Penne with Fried Zucchini, Sun Golds, and Arugula Recipe

Dinner Tonight

Your source for quick recipe every single week day.

Penne with Fried Zucchini, Sun Golds, and Arugula Recipe

[Photograph: Nick Kindelsperger]

Ever glanced around your kitchen and realized that you have way more zucchini than any man or woman could reasonably eat in a year? I'm there. But instead of fretting about the pounds stacking up on my counter, I looked for solutions.

Cooks from southern Italy know a thing or two about transforming epic quantities of vegetables into something memorable. And when you're dealing with the problem of too much zucchini, the one answer I found was to fry it in olive oil until it dramatically reduces to a surprisingly meaty and eggplant-like base. I knew a great sauce for pasta wasn't far off.

Though "fried," I was able to cook 1 1/2 pounds of thinly sliced zucchini rounds with only 1/4 cup of olive oil. And since the zucchini doesn't suck up oil like eggplant can, I was able to cook the rest of the ingredients for the sauce in the remaining oil. For balance, I used some other in-season produce. After the zucchini was done, garlic and red pepper flakes were added, and then quickly joined by halved sweet Sun Gold tomatoes. They cooked for just a couple minutes until they softened slightly, but before they lost their freshness. Also, when the pasta only had five minutes left to cook, I added a couple handfuls of bitter arugula.

When everything is mixed up, you have dish that is sweet, spicy, bitter, and savory—even though no meat comes anywhere close to the skillet.

  • Yield:serves 3 to 4
  • Active time: 30 minutes
  • Total time:30 minutes


  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds zucchini, thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 pounds penne
  • 2 handfuls arugula, roughly chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 8 ounces Sun Gold tomatoes or cherry tomatoes, halved
  • Parmesan cheese


  1. 1.

    Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the zucchini slices and toss them to coat in oil. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until very soft and starting to brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir more often at the end to prevent the zucchini from burning.

  2. 2.

    Halfway through cooking the zucchini, add the penne to the boiling water. Cook for five minutes, and then add the arugula. Cook until the pasta is al dente, four to five more minutes longer. When done, set aside a quarter cup of the pasta water, and then drain pasta and arugula in a colander.

  3. 3.

    Use a wooden spoon and move the zucchini to the side of the skillet. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, stir well, and cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Add tomatoes, and stir in zucchini slices. Cook until tomatoes are soft, but haven't collapsed, about a minute. Season with salt and pepper. Add the pasta and arugula to the skillet, along with the pasta water. Cook, stirring often, until the liquid has reduced, and the pasta is coated in sauce.

  4. 4.

    Taste for salt and pepper, and adjust if necessary. Divide the pasta mixture between four plates. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan and serve.