Shauna James Ahern's Zucchini Noodles with Spinach Pesto, Feta, and Sunflower Seeds

Penny De Los Santos

Several years ago, I bought a bag of quinoa pasta out of curiosity. I boiled and sauced it as I normally would, took a big bite, and then immediately spit it out. Not only did the pasta taste unappealingly bitter, but it had also turned to mush in the time between draining and eating. I never bought gluten-free pasta again.

So it was with trepidation that I approached the pasta chapter of Shauna James Ahern's new cookbook Gluten-Free Girl Every Day. Most of the pasta recipes in the book call for store-bought pasta. (She does include one recipe for gluten-free fresh pasta, but doesn't provide an assembled recipe using it.) While I'm sure that gluten-free pasta options have improved significantly since that fateful quinoa noodle disaster, I wasn't sure I wanted to mess up dinner with a poor grocery store choice. Instead, I turned to this recipe for zucchini "noodles."

While many may scoff at the idea of replacing carbo-goodness with healthy raw veggies, I find thinly sliced vegetables to be a fine vehicle for pasta sauce, especially one as vibrant and flavorful as Ahern's spinach pesto. It is brilliantly green from the spinach and has a robust blend of Gruyère, feta, and lemon juice: perfect for tossing with zucchini (or even some good gluten-free pasta, if you know where to find it).

Why I picked this recipe: Cheesy spinach pesto plus zucchini noodles seemed like the perfect solution to the gluten-free "pasta" dinner question.

What worked: The zucchini-pesto combination is killer; and, even better, the meal came together in no time.

What didn't: I found that I didn't need the full cup of olive oil called for. I used around 1/2 cup, and my pesto was plenty rich and creamy. Also, be aware that the zucchini will begin to wilt and let off water soon after it is dressed. Serve the noodles right away, or let the vegetables marinate and then drain off the liquid before serving.

Suggested tweaks: You could use any pesto (or any summer squash, for that matter) in this recipe. Keep in mind that you'll want the sauce to be loose and fairly creamy because you won't have any pasta cooking water to cut the sauce.

Excerpted from Gluten-Free Girl Every Day, copyright 2013 by Shauna James Ahern with Danny Ahern. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved. Available wherever books are sold.

Recipe Facts

Active: 30 mins
Total: 30 mins
Serves: 4 servings

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  • 2 cups chopped spinach
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 large lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1/2 cup grated Gruyère
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 large ripe zucchini
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese, crumbled (we prefer French feta)
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds


  1. Add the spinach, pine nuts, garlic, and lemon zest and juice to the bowl of a food processor. Whirl them up until everything is broken down into small pieces. Add the Gruyère and run the processor. You should have a great-smelling paste by now. With the food processor running, slowly drizzle in the oil until you have rich green pesto.

  2. Grab a zucchini with your left hand. Using a vegetable peeler, grate long, even strips of the zucchini until you have reached the fleshy center and can peel no longer. (You can eat the outer skin, of course.) Repeat with the remaining zucchini.

  3. Toss the zucchini noodles so they are all separated. Plop a couple of tablespoons of pesto into the noodles and toss them together. If you want more pesto, add a tablespoon at a time. You don’t want to overpower the zucchini. When you have dressed the noodles to your liking, add the feta and sunflower seeds. Toss and serve.