Creamy Zucchini Pesto

The summer garden in our climate yields bumper crops of zucchini, basil, tomatoes, peppers and cucumber. We eat everything tomato: Caprese and Greek salads, spaghetti with meatballs, pizza, pasta with marinara, BLTs. Jars of sauces and salsa are put away for the winter. Peppers are dried for paprika, or roasted and peeled and tucked into the freezer. Cucumbers are pickled or chopped and preserved as relish.

But zucchini, oh zucchini, what do we do with you? Despite vowing to plant less every year, we always seem to find ourselves overwhelmed when we take a little stroll out to the garden.

another zucchini that got away

Another giant zucchini

(“Where did that one come from? I swear it was not here yesterday!”)

How do zucchini grow so fast? And what the heck does one do with all these zucchini at one time?  2 cups of shredded zucchini in a loaf of zucchini bread will barely touch the windfall.

zucchini

A typical daily harvest of zucchini from the summer garden

Then there is the basil. It wants to be cut, over and over again, so that it does not set flower and die. But every time we trim the tops of the basil, it responds by branching out and rewarding us with even more of the fragrant leaves that beg to be cut, again and again.pesto ingredients

Zucchini and Basil

(This could be the start of something good)

Necessity is the mother of invention when cooking from the summer garden, and in this case an invention that is more than the sum of its’ parts. Pesto made with only basil is so flavorful it can be overwhelming at times, but using less leads to a somewhat dry pasta dish. Shredded and sautéed zucchini can yield a rich concentrated pan of creamy zucchini deliciousness, but one that is admittedly mild in flavor.  Mixing the two together is a great way to make a creamy, flavorful sauce for pasta, while maximizing healthy veggie intake by including all of that zucchini in the dish. Don’t be shy about using some of your larger, less than perfect zucchini for this recipe.

This sauce can also be frozen to enjoy some of that bounty of zucchini and basil in the winter.

Here then is the recipe for:

Creamy Zucchini Pesto.

For the sautéed zucchini:

6 cups coarsely shredded zucchini

¼ cup finely chopped onion (optional)

1 Tablespoon olive oil

½ teaspoon salt

Put the shredded zucchini in a large strainer and sprinkle it with the salt, mixing the salt in well with your hands.  Now let the zucchini sit to drain, pressing it down every once in a-while to push out any liquid. Let it sit for ½ to 1 hour, if you have the time. If not, you can just let it sit for a few minutes. The longer it sits, the more liquid you will remove from the zucchini. It your zucchini is especially watery It can also be placed in a dish-towel, which is then twisted up and squeezed hard to remove liquid.

In a large frying pan, heat 1 Tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, if using it, and saute in the pan for a few minutes until soft. Now add the zucchini to the pan.

raw zucchini in pan-1

Cook the zucchini over a medium low heat, stirring every few minutes until it is very condensed and is starting to brown. This will take 20-30 minutes or so depending upon the size of your pan and the temperature. 6 cups will cook down to about 2 cups at this point.

cooked zucchini in pan-1

Sautéed shredded zucchini

(This also makes a great side dish sprinkled with a touch of parmesan cheese) 

Turn off the heat and let the zucchini cool while you prepare the pesto.

For the pesto:

2 ounces (about 1/3 cup) chopped or shredded parmesan cheese

2 large or 3 small cloves of peeled garlic

¼ cup toasted nuts or seeds (you can use almonds, pine nuts, walnuts, pumpkin or sunflower seeds. I used sunflower seeds).

3 cups basil leaves (removed from the stems, washed and spun dry)

3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil.

Put the garlic in a food processor. If the cheese is chopped in large pieces, add it to the food processor as well. If you are using shredded cheese, don’t add it yet. Pulse and scrape down with a spatula until finely chopped.

Adding nuts to the food processorAdd the nuts to the food processor and again process until finely chopped. I used roasted sunflower seeds in this batch.

Now add the basil leaves and process until finely ground. Gradually add the olive oil through the feed tube and continue to blend the mixture until it is a coarse paste, stirring down with the spatula several times. Add the zucchini puree to the food processor.Adding the shredded zucchini

Sautéed shredded zucchini being added to pesto mixture in the food processor.

