I’m not going to give you that old tongue-in-cheek reminder to lock your car doors so that you don’t wake up with a vehicle full of your neighbor’s surplus zucchini. I am, though, going to give you three pasta-centric strategies for using up said surplus zucchini your neighbor left on your backseat so that it doesn’t go to waste.

Strategy one: Don’t apologize for the zucchini.

With this approach, you’re putting the squash front and center of the plate as noodles. Zoodles, as they’ve come to be called, have just a fraction of the carbohydrates and cooking time and none of the gluten of wheat-based pasta. Use a potato peeler to cut long zucchini into tagliatelle-width zoodles. Use a sharp-toothed julienne peeler to get long, straight spaghetti zoodles. Or use a countertop or handheld spiralizer to get more visually interesting curly zoodles.

One medium-sized zucchini — about 8 inches long, 2 inches in diameter and about 5 ounces in weight – will yield a generous cup of zoodles. For a quick meal, these can be eaten raw, mixed with raw, grated tomato and garlic sauce or with fresh pesto, halved cherry tomatoes and those little mozzarella balls called perlini. If you’re using zoodles in a soup – say, chicken noodle to fight a summer cold or an Asian soup because you don’t have ramen noodles on hand – simply drop them into the broth right before serving it.

If you plan to serve them with a warm sauce though, you’ve got to get some of the water out of the zucchini first. Since this vegetable is almost 90 percent water, adding it raw to a hot sauce will make the sauce watery. If you first toss the raw zoodles with kosher salt (1/4 teaspoon per 1 cup zoodles) and let them sit in a colander in the sink, the salt will draw out the water after 20 minutes or so. Then you rinse them, pat them dry, and add them to the sauce. If you’re avoiding salt, you can microwave them for one minute per cup or drop them into boiling water for 2 minutes before draining them and adding them to your warm sauce.

Read on for ideas to get you out of your New England summertime zucchini rut. Photo by Christine Burns Rudalevige

Strategy two: Umami the zucchini.

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If you slowly cook sliced or diced zucchini in olive oil and butter, you get a meaty flavor that belies the fact that it is a vegetable. I’ve seen this happen when I’ve tapped recipes from both my go-to Italian cookbook, Marcella Hazan’s “The Essentials of Italian Cooking”; my dog-eared, oil-stained, broken-binding copy of Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything”; and my various cookbooks by British chef Nigel Slater to which I turn whenever I need to get out of a rut.

In one recipe, Hazan says to cut young zucchini into 2-inch matchstick pieces, salt them and let them sit for a bit, dust them with flour, fry them in olive oil and allow them to soften as they cool. Then you toss the fried zucchini with garlic that’s been sautéed in butter, chopped fresh basil, fresh pasta and Parmesan cheese.

Bittman suggests replacing the bacon in carbonara with deeply sautéed zucchini. He then tells you to stir the zucchini with 1/4 cup of combined chopped mint and basil into the traditional carbonara raw egg yolk and Parmesan base.

Slater, in his book “Eat,” sautés diced zucchini in butter until the cubes are well-browned. He flavors the dice with garlic, lemon zest and chopped mint leaves before tossing them with al dente rigatoni or penne and some pasta water to make a silky sauce.

Strategy three: Hide the zucchini. 

If your family is sick of zucchini and you need to go stealth, while you can’t always make zucchini disappear from a dish completely, you can alter a few things in favorite pasta recipes so that your eaters don’t complain that they’ve eaten zucchini four times this week.

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Slice large zucchini lengthwise in 1/4-inch-thick pieces, grill them and use them to replace a layer of noodles in your lasagna recipe.

Distract eaters from zucchini by pairing it with better-loved seasonal vegetables or other local ingredients. In other words, focus on the other ingredients and the zucchini goes down unnoticed. For example, in the Canal House “Pronto” cookbook, authors Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer, hide diced zucchini among shell-shaped lumache pasta and littleneck clam sauce. Amanda Hesser, the food writer behind the recipe-driven kitchen retail site Food52.com, combines shredded squash with corn kernels, corn “milk,” bacon dice and fat, and hot orecchiette. Slater concocts a quick pasta primavera with steamed spinach, thinly sliced sugar snap peas and zucchini rounds sautéed in butter. He finishes the sauce with a bit of cream before combining the vegetables with bucatini, chopped parsley and freshly grated Parmesan.

As a last resort, you can always use your blender to make a creamy zucchini sauce that resembles the vegetable only in that it’s slightly green. Here is my favorite recipe for employing that particular technique.

Diced zucchini simmers with onions, cream, lemon zest, chili flakes and basil. Photo by Christine Burns Rudalevige

Creamy Hidden Zucchini Pasta

This recipe is inspired by on one published on the online cooking site, The Modern Proper.

Serves 4

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1 small bunch basil
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup sliced shallots, sliced (from 2 medium shallots)
3 cups diced zucchini (from 1 large, 2 medium or 3 small squash)
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon mild chili flakes (like Aleppo, maresh or urfa)
1 pound long, somewhat thick pasta like fettuccine, fusilli or bucatini
¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese, more for serving
Zest of 1 lemon

Place a large pot of salted water over high heat. Cover.

Remove the small pretty leaves in the basil bunch and set them aside for use as a garnish. Trim and compost the tough ends of the basil stems.

Add the olive oil and butter to a large saucepan over medium heat. When the butter has melted, add the shallots, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the zucchini and cook it until it is tender and slightly browned, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add the heavy cream, salt and chili flakes. Toss in the trimmed sprigs of basil.

Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the sauce from the heat to cool slightly.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta. Cook to al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water, then drain the pasta.

Transfer the sauce to a blender. Add 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta cooking water. Blend until it the sauce is smooth. Return the sauce to the pan. Stir in the cheese and lemon zest. Add the pasta and toss until the pasta is coated, adding more pasta water if the sauce seems too thick.

Serve topped with the reserved basil leaves and another sprinkle of grated Parmesan.

Local foods advocate Christine Burns Rudalevige is the editor of Edible Maine magazine and the  author of “Green Plate Special,” both a column about eating sustainably in the Portland Press Herald and the name of her 2017 cookbook. She can be contacted at: [email protected]


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