I cook a heck of a lot of pasta, and I'm always looking for ways to make it a little bit healthier for myself. One easy strategy for doing so, especially in the summer when there's so much great produce to choose from, is to steadily increase the ratio of vegetables to noodles. It doesn't work with all pastas (though broccoli or broccoli rabe with orecchiette is a particularly delicious one), but when it does, it's satisfying, and you get up from the table feeling that much lighter.
It's particularly effective when, like this recipe, the vegetables themselves are in the shape of noodles, fooling me further. In this recipe I found on an old Smitten Kitchen post adapted from Michael Chiarello, strands of zucchini are steamed briefly over the pasta pot until they are still a bit crunchy, then tossed with sautéed garlic, red chile flakes, and basil, and bound with a simple sauce of Parmesan and pasta cooking water. Early summer eating at its best.
- 3/4 pound whole-wheat dried pasta, such as spaghetti or linguine
- 3/4 pound zucchini, cut into uniform long, thin julienne strips
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
- 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil, then cook the pasta until al dente. While the pasta is cooking, steam the zucchini strips in a colander or steaming basket over the water until tender but still slightly crunchy.
In the meantime, heat the olive oil in a small skillet over low heat until shimmering. Add red pepper flakes and garlic and cook briefly until the garlic is fragrant and soft but not browned, 2-3 minutes. Turn off the heat.
Reserve 1 cup of pasta water before draining the pasta, then return the noodles to the pot. Add the garlic mixture, zucchini, Parmesan, and basil. Toss well to combine, adding pasta water as needed to create a creamy sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with more grated Parmesan.