Now that summer is in full swing, try making this garden fresh zucchini tomato sauce that calls for only a few ingredients, but makes a generous amount of a heavenly pasta sauce. Everyone has a few zucchini tucked away in their fridge and few ideas for using them, but people need to rethink cooking with this lovely inexpensive squash. I grew up with an abundance of zucchini dishes turned out by my mother and grandmother, so when my garden zucchini came in, I didn’t have to sneak onto the neighbor’s porches and leave them a surprise bag of zucchini. Yes folks, that happened every summer in my neighborhood.
After I share this pasta sauce with my blog friends, I plan to share a fried zucchini salad, a stuffed zucchini, a zucchini parmagiana and a few other heavenly zucchini dishes that may make you change your mind about the limits of this vegetable. There’s more to zucchini than zucchini bread!
To be honest, I was trying to invent a quick sauce to go over multi-grain pasta because I am trying to follow weight watchers and still have authentic Italian dishes that I want to eat. All I did, to keep this sauce light, was to use less olive oil when sauteéing the garlic, onions and zucchini. I did use multi grain fusilli and it was OK, but not really my favorite. Next time I will try another brand and see if I like it better. In the meantime, I recommend using a good brand of regular pasta like De Cecco (how many “c’s” are in that name???) or Barilla to enhance this mild but yummy sauce. Also, for those who simply must add red pepper flakes to everything (and you know who you are), add it while you are sauteéng the onion and garlic because sauteéing brings out the flavor of most spices.
2 – 3 peeled garlic cloves, cut in 1/4 inch pieces
1/2 red or white medium onion finely diced
1 – 2 small or 1 medium zucchini
1 large (2lb 2 0z) can of imported Italian plum tomatoes in juice
1 small bunch of fresh basil, finely shredded
A handful of washed and dried hearts of celery leaves
2 tbsp of chopped, fresh Italian parsley
2 tbsp – 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 – 1 tsp of red pepper flakes or to taste (optional)
2 – 3 tbsp of fresh salted butter
Take out the zucchini and wash and dry it. Cut off the ends. Slice them in two lengthwise. Then cut them crosswise into 1/4 to 1/2 inch slices. Dry them with a paper towel so that they will brown in oil when you add them to the pan.Peel the garlic and cut it into 1/4 inch dice. Peel the onion and divide it in half. Finely dice one half of the onion and save the other half for some other dish.Blend the canned tomatoes a few seconds just until they are liquid. Set aside to add to the pot later.
Finely chop a handful of washed and dried Italian parsley to equal 2 tbsp. Wash and dry the basil leaves. Trim off the stems, roll up the leaves like a cigar and cut across the “cigar” shredding the basil. Wash and dry the small bunch of celery hearts leaves.
In a heavy 2 qt or 4 qt saucepan or dutch oven, heat 2 tbsp (or more if you wish) of olive oil over medium high heat until shimmering. Throw in the chopped garlic and stir them around until the oil is permeated with the garlic flavor and the garlic is lightly golden. Move the garlic to the side of the pan and throw in the chopped onions. Stir them, sauté and watch them as they become soft and translucent and lightly golden. While you are doing this, if using the red pepper flakes, add it in and stir it around until it also permeates the oil,
Add in the cut up zucchini and stir them around until they are coated with oil. You may have to add a bit more oil. Salt and pepper the zucchini and sauteè it with the onion and garlic until it softens and becomes lightly browned.
Pour the blended tomatoes into the pot with the onion and garlic. Let it bubble up. Throw in half the parsley and half the basil. Add salt and fresh ground pepper. Give it a nice stir and then test for seasoning. If the tomato sauce seems too biting or acid, add 1/2 tsp of sugar and test again. After the sauce comes to a boil, turn down the heat to simmer, partially cover and simmer for 30 minutes. At the end, add the rest of the basil leaves and the lightly chopped celery leaves. Turn off the heat and stir them in.
Meanwhile, bring a large pasta pot filled with cold water to a boil (10 to 15 minutes on high). When water comes to a rolling boil, throw in a tbsp of salt and then add 1lb of fusilli pasta or penne or any pasta you like. Stir the pasta and let it come back to a boil. Then start timing it. Usually fusilli takes about 10 min to become “al Dente”. Test the pasta and see if you like the feel of it when you chew it. Some people like it very al dente and others like it softer, but not mushy. Also fusilli has a harder center than most pasta noodles, so it takes longer to get it to the stage where it is cooked all the way through, but is not yet mushy. (I tell you, it’s an art form!)
Drain the pasta in a colander, BUT save a large cup of pasta water to use as you assemble the dish. In our family, we do not pour the pasta into the sauce, although there are many Italian chefs who do it. It doesn’t make sense to do it in your home because you have made a huge batch of sauce. The chef is only placing a small amount in a deep skillet and throwing his pasta in there. We are making this dish for an entire family,and my family always does it in the following way.
Add the pasta back into the now empty pasta pot that you have taken off the heat. Ladle in a few ladles of hot tomato sauce and a ladle of pasta water. Stir it into the pasta. I always add a handful of grated parmesan, salt and pepper at this point as well as either more olive oil or a large lump of fresh salted butter. Stir everything together. Make sure that all the pasta has been coated with sauce, but is not swimming in sauce.
Now ladle some pasta into half your individual pasta dish, ladle some tomato sauce and zucchini on top, sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Add more pasta, sauce and cheese until the dish is filled enough for a first coursel. Have a lovely bowl of grated cheese at the table in case guests want more. This simple first course can be followed by a main course of grilled chicken with an arugula salad. This pasta dish can also be a side dish served with the main course. Sauce is enough for 1 lb of pasta. Freeze left over sauce.