May 22nd, 2012

(Surprisingly Wondrous) Zucchini Sauce, pasta, peppery watercress pesto


I wish that I had a clever name for this dish.

Pasta with Zucchini Sauce seems rather lackluster, a ho-hum title that belies its subtle garden-green flavors, its whipped up creamy texture–with nary a trace of cream!–and its overall brilliant use of the soon-to-be ubiquitous squash, which are already starting to show up at our farmers’ markets.


Rachel Roddy, a British ex-pat living in Rome for the last 7 years, and author of the splendid blog, Rachel Eats, deserves the kudos for this recipe, about which she posted in beguiling style here.


It is tribute to the Roman zukes, zucchine romanesche, whose appearance she likens to little zeppelins, or twee fluted Corinthian columns. Prepared in umpteen delectable ways–sauteed with tomatoes, stuffed with orzo, grilled and folded into a frittata, cut into batons and fried like pomme frites–the zucchini is prized in Roman cuisine for its versatility and taste.

While I am familiar with many of these preparations, I had never tasted, seen, even imagined zucchini braised in olive oil with garlic, and pureed into a lush green sauce for pasta.

With our community potluck looming, it seemed to be the perfect time to make it.

I followed Rachel’s lead–assembling the first of the summer green squashes. In place of garlic cloves, I substituted a bundle of spring garlic scapes, those delicious curly-ques clipped from forming bulbs. Beyond that, the list of ingredients is short–olive oil, a bit of butter, salt, pepper, water and white wine.


Plus, the pasta. Really, any shape you’d like will work.

Gigi had been praising Cipriani’s Tagliardi–imported, small, super-thin egg pasta rectangles that come boxed like some fabulous gift—so that’s what we chose as a base for the sauce. If you can find–try it. It is very very good.


Young zucchinis cut into rounds are piled into a heavy duty pot with the scapes; all are tossed well in olive oil, salt, and a dash of pepper. A small amount of butter—a knob, as Rachel likes to say—along with a slow braise, helps to coax out the zucchinis’ savory-sweetness.


It doesn’t take long for the squashes to release their inherent water. White wine simmered into the “soup” (indeed, this would be a terrific soup) adds depth, and a tinge of acidic bite. It’s important to check for salt—it is key in balancing the delicate taste.


An immersion blender handily whips this into a supple, somewhat airy sauce that still retains integrity. There are lively bits of squash flecked throughout. The color—ah. Beautiful, don’t you think? And the taste–surprisingly wondrous.

I hasten to add: In lieu of passing a few grindings of cracked black pepper over the pasta, I dotted the dish with Watercress Pesto. It is simply watercress, good olive oil, and salt. Another vibrant green, it adds a fresh peppery finish to the dish.


½ c. Olive Oil
4 T. Butter
10 c. sliced Zucchini (5 lbs.)
1 c. chopped Garlic Scapes (1 bundle)
1 T. Sea Salt
1 c. White Wine
1 c. Water

immersion blender

1 lb. Tagliardi Pasta (or pasta of choice)

In a large (5-6qt. size) stock pot, heat olive oil and butter on medium. Add zucchini and garlic. Season with salt. Stir, coating the vegetables well. Saute for 5-7 minutes, as vegetables begin to soften.
Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Zucchini will collapse and release its liquid—becoming “soupy.” Add water and wine, and continue cooking uncovered for another 7 minutes. Remove from heat and puree the mixture with an immersion blender. Taste for salt.

In a separate large pot, cook pasta of choice according to package directions. (Tagliardi, thin egg pasta squares, require 4 minutes cooking time.)

Drain and return to pot. Spoon warm sauce over pasta, and fold throughout—gently coating the squares. Dot with peppery watercress pesto oil. Dust with cheese: parmesan or pecorino.

Serves a crowd at potluck!–or makes 8-10 generous servings


Not always easy to find at the grocer (but easily foraged in some creeks and riverbeds) watercress is crisp and peppery.
You could make an arugula pesto instead, if you are unable to locate the cress.


1 bundle fresh Watercress
1 c. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
pinch Sea Salt

Place all ingredients into a food processor fitted with the swivel blade and pulse until watercress is ground fine. The infused olive oil will be bright green. Keeps for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator.


Posted in Pastas, Recipes, Vegan, Vegetables

35 Responses to “(Surprisingly Wondrous) Zucchini Sauce, pasta, peppery watercress pesto”
  1. Madeleine Says:

    Can I eat some NOW?!