Process the mixture until it makes a nice sauce.  If you are using grated cheese, now is the time to mix it in as well. (Consider your preferences when processing the sauce. If you like more texture, process for less time but if you like a very creamy smooth sauce, process longer).

completed pesto

The final zucchini pesto sauce

This makes enough sauce for 6 very generous servings (about 2 ounces of dry pasta per serving). Cook the pasta in boiling water until done and drain it. Reserve a bit of the hot pasta water to add to the sauce to heat it and loosen it. If you like your food very hot, you might also want to heat the sauce for a few minutes in the microwave or on the stove before adding the pasta to it. I put the sauce in a large glass bowl, big enough to hold all of the pasta and sauce, and add the hot pasta water to the sauce.(I use about 1/2 cup of the water or so, but it depends upon how cooked down the zucchini is). Then I heat it slightly in the microwave. Do not boil or overheat the sauce though!

Add the pasta to the sauce and mix it all together. Serve with a sprinkling of additional grated parmesan cheese if you like. I like to serve this dish with a side salad of fresh garden tomatoes dressed with a light olive oil vinaigrette.

the final pesto dish

Fettucine served with creamy zucchini basil pesto 

Nutrition Analysis per serving for sauce only (makes 6 servings):

180 calories, 8 grams carbohydrate, 7 grams protein, 15 grams fat, 3 grams saturated fat

© 2015. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

www.californiamediterraneandiet.com

Shaved Zucchini for Salad

shaved zucchini 2

The summer garden in California brings an abundance of perfect ingredients for salads. Delicious, juicy, vine-ripened tomatoes. Peppers of all colors, both mild and hot.  Cucumbers, fresh herbs, garlic, onions and the last of the lemons for the year. But one thing is missing for those who might want to eat a home-grown salad: lettuce. Unless you live in a cool coastal or mountain climate, the heat that ripens the other delicacies of summer causes lettuce to turn bitter and bolt into flower and seed prematurely.

The summer garden also brings an over-abundance of zucchini. I think I have chucked at least a thousand zucchinis in the compost pile over my lifetime as a gardener. Ever on the watch for new zucchini recipes, I recently found some salad recipes using shaved zucchini prepared in the manner described below. What a revelation! Some of my success with this may be due to the wonderful, dense, sweet European varieties of zucchini we grow (Romanesco and Cocozelle ) but it still is surprising how the character of zucchini can change so much with this simple technique. Zucchini prepared in this manner is now replacing lettuce in many of my salad recipes with unique and often sensational results.

I recommend that you give this method a try. Start off by dressing it with a simple lemon based vinaigrette, or maybe a Caesar dressing with a touch of shaved parmesan. If you have plenty of fresh, ripe, juicy tomatoes, and crisp mild peppers, use it in my California Summer Farro Salad recipe.

You should use medium sized zucchini for this recipe.

zucchiniThese are a mix of Cocozelle and Romanesco Zucchini.

Cut the stem and flower ends of the zucchini off.  If they are very long you may want to cut them in half so the final shavings will be about 3-5 inches long.  Then one by one, set the zucchini on the counter-top for support and using a potato peeler press down hard and cut long shavings on the top of the zucchini. Cut about 4-6 shavings, until you see the seeds, then turn the zucchini a bit and start on another side. Eventually you will have circumnavigated the whole zucchini. Don’t use the center, which is the watery, seedy part. It can be stored for another use, or thrown away.  The goal is to have firm, relatively thick shavings with not too many seeds or watery pulp.

Put the shaved zucchini in a colander. For every 4 cups of shavings, which is about 3-4 zucchinis, sprinkle on ¼ teaspoon salt, mixing the zucchini with your hand as you sprinkle. Continue to mix the zucchini well to distribute the salt, and let it sit for ½ hour to drain. The zucchini will look like this.

the zucchini shredsShaved salted zucchini

After about half an hour (you can go for longer, up to an hour if you like), press the liquid out of the zucchini and use it in salads or refrigerate it for up to one day to use later.

© 2013. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.

Reproduction of any of this content without written permission of the author is strictly prohibited.

www.californiamediterraneandiet.com