The first time I tasted spaghetti alla nerano, I immediately fell in love. Granted, it was homemade but it was amazing. It's such a simple dish, pasta with zucchini and cheese, but it's incredibly satisfying. Inspired by the beautiful pasta, I decided to use the basic idea but incorporate more summer ingredients. The end result is this delicious summer zucchini pasta with tomato pesto. And let me tell you, I couldn't get enough.
Summer Zucchini Pasta with Tomato Pesto
- 4 medium zucchini sliced into ⅛-inch thick slices
- oil for frying
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes
- 2 garlic cloves
- ½ cup olive oil plus 1 tablespoon divided
- ⅓ cup toasted sliced almonds
- 1 cup fresh basil plus ¼ cup for serving
- ½ cup grated pecorino plus ½ cup for serving
- 10 ounces angel hair pasta
- salt and pepper
- zest of 1 lemon
- freshly cracked black pepper
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
- Heat oil for frying to 350 degrees F. Fry half of the sliced zucchini until golden brown and remove with a slotted spoon into a bowl. Repeat with the remaining zucchini. Let sit for 1 hour.
- Meanwhile, make tomato almond pesto. Spread cherry tomatoes and garlic cloves in an even layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle 1 tablespoon oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast tomatoes for 20 minutes or until lightly charred and softened. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.
- Combine roasted tomatoes and garlic with ½ cup olive oil, ⅓ cup almonds, 1 cup basil, and ½ cup pecorino in a food processor or blender. Pulse until mixture is coarsley ground. Season pesto with salt and pepper.
- Cook angel hair pasta until al dente, about 4 minutes. Drain pasta, reserving ½ cup pasta water.
- Heat large saute pan over medium heat. Add fried zucchini and let sit for 2 minutes or until warm. Add pesto, cooked pasta, and reserved pasta water, stirring to combine. Season pasta with salt and pepper.
- Portion pasta into bowls. Sprinkle lemon zest, extra pecorino, and fresh basil on top. Finish with freshly cracked black pepper and serve immediately.
**Helpful tips and common mistakes
The spaghetti alla nerano recipe I based my recipe on is the one featured on Stanley Tucci's TV show, "Searching for Italy." In one episode, a restaurant prepares their signature spaghetti alla nerano, frying the zucchini to make the sauce. I tried this technique and absolutely loved how the zucchini caramelizes and softens. And so I decided to utilize that method for this summer pasta.
Thinly slice zucchini into ⅛ inch thick round slices. You don't want to slice them any thinner or else they'll end up like zucchini chips.
Heat your frying oil to 350 degrees F and cook the zucchini until golden brown. You will most likely have to cook the zucchini in batches to avoid overcrowding.
Remove the cooked zucchini with a slotted spoon and let it sit in a bowl for one hour or overnight. There's no need to drain the excess oil on paper towels, a step you normally take with fried foods. We want the zucchini to absorb the oil so that they'll become nice and jammy.
While the zucchini is resting, make the tomato pesto sauce. I love pesto but personally, I find pesto pasta too oily. So, in order to balance the rich sauce, I decided to incorporate roasted tomatoes.
Toss cherry tomatoes with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roast them in the oven with garlic cloves until lightly charred.
Let the tomatoes cool slightly, then puree them with the remaining pesto ingredients including fresh basil, pecorino, almonds, and olive oil. You can substitute the almonds for pine nuts or walnuts if you prefer.
Season the pesto with salt and pepper and set it aside. Feel free to make the pesto the day before.
Since this summer zucchini pasta with tomato pesto is a lighter pasta, I used angel hair pasta. The thin noodles easily absorb the sauce, really letting the ingredients shine. However, I will admit, angel hair pasta can be a little tricky to cook because it's so thin. Make sure to cook just until al dente or else it can get mushy.
While the noodles are cooking, reheat the zucchini in a large saute pan. Let it sit for about 2 minutes, softening and breaking down even further.
Add the tomato pesto and cooked pasta along with the reserved pasta water, tossing to combine. The pasta water will help make bind the noodles with the sauce and thin out the pesto.
At this point, you can add grated pecorino if you like. However, since there's already cheese in the pesto, I didn't think the pasta needed it. Instead, I finished the pasta with grated cheese after it was plated.
Finish the summer zucchini pasta with lemon zest, freshly cracked black pepper, a sprinkle of grated pecorino, and fresh basil. Now if this pasta doesn't scream summer, I don't know what will.
I absolutely loved the flavors in this meal. The zucchini is incredibly savory and flavorful, while the tomato pesto adds a brightness to the pasta. I think this is going to be a regular dish on this summer's menu.
For more pasta inspiration check out this caramelized leek and mushroom gruyere pasta!
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