Alfresco Dining on the Lanai - Whole Wheat Pasta with Zuchinni Noodles and Pesto Sauce

With the coming of the warmer weather, I want to do all of my cooking and dining outdoors.  Having a lovely yard and a good grill that allows me to do both, almost all the time.  I've gotten so adept at cooking almost an entire meal on the grill that once it turns warm, we rarely turn on the oven.  As for stove top cooking - boiling water, frying eggs and the like, I could do that outside too if I needed thanks to the side burner on the grill.  All cooking humble-brags aside, I wanted to share a pesto and zucchini noodle recipe that I made for Mother's Day Diner.  I almost called this post a Meatless Monday entree - but then I realized that half of the food photo included a decidedly carnivorous meal of marinated and grilled chicken and venison.  Utterly devoid of the Meatless Monday mission!  I'll still tag this post as a MM for future posts dedicated to eating more plant-based meals on a regular basis.  The post will also get tagged for Sunday Supper - a family-friendly meal plan I'd like to make become a regular habit amongst my logical and biological brethren and kin!

Gluten-free and reducing carbs is hot eating trend.  I'm not really into either but I do know that reducing my carb intake is beneficial to weight loss and probably one's sugar intake.  Dietary fads come and go.  Whole wheat pastas, pastas made from corn, spelt, flax, chick pea flours, you name it, exists.  Something that I've been enjoying is making "noodle-like" salads out of vegetables - zucchini, spaghetti squash are vegetables that adapt well to being converted to noodle-like stand-ins.
There's a contraption on the market right now - a "Zoodle" Maker - basically a spiral cutting machine that will turn a zucchini, yellow squash, or carrots into long, thin, Julienne strands.  You could also use a julienne peeler or the julienne blade on a mandolin. I opted for the later as that's what I have. Why buy another gadget to clutter your kitchen when you can use what you already have?  The trick to using the mandolin is to not be afraid of it, use long, firm deliberate cutting strokes and use the length of the zucchini to get the longest strands.  While I didn't cook the zucchini after it was cut, I understand you can blanch it quickly in boiling water to cook it.  I figured I was tossing into hot, whole-wheat pasta and the residual heat would help to cook the zoodles.  I enjoy the bite of raw zucchini when it's cut thinly.  Sometimes even, shaved ribbons of zucchini noodles are delightful in salads - pasta-style or just tossed lightly alone with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Last summer, I posted 3 fun ways to enjoy zucchini, check out that post here if you want other ideas!

For this recipe idea, you can use a combination of Cooked Whole Wheat Pasta  of your choosing, along with long julienne strands of zucchini and/or yellow squash, tossed together with either fresh or store-bought pesto. I tend to combine basil with fresh cleaned spinach to stretch the pesto and to keep it bright green.  I also like to add parsley to it for a bit more brightness and again, to stretch the final product.  Both the spinach and the parsley can be omitted.  The recipe for pesto, as written below can also be modified to work with what you have on hand; almonds, pumpkins seeds, pine nuts, or walnuts work well. 

You can omit the cheese and add it to the final dish as you desire, controlling the amount of cheese used.  To cut back on the oil, you can also thin the pesto with some pasta cooking water while you are pureeing the ingredients in your food processor or blender.  You can omit the pasta and use all julienne zucchini, yellow squash and carrots if you want.  As I don't tend to like the texture of cooked veggies, I'd be inclined to keep them all raw, retaining their crunch.  Even mildly blanching the zucchini is fine, but no longer than 30 seconds to 1 minute in a pot of boiling water.  It will fall apart if you try to cook it any longer than that.

You can make more or less as much as you want, of both recipes.  The Pesto will make enough for two batches of pasta salad.  Pesto can be frozen.  To make less pasta salad, cut the pasta back by half, but keep the amount of zucchini almost the same.

Spinach Basil and Parsley Pesto:
  • 2 Bunches Basil (about a cup loosely packed)- cleaned, dried and leaves removed from stems
  • 3 Cups (loosely packed) Fresh Spinach Leaves - cleaned, dried and any woody stems removed
  • 1/2 Cup Parsley - cleaned, dried and stems removed
  • 2 - 3 Garlic Cloves - blanched in hot water to tame it or roast in olive oil to bring out the nutty flavors
  • 1/2 to 3/4 Cup Olive Oil
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste
  • 1/2 Cup Grated Cheese - such as Parmesan, Locatelli or Pecorino Romano
Equipment Needed:
  • Food Processor or Blender
  • Rubber Spatula
  • small sauce pot and sieve or fine mesh strainer
  1. Clean the spinach, basil and parsley. Set aside
  2. Blanch the garlic in hot boiling water, boiling the garlic for 2 to 3 minutes. Run under cold water to cool before adding to the pesto ingredients.
  3. Add the spinach, basil and parsley, and blanched and cooled garlic into the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment or into a blender.  Pulse a few times to get the leaves to start forming a paste. Keep the the lid on the blender or food processor and the machine running, drizzle in the olive oil in a slow stream through the pin-hole or removable lid of the blender or food processor.  The mixture should form a paste.  If need be, turn off the machine, and scrape down the sides of the work bowl. Replace lid and turn the machine back on and continue adding in the oil.  The mixture should be thick, not runny, but should also be a bit loose.  
  4. Scrap out the pesto into a bowl, then season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  5. When ready to use, stir in the finely grated cheese.  Adding it as you need it will help the pesto keep fresh longer.  Store the pesto tightly covered and refrigerated.  
  6. Pesto without the cheese added to it can be frozen for up to 3 months.  This pesto will keep, refrigerated, for up to 1 week.  Adding the spinach to it will help maintain its intense green colour. Makes 1 cup.  Add more of each, spinach, basil, parsley, oil, as needed.  My recipes, as usual, are a casual affair.  I usually toss in ingredients until I think they are where I want them to be!
Pasta Salad Ingredients:
  • 1 Box Whole Wheat Pasta - cooked according to package directions, to al dente
  • 2 Medium-Large Zucchini - cleaned, ends trimmed and cut on a mandolin into long Julienne strips, or use a julienne vegetable peeler, or a "zoodle" maker
  • 1/2 Cup of Pesto 
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste
  • Freshly Grated or Shaved Parmesan Cheese - for garnish, optional
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil.  Add in 2 tablespoons of Kosher salt to the water, then add in the dried whole wheat pasta, and cook until the pasta is al dente.  Reserve 2 cups of the pasta cooking water.
  2. Prepare your zucchini.  If you have a mandolin, use the julienne blade and carefully julienne the zucchini, running it down the mandolin, along the length of the zucchini, in order to cut the longest strands of zucchini "noodles."  Alternatively, you can use a y-shaped vegetable peeler that is meant for creating julienne strands of vegetables, or if you have a vegetable noodle cutting machine, use that to create your strips.  You are looking to make pasta like strands out of the squash.  Place the zucchini noodles into a large mixing or serving bowl.
  3. When the pasta is cooked, drain it, reserve 2 cups of the cooking water, and place the cooked hot pasta into the large mixing or serving bowl with the zucchini.  Add in the pesto and toss to combine.  If the pesto sauce is too thick or tight, loosen it with a bit of the reserved pasta cooking water.  Serve hot, warm or cold.  
  4. Pasta will hold, covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days. Serves 8 - 10.  
  5. Garnish with shaved or freshly grated Parmesan Cheese if desired.
  6. Feel free to add other vegetables as you desire.  Cherry or grape tomatoes, olives, carrots, chopped peppers or celery would all be wonderful additions.


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