very important that you don't walk away from the pot or let the pasta overcook. Remember that it will continue to soten once you drain the water and create your sauce.
6. Once the zoodles are soft, pour out the water by holding the lid over the pot, reserving just about half a cup in the pasta. If this method seems dangerous/challenging for you, feel free to reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water using a ladle, and then drain the pasta/zoodles in a colander before returning everything to the pot.
7. Once everyone is back in the pot, turn the heat to medium-high. Add toasted garlic, 1 tbs of extra-virgin olive oil plus 1/3 cup parmesan cheese, along with reserved water if you used the colander method. Toss quickly, ensuring that every oodle of noodle and zoodle is covered in sauce, cheese, and garlic.
8. Immediately serve pasta. Top with freshly cracked pepper, chili flakes, and extra parmyyyy :)
For those of you using GF pasta:
Follow steps 1-5 above. My GF pasta took 7 minutes to soften, at which point I added the zoodles and cooked for another 2 minutes.
6. Pour the pasta/zoodles out into a colander and rinse with cold water. Because GF pasta releases a lot of starch and flavor into the water, I prefer not to use it for the sauce.
7. Add pasta/zoodles back to your pan. Turn the heat to medium-high.
8. Add reserved garlic, 1/3 cup warm water, 2 tbs extra-virgin olive oil, and 1/3 cup parmesan. Toss quickly with tongs to ensure that everything becomes well mixed and coated. Your pasta should be forming a nice, silky sauce with the water. If it's too wet, give it another minute over the heat. You can also add more cheese ICE (in case of emergency.)
9. Serve immediately. Top each portion with freshly cracked pepper, chili flakes, and extra cheese! Enjoy
I hope you guys love this recipe. If you try it, please let me know your thoughts in the comments below!