A Zucchini for Your Penne

For the last 10 weeks, or so, my weekends have begun with an early Saturday morning trip to the Evanston Farmers Market. (Sunday mornings are reserved for the Skokie Market.) Granted, my purchases have changed now that Summer is ending but one vegetable I rarely go home without is fresh zucchini. Whether I serve it within Mom’s caponata, stuffed like Grandma’s eggplant, sautéed with onion in olive oil, or served with pasta, a week doesn’t go by without zucchini making at least one appearance at my dinner table. So, when I recently watched Jamie Oliver prep zucchini and yellow squash for a penne dish, I sat up and took notice.

Normally when I prepare these 2 vegetables for my pasta dish, I either cut them into quarter-inch disks or shred them with my food processor. Jamie took them and, with a few simple cuts, fashioned them into penne look-alikes, and then prepared them carbonara-style. You can see his recipe here. I, however, prefer my carbonara cooked the more traditional way, so, I’ve chosen to cook these aglio e olio, with garlic and oil. (Coming soon: the recipe for spaghetti aglio e olio.) You may have a favorite way of fixing zucchini with pasta and I see no reason for you to change now. This post isn’t so much about how to cook the zucchini as it is how to prepare it. Even so, I’ve included general guidelines that I followed when I cooked the dish.

To begin, I selected 2 zucchini and 2 summer squash, each about 6 inches long, to be cooked with 1/2 pound of penne. You can easily see how you can increase or decrease the ratio of vegetables to pasta according to you own preference. Once that was decided, I started preparing the veggies as pictured below. Briefly stated, cut them into quarters; trim away the seed-filled center; and cut, diagonally, into penne-sized strips.

Clever, no? Anyway, to cook, add penne pasta to a pot of salted, boiling water. The package instructions for the penne I used stated the penne would be ready in 13 minutes. As a result, I planned to drain the pasta after cooking for about 10 minutes. So, once the penne is in the water and it has returned to the boil, start the clock. At the 5 minute mark, add about 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil into a deep frying pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add 1 or 2 minced cloves of garlic and sauté for about 30 seconds. Add the zucchini and yellow squash, season with salt & pepper, and continue to sauté until the 10 minute mark. Reserve some of the pasta water, drain the pasta, and add the pasta to the pan with the vegetables. Continue to sauté until the pasta is cooked to your liking. Add some of the reserved pasta water, if needed. When cooked al dente, remove from heat and mix in 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese. Serve immediately, garnished with more cheese and chopped fresh parsley.

As I’ve mentioned, the point here is the preparation of the zucchini and summer squash. If aglio e olio isn’t for you, this dish could just as easily be prepared with a cream or marinara sauce, instead. For the latter, I would sauté the zucchini and summer squash in a little butter, timing them so that they’d be cooked to my liking when the penne is cooked al dente.  Mix the vegetables with the cooked penne and dress both with the marinara. Garnish with a little grated cheese and some chopped parsley before serving immediately.

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54 thoughts on “A Zucchini for Your Penne

  1. I’d love a bowl of that right now! Definitely clever in the cutting, I will need to try that out. I’m always coming home with a zucchini and an eggplant every week too! So this will easily fit into one of my dinner plans. Love your timing details….perfectly done!!

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    • Thanks, Linda. Funny thing. Last night I was having a side of sautéed, sliced zucchini and all I could think of is how I should have made this dish for dinner instead. Guess what I’ll be buying this weekend at the farmers market?

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    • Welcome to the blog, Sharyn. Those pancakes and muffins of yours sound great! I can only speak for myself but serving something with pasta aglio e olio is the best! I hope you like it. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

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    • Thanks, Tanya! I saw Jaime make this and I thought it was very clever — and why didn’t I think of that? Seriously. I cook zucchini with pasta all Summer long and never once did I think to cut it on the diagonal? Oh, well. Mustn’t cry over cut zucchini.

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    • Thanks, Cecila. It took me years to figure out that you don’t need a laundry list of ingredients for most Italian dishes. If anything, less is more. Select the freshest ingredients possible and let them “shine” on their own.

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    • Welcome, Stefanie! I wish I could take credit for this. And you’re right. This cut makes it easier to pick up the veggies with the pasta. I probably should watch Jaime Oliver more often. Thanks for coming by and taking the time to comment.

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  2. I loved the fact that you cut zucchini intp penne sized pieces..It is the best way to do it since you need to grab as much penne as zucchini in. As for the sauce, I totally agree wih you on aglio e olio because you need zucchini to be the mani ingredient here!!! Top post!!

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    • I was surprised last weekend to see how plentiful zucchini still was at the markets. A number of the vendors had them — and in varying sizes, too. I haven’t asked why; I just keep buying and enjoying ’em with my supper. I hope you have the same luck!

