Make Ahead

"Unstuffed" Zucchini With Pasta & Pancetta

June 15, 2021
4 Ratings
Photo by Rocky Luten. Food stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop stylist: Fiona Campbell.
  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Cook time 30 minutes
  • Serves 4
Author Notes

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

What You'll Need
  • 3/4 pound long fusilli noodles, spaghetti, or linguine
  • Kosher salt plus freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more as needed
  • 4 ounces pancetta, diced
  • 1 1/2 pounds zucchini (or about 3 medium), trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch thick rounds
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/3 cup pistachios, finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon 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
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan or Pecorino
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, torn into bite-sized chunks
  • 1 to 2 cups fresh basil leaves, small ones left whole, or large ones roughly torn
  1. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons salt and the pasta; cook until al dente according to package directions.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 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 mozzarella and the basil, 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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • EmilyC
  • Mel Liew
    Mel Liew
  • tweediumrare

Recipe by: EmilyC

I'm a home cook. I love salads. Two things you'll always find in my refrigerator are lemons and butter, and in my pantry good quality chocolate and the makings for chocolate chip cookies.

4 Reviews

Mel L. June 16, 2021
Made this for dinner and I loved it! Have to say that my kids were not fans, mainly because they found it too tart. More leftovers for me though!
EmilyC June 16, 2021
More leftovers for the cook is always a good thing! So glad you liked this, Mel! Thanks for your note.
tweediumrare June 15, 2021
Good recipe. Followed it to the letter. Excellent preparation of the zucchini. There was one down side -- by adding the mozzarella to the hot pasta, it melted and all globbed together, which made it hard to serve, eat and clean up. I will make again, and will either a) simply leave out the motz (would still be delicious), or I'd use less, and add it later (perhaps as a garnish).
EmilyC June 15, 2021
Thanks for trying this, and so glad you liked the zucchini preparation! Interesting about the mozzarella...I always add it to the hot pasta after I toss it with the olive oil, etc., and the warmth of the pasta isn't enough to melt it and it's always maintained its shape nicely. What type did you use? I'm with you...I wouldn't want my cheese to melt and glob up, either! Let me know and I can add a note.