Two of the most common home-grown summer produce are tomatoes and zucchini. Harvest to your heart’s content and prepare copious amounts of this Tomato Zucchini Pasta. It’s simple, it’s healthy, and it’s wonderfully delicious! Just one taste and this will be a 30-minute recipe you will want to prepare repeatedly!
TOMATO ZUCCHINI PASTA
Zucchini is not something I cook with very often. It’s just one of those things I don’t think of when buying produce. I really should work on correcting that, because it’s a vegetable that all three of us like equally. I’m sure this Tomato Zucchini Pasta recipe will have us buying it more often in the future.
I love to bake with it though! My Autumn Spiced Zucchini Bundt Cake is one of my most popular cake recipes. Rightfully so; it’s absolutely delicious! Of course, everyone who loves to bake has a recipe for Zucchini Chocolate Chip Cookies! My recipe makes thick and moist, soft and chewy cookies – yum!
As for tomatoes, there’s never a shortage of those at the Thomas-Ewing household. We always have fresh tomatoes on hand. McKenna and I love tomatoes, however, John.e doesn’t care for them that much. He will eat them cooked and sliced on a sandwich, but never on their own. I can make an entire meal out of sliced tomatoes, a sprinkling of salt and pepper, and a little bit of olive oil!
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Two years ago, I found a big, elongated wooden bowl that had been crafted from a large tree trunk. It’s basically hollowed out, sanded, and oiled. I keep my tomatoes and garlic in it all year round. We have a bay window in our kitchen that looks out into the backyard. It’s a perfect place for fresh tomatoes to soak up the warm sun even in the coldest months.
Because the bowl is so big, I often buy more tomatoes than I need, because I like the way it looks. That is why I oftentimes find myself trying to use them up in a hurry. Moving forward, I think I’ll just buy some zucchini too and make Tomato Zucchini Pasta over and over again. Problem solved!
LET’S TALK ABOUT TOMATOES
Not all tomatoes will work in this dish. My favourite type of tomatoes are the tomatoes on the vine. I think they taste sweeter than other local tomatoes. If I’m simmering a sauce all day, or if I’m canning with tomatoes, I always use roma tomatoes. They have thicker walls and less pulp/water content.
For this recipe, those types of larger tomatoes will not work. I shouldn’t say that they won’t work, but you won’t get the same effect. You should use grape or cherry tomatoes. Just give them a good wash and toss them into the pan. The little cherry tomatoes will blister and pop. This creates a wonderful sauce. And, you get a huge burst of flavour from a forkful of pasta that happens to have a whole cherry tomato on it!
Since there are very few ingredients, try to use tomatoes that are super fresh and bright red. A bright red tomato is the best way to be sure it’s perfectly ripe. It should have a good weight to it and it should smell like a tomato. Cherry tomatoes can be found in red, orange, and even pink and black. (Not really black in colour, more burgundy, but they’re called black cherry tomatoes.) Oftentimes, I see pint containers of small heirloom tomatoes – yellow, red, orange, green – heirloom tomatoes would be gorgeous!
Any pasta will do well in this recipe. But, for maximum flavour, you want to use pasta that will hold on to that delicious sauce. Kinds of pasta like spaghetti, linguine, pappardelle, etc., are all great pasta options. But, they have one thing in common. The surfaces of those kinds of pasta are flat. A flat pasta means that the sauce can run off more easily. You want to use pasta that the sauce will stick to.
Look closely at pasta like rigatoni, fusilli, or penne. They all have a ridged surface. Not only do the ridges get filled with the pasta sauce, but they also hang onto things like the bits or garlic, the grated parmesan, and just about anything else in your sauce.
I’m using orecchiette, because they are cup-shaped, so they literally scoop up that sauce! Did you know that orecchiette translates to “little ears” in Italian? I still remember the first time I heard that. It almost made me not want to try the pasta! But, I did and I loved it. It’s a great pasta to use if you tend to overcook pasta, because the center of the orecchiette is thicker and takes a bit longer to cook.
HERE’S WHAT YOU WILL NEED:
- Pasta – Read my notes above about the best pasta shapes for holding onto the sauce. Orecchiette works so well in this dish.
- Olive oil – I can’t imagine pasta without olive oil!
- Onion – One large onion will do – white, yellow, or red – they all work the same in this recipe.
- Dried Red Chili Flakes – This is completely optional, but I love pasta with a bit of heat, so I add extra!
- Garlic – Fresh garlic is a must for this dish!
- Tomato Paste – Even though we are using lots of fresh tomatoes, the tomato paste helps to enhance the tomato flavour and thickens the sauce.
- Grape or Cherry Tomatoes – You will need four cups or two pints.
- Pasta Water – Don’t throw that pasta water down the drain! Save a cup to make the sauce. The starchy, salty water is the key to a good sauce!
- Zucchini – Two zucchinis are needed. Trim the ends and cut them into 1/4 inch half moons.
