One of the reasons I love pasta is that it can be as simple or as complicated as you make it. Most of the time, when you don’t know what to make for dinner, when you don’t have any vegetables on hand, pasta just means sautéing onions in olive oil and garlic, tossed with noodles and some parmesan – and it tastes great.
This Caramelized Zucchini Pasta is a classic example of using what you have on hand. For those days when you don’t feel like heading to the grocery store. Fresh zucchini is cooked down until caramelized. Cooking the zucchini in fat over medium heat turns it into a rich jammy paste that is then tossed with the pasta. You can elevate the flavors by adding garlic, or anchovies, lemon, or red pepper flakes. The trick here is to be patient because the caramelizing process takes a bit. But the longer it cooks the sweeter and jammier it gets. If the heat is too high you might get burnt bits so just let go and trust the process.
You’re going to need a lot of zucchini – two pounds of grated fresh zucchini gets you about 1 cup of caramelized paste – but just use however many you have on hand. You can either grate or thinly slice the zucchini, whatever sounds easier for you. If you don’t have zucchini on hand, leeks work well too – same instructions, same process. If you don’t have leeks, caramilezed onions will work great, too. But if you do have zucchini, make sure to use as many as you can for a richer, saucier pasta.
I think of this pasta as a step above spaghetti aglio e olio. It’s just as simple, but slightly more complex, what with the sweet and caramelized flavors.
Caramelized Zucchini Pasta
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp butter
- 2 zucchini
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1/2 lb pasta
- 1 lemon
- red pepper flakes
- kosher salt
- black pepper
- basil, for garnish
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- Grate or thinly slice the zucchini. Thinly slice the garlic.
- Heat the olive oil and butter in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the zucchini, garlic, and red pepper flakes and season with salt and pepper. Turn down the heat and cover with a lid. Cook for about 5 minutes – it’ll release a lot of liquid. Uncover and cook until the liquid evaporates, for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Continue to cook until the zucchini is reduced and jammy, 15 to 20 minutes. If there are any brown bits in the bottom of the pan, add a little bit of water and deglaze to release the flavors – lower the heat if necessary.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water, and drain the pasta.
- Add the pasta to skillet, tossing to combine. Stir in the parmesan cheese and pasta water a little bit at a time, until the pasta is glossed with sauce. Keep adding more pasta water as needed. Adjust seasoning.
- Stir in the lemon juice. Serve with basil and more parmesan.
If you make this Caramelized Zucchini Pasta please be sure to leave a comment! I’d love to hear from you and I love responding to every comment. And don’t forget to also tag me on Instagram. I’d love to see your photos!