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  3. Pretty much guaranteed every time I go to the market, I come home with zucchini. I guess just because it’s so versatile…well, and one of my favorite veggies. This pasta looks delicious and I love the inventive way of cutting the zucchini!

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    • I agree, for versatility, you really cannot beat zucchini and just about everyone has a favorite way to prepare it with pasta. Jaime’s method of cutting it, though, was a great idea and I was happy to share it.

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    • That’s one of the things I like about this dish. You can make it in under 20 minutes, making it a perfect lunch item. And, if like me, one tends to over-indulge on pasta, making the dish with a higher ratio of zucchini will make for a lighter lunch and more productive (aka less sleep-filled) afternoon.

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  4. I think Jamie Oliver is a very good cook and doing great things these days. I do think I would like your recipe better. I love aglio e olio and think it compliments the fresh flavors of the zucchini wonderfully.

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  5. My friends visit the Evanston Farmers market frequently too. 🙂 So weird to hear familiar places from a fellow blogger. So many times it feels like a different world. This pasta is so up my alley. If you haven’t figured out from my comments by now, Italian food is my utter weakness. This one in particular makes me weak in the knees. Garlic and olive oil! Yum!

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    • Here in Chicago, you can find a farmers market on just about every day of the week — but none can approach Evanston’s for selection — and there’s plenty of parking!!!. It isn’t a weekend if I don’t go there. And, yes, I’ve noticed your love of Italian recipes and am sure you’d like this one, too.

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  6. A beautiful dish prepared to perfection and what an enticing photo.
    There’s a recipe from my favorite restaurant that is now out of business 😦
    Saute onion and garlic in olive oil and then add zucchini and yellow squash(cut in 1 inch pieces or the discs would do) Cook down til soft and add a few red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Then you take a potato masher and mash it all up and toss with some freshly cooked pasta. Anna used Tagliatelle. And of course grate the excellent cheese on top.
    (I know several Pittsburghers are now following your wonderful blog cause they talk to me about your posts!)

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    • Thank you, Ruth, for your kind words and for letting me know that we’ve a Pittsburgh following. Zia will be thrilled when I tell her. (She’s amazed that anyone outside of our family would be interested in the family recipes.) And I will definitely try the recipe you so kindly shared. It sounds too good not to try. Thanks again.

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  7. Great recipe John. The title makes me chuckle, in Spanish it turns kind of funny. It remembered me how my kids laugh everytime I order penne a la arrabiata … Thanks for such a great idea for cooking zucchini, I’m going to use it today for lunch.

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    • To be honest, Meredith, Mom never got rid of the seeds when she cooked zucchini. I trimmed them off here because they have a different texture and to make the pieces look more like penne. I make this dish for myself, without having to shoot blog photos, and never bother to trim off the seeds. 😉

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  10. What a nice, simple dish! I sometimes make a fancy zucchini dish that’s essentially an Alfredo sauce with fettuccine and zucchini strips, ribbons, or whatever shape I fancy. This is much healthier! Thanks.

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    • Thanks, John. I don’t have any of his cookbooks but the Jamie Oliver dishes I’ve prepared always “work.” This is a great way for me to get my pasta fix without eating so much pasta. I’ve yet to try a ribbon zucchini dish. I’ve got good intentions but end up going a different route, I really need to be a little more disciplined with my zucchini. 🙂

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  11. Thank you for sharing this simple recipe. You know how ‘ some lazy human beings’ love their lives simplified. The part I liked most was preparing the penne-look-alikes, I am certainly going to make some for my pasta this week. I love Zucchini too. Thank you John, for being so gracious. I wish you a great week, and Hugs to Max.

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    • Thank you, Liz. This is such a great little recipe. For me, I can get my pasta fix without eating all of that pasta. Best of all, it really does taste good and this is the time of year to make it. I hope you do like it, Liz, and that your newest teenager does, too. 🙂 Happy Monday!

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      • Ha ha fortunately, he loves all forms of veggies, from zucchini to broccoli to cauliflower, name whatever veggie, he’ll eat it without any fuss. But he also loves big chunks of meat. Thanks. Enjoy the rest of your week. I am just browsing…Hugs to Max!

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  12. Looks like you showcased all the warmth, joy, love, grace and beauty into that pasta-squash plate. (Quite a sight for my damned sore eyes) 🙂

    Thanks for the diagonal thingy tip 🙂 I know from now on, my veggie dishes would look prettier on the dinner table 🙂

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    • Thank you, Nusrat. Your comments always make my day. But what’s this? I’ve seen your blog posts. You need no help when it comes to preparing or presenting beautiful dishes. Every single dish that you’ve prepared and shared has been presented beautifully. I should be coming to you for help. 🙂

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