- Parmesan – Lots of parmesan! Please try to use a parmesan that comes in a wedge. Pop it in your food processor and pulse it until it has the consistency of wet sand. Avoid the parmesan in shaker cans if possible.
- Seasoning – Salt and pepper, of course! Lots of ground black pepper.
- Garnish – I love fresh parsley in pasta dishes. You could use fresh basil too.
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HOW TO MAKE TOMATO ZUCCHINI PASTA:
The first thing you want to do is to cook your pasta. Whatever the amount of time the package suggests you cook the pasta for, shorten it by 2 or 3 minutes. The pasta will cook further in the sauce. Before you drain the cooked pasta, save one cup of the pasta water.
Next, in a large skillet, over medium heat, cook the onions in the olive oil until just cooked through – about 3-5 minutes. Add in the dried red chili flakes, if using, and the garlic. Stir to combine and cook for 2 more minutes.
Once the garlic is cooked, stir in the tomato paste and pasta water to combine it with the onions and garlic. Next, add all of the tomatoes. They’re left whole so that they will slightly blister and pop as they cook. As the tomatoes cook, you can purposely burst a few of them with the back of a wooden spoon to help them along. Cook for 8-10 minutes.
Now, add the zucchini and stir to combine with the other ingredients. Cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the cooked pasta and stir into the sauce. Continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes, or until the pasta is fully re-heated and cooked to your liking. Remove from heat and stir in the parmesan cheese. Plate, garnish, and serve immediately.
Let me talk to you a bit about how to get the pasta just right without overcooking it. Someone once told me that I prepare pasta like an old Italian grandma. That has stuck we me for so many years. You see, Dear Reader, I’m far from perfect, but cooking pasta is one thing I can certainly do perfectly. I don’t care what the back of the pasta package says, cook your pasta according to taste and texture. Ignore everything else. Here are my 4 steadfast rules:
Rule #1: Say no to oil!
Do you add oil to your pasta water before adding the pasta? Stop that right now! I don’t know who’s responsible for that, but I have seen some TV chefs do it! If you add oil to your pasta water, do you know what happens when you put the sauce on it? The sauce won’t stick as well as it should. It will slide off, because the oil prevents it from sticking.
Rule #2: Add extra salt!
Salt the water. I used to be so afraid of salting pasta water, because I thought it would be too salty to eat. Salting the water, before you add the pasta, is the only chance you get to season that pasta. Let the water come to a full boil before adding your salt. The water should taste like the ocean. Don’t dump the salt in; stir it in. Preventing the salt from settling at the bottom of your pot will keep your pot looking shiny and new. If you have pots with what looks like a tarnished or unpolished interior bottom, it’s because salt sat at the bottom of your pot.
Rule #3: Get that pasta moving about immediately!
Stir the pasta for a good minute when you first add it to the water. This helps to wash off some of the starch and prevents the pasta from sticking to the pot and to itself. I always pull out a piece of pasta 4 minutes before the package says it will be ready. Taste it. Chew it. It shouldn’t be completely soft. If it has a bit of bite left in the center, get it out of the water and drain it immediately. You can thank me later!
Rule #4: Do not rinse!
So many of us are tempted to rinse pasta under running water after it’s been drained. I think it comes from the notion that it gets rid of the starch. Well, it does in a way. But, when pasta begins to cool off and dry, it becomes a little sticky. That stickiness soaks up pasta sauce, so don’t flush it out! A quick drain is all you need. Get the pasta into a bowl or onto a plate. Get the sauce on it and serve it up. (That all applies to hot pasta dishes, but for a pasta salad, go ahead and rinse. Get all of that starch off!)
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Tomato Zucchini Pasta
- 450 grams pasta, cooked and drained (save one cup of the pasta water)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1/2 teaspoon dried red chili flakes, optional
- 4 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 4 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 pints cherry tomatoes, or 4 cups
- 2 whole zucchini, sliced 1/4 inch thick half moons
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- parsley or basil, chopped for garnish
- Start by cooking the pasta. Whatever the amount of time the package suggests you cook the pasta for, shorten it by 2 or 3 minutes. The pasta will cook further in the sauce. Before you drain the cooked pasta, save one cup of the pasta water.
- Next, in a large skillet, over medium heat, cook the onions in the olive oil until just cooked through – about 3-5 minutes.
- Add in the dried red chili flakes, if using, and the garlic. Stir to combine and cook for 2 more minutes.
- Once the garlic is cooked, stir in the tomato paste and pasta water to combine it with the onions and garlic.
- Next, add all of the tomatoes, along with the salt and the ground black pepper.
- The tomatoes are left whole so that they will slightly blister and pop as they cook. As the tomatoes cook, you can purposely burst a few of them with the back of a wooden spoon to help them along. Cook for 8-10 minutes.
- Now, add the zucchini and stir to combine with the other ingredients. Cook for 2-3 minutes.
- Add the cooked pasta and stir into the sauce. Continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes, or until the pasta is fully re-heated and cooked to your liking.
- Remove from heat and stir in the parmesan cheese. Plate, garnish, and serve immediately.
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