Looking for new ways to use zucchini this summer that let its flavor and texture shine through? Enter this big, hearty pasta—a play on stuffed zucchini, a mainstay of my Midwestern childhood. With roughly double the volume of zucchini to pasta, it’s exactly the type of fresh, brightly flavored dinner that I crave all season long.
To create this summery pasta, I took all of the elements I love about stuffed zucchini (savory meat, crispy crumbs, melty cheese!) and eliminated the ones I don’t (hollowing out and stuffing the zucchini boats, the long bake time in a hot oven). But my favorite thing about this pasta? The zucchini itself. To avoid any blandness and sogginess, I opted to pan-fry thin coins of zucchini in pancetta drippings and olive oil until deeply browned and tender, then marinate them in red wine vinegar—a nod to concia, a classic Jewish-Roman side dish of fried-then-marinated zucchini that I adore. From there, all that’s left is tossing the zucchini with freshly cooked noodles, crispy pancetta, craggy chunks of mozzarella, garlicky pistachio crumbs, and more basil than you think you need. Nothing against stuffed zucchini, but I’ll take this reimagined version any night of the week.
Like all of summer’s best dishes, this one is infinitely adaptable and has no rules. Grill the zucchini versus frying it—just slice the zucchini into slickly thicker coins and add the red wine vinegar immediately off the grill. Switch up the pasta shapes. Try different herbs and cheeses (feta would be lovely here). Swap pistachios for walnuts or pine nuts in the crumb topping. Fry up bacon or guanciale instead of pancetta, add ribbons of prosciutto in lieu of crispy pork, or forgo the meat entirely for a still-hearty, deeply flavorful meal.
Test Kitchen Notes
It's the end of the long workday (or the start of an extra-long week) and we're hungry. Like, "can't-think-straight" hungry. Luckily, Food52 contributor EmilyC wants to do all the thinking for us. In Dinner's Ready, her twice-a-month column on weeknight wonders, Emily shares simple, flavor-packed recipes that'll have a good meal on the table in no time. —The Editors
- Prep time 15 minutes
- Cook time 30 minutes
- Serves 4
long fusilli noodles, spaghetti, or linguine
Kosher salt plus freshly ground black pepper, to taste
olive oil, plus more as needed
1 1/2 pounds
zucchini (or about 3 medium), trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch thick rounds
red wine vinegar
pistachios, finely chopped
Calabrian or red chile flakes, or more to taste
3 or 4
garlic cloves, minced
Finely grated zest from 1 large lemon, saving juice for serving
finely grated Parmesan or Pecorino
fresh mozzarella, torn into bite-sized chunks
1 to 2 cups
fresh basil leaves, small ones left whole, or large ones roughly torn
- Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons salt and the pasta; cook until al dente according to package directions.
- Meanwhile, in a large saute pan or skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, about 5 to 7 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to a towel-lined plate.
- Leave the pancetta fat in the pan, and add enough olive oil to reach 3 tablespoons. Add the zucchini in an even layer (this will likely need to be done in two batches), seasoning the top with salt and pepper. Fry over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes, or until golden brown—then flip, season again with salt and pepper, and cook 2 to 3 minutes longer, or until tender. (A splatter screen is handy for this step.) Repeat the process for the second batch, adding a little more oil if needed. Remove each batch to a bowl, and top with the red wine vinegar.
- Meanwhile, in a separate skillet, make the crumbs: heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat, then add the panko, pistachios, and chile flakes. When the crumbs are just shy of golden, add the garlic (and a little more olive oil if the pan looks dry), and toast for about 30 seconds longer.
- When the pasta is done, drain and return it to the pasta pot. Add 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil, lemon zest, and Parmesan, tossing to integrate. Next, toss in the marinated zucchini (and any accumulated juices), then the mozzarella and pancetta. Taste, adding more salt, lemon juice (I usually start with 2 teaspoons, and go from there), and/or more olive oil, to your liking. Add the basil at the end to prevent bruising and about a quarter of the crumbs, tossing again. To serve, divide among plates and top each one with the remaining crumbs—or serve family style by transferring the pasta to a serving platter and showering with the remaining crumbs. Serve warm or at room temperature.