The combination of juicy, sun ripened tomatoes, fragrant basil and a splash of red wine vinegar will always taste like summer to me. Those welcome and uniquely warm weather flavors come together in my latest go-to dinner that everyone seems to love. Once the pesto is made and the zucchini noodles are shaved, it comes together in about 2 minutes. When the weather’s hot an all-vegetable dinner is just the thing to end the day, especially when it’s this tasty, refreshing and light.
When I was growing up, we ate a lot of pesto. My mother grew crops of basil purely for making large batches of pesto, which she then stored in jars in the fridge. We used it for quick weeknight dinners, for impromptu gatherings during the school holidays and anytime my family visited friends, we would gift them jars of the fragrant herb sauce. My mother ordered bulk amounts of fresh fusilli pasta (it was the 80’s don’t forget!) from an Italian restaurant in town called Martha and Mario’s. We loved their fresh pasta but were not fans of their sauces, so eating it with our own homemade pesto was a great solution. Our family also enjoyed pesto with soba noodles, which sounds odd but actually tastes good, especially with a ladle of simmered cherry tomatoes. At some point we started making pesto with a dab of miso in place of the Parmesan. It was one of the first recipes I remember making “vegan” as a teenager. Miso, like Parmesan cheese has a salty, umami flavor which results in a richly flavored pesto.
Zucchini noodles are nothing new but this is the first year that I have embraced them as a part of my own cooking routine. I’m sure you’ve seen them on raw food restaurant menus and beyond—gallons of them were made when I worked at Angelica kitchen. I actually don’t like the flavor of raw zucchini; I think they benefit by being lightly cooked (steamed in this case) to bring out their sweetness and naturally buttery texture. Having a good julienne peeler will give you perfectly sized long noodles, just like spaghetti.
Photos by Stephen Johnson
Zucchini noodles with pesto and fresh tomatoes
The straighter the zucchini, the easier it is to create noodles. I also recommend leaving the centers of the zucchinis for another use, like for soup or in sautés, as the seeds create a soggy noodle when steamed. For two portions I usually make about 4 cups of noodles.
4 medium zucchini, trimmed
2 heaping spoons pesto, or more to taste, recipe below
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
Red wine vinegar
Large flakes sea salt
Torn basil leaves
Cut zucchini into thin strips using a julienne peeler. Steam the noodles for 30 seconds or until just tender. Remove from heat and place in a medium bowl. Add pesto and stir until combined. You may need a dash of olive oil to help this happen. Divide between bowls, top with cherry tomatoes, a splash of red wine vinegar, a sprinkle of salt and a few basil leaves. Serve immediately.
Basil walnut pesto with miso
Makes about 1 cup
1 cup walnuts
4 cups basil leaves, packed
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon white miso
½ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more to store
Sea salt to taste
Fresh lemon juice
Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and add walnuts. Toast for 6 minutes or until fragrant. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
Add basil, garlic, miso, oil, a pinch salt and walnuts to a food processor and blend until smooth. Taste and add more salt and a dash of lemon juice. Blend again and transfer what you won’t use immediately to a jar. Smooth out surface, clean sides and cover with a thin layer of olive oil. Store in the fridge for up to a week or longer.