  2. Nic@diningwithastud Says:

    Oh I love the pasta! Like teeny tiny lasagne sheets :)

  3. Rach Says:

    Nancy – you are a star and a kindred spirit in that you think it’s surprisingly wondrous. With the watercress pesto it is inspired. You can’t find watercress here in Rome (it’s one of the things I miss, particularly as my parents live near a watercress farm and it was a staple on our table and tucked in our roast beef sandwiches), I wonder if a bit of rocket pesto might work?
    Life with my 14th of sept baby continues to make me very happy but quite disorientated. Not coping that well with the sleep deprivation it has to be said.
    big baci Rx
    yes, that pasta!

  4. heather Says:

    This looks amazing. Have any zucchini and lentil recipes?

  5. Michele | Cooking At Home Says:

    Fresh, bright and beautiful. The addition of watercress pesto is brillant, and the title of the recipe is perfect.

  6. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Madeleine–go and make it! now!

    Nic–I know! Gigi and I want to make miniature lasagna-like appetizers with them. How crazy labor-intensive is that?

    Rach–thanks again for this surprisingly wondrous recipe–yes, yes—arugula/rocket pesto would make an excellent substitute for the ‘cress. I wish you a good night’s sleep. My 14 Sept baby (Ms Madeleine, above) is going to have her first baby (due date 12/1!) so she, her husband, and this soon-to-be grandmom (when I go to help) will be joining the ranks of the mightily sleep deprived.

    Heather–I don’t think I do—But this sauce would be good napped over lentils and quinoa, for instance.

    Michele—thank you!

  7. Tammy Says:

    Yum! zucchini arrived in my CSA and is looking for a recipe where it can roost. This looks like it. I will head out to the Italian deli on Saturday to see if I can find any other those darling little sheets that you’ve prepared it with. Not a lot of water here to forage watercress but arugula as a substitute is perfect.

  8. Jonathan Pagano Says:

    This is a very popular dish in Italy right now. I might try to make it this weekend!

  9. Nancy Says:

    Green on green, I love this! Such a great use of zucchini – not quite in the markets here, but soon I hope. And I’m going to keep this on the top of my list for when they arrive. I’ll have to keep an eye out for the tagliardi, too (might be a good excuse for a trip to Eataly… :)

  10. fluffy Says:

    I see this dish and I get sooo excited I cannot wait to get home to eat…….

  11. Teresa, Says:

    Oh my, just another reason to be sad about missing Third Thursday in May. I always miss the fun, relaxation with friends, the catching up on everything, the food when I cannot make it, but additionally I am sorry I missed this fantastically creative use of zucchini. I would have never, ever thought to make a sauce with it but now I will add this to my “how many ways can I prepare zucchini squash” this summer. Thanks for a great recipe my friend.

  12. gg Says:

    Nancy, I love this because it’s super kid friendly too!! Xoxo

  13. Denise | Chez Danisse Says:

    Both you and Rachel inspire me on a regular basis. A post outlining your twist on a Rachel recipe is an extra special treat.

  14. FiSh Says:

    i love pesto :) a healthier way for pasta!

    Latest: Worst Shabu Ever

  15. Kath Says:

    Ooh yes, I do love a recipe for a courgette and if the slugs stay off ours I will need plenty. You did make me laugh with the reference to the knob of butter. Is this measurement particular to us English folk then?

  16. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Kath–I think it is–I do like “knob” as a measurement–says exactly what it is! Best of luck with your garden.

    GG–this one is very kid friendly, and you could eliminate the white wine if you wanted to–although the bit that is in there really adds a nice dimension to the sauce. Hope all is well with you and your family.

    Nancy–I wish I could go to Eataly….

  17. Erica Says:

    I love good meatless dishes!!! My husband is a vegetarian and this dish looks and sounds perfect for the whole family.

  18. Barbara Says:

    One thing I remember as a gardener….I needed as many zucchini recipes as possible! :)
    This one is surely a winner, Nancy. Fairly lo cal and simple to make. I do love the watercress pesto…such an underused vegetable. Usually as a garnish. I love the bite and it would be the perfect finishing touch for your pasta dish.

  19. Magda | My Little Expat Kitchen Says:

    I have pesto on my mind and this one comes at an appropriate time when there are a lot of courgettes in my fridge. What a treat this dish. Love it, Nancy!

  20. mark Says:

    excellent way to use zucchini–we should incorporate this into our summer cooking camp curriculum.

  21. Shanley Says:

    My all-time favorite and most-made recipe of yours is the Ode to Zephyr from a couple of years ago. It is my lunch nearly every week during the summer (I make a batch Sunday nights and eat it all week). When I can’t find zephyr, I use yellow squash and zucchini. I never get tired of its deliciousness.

    So, I am super excited about *this* recipe, can’t wait to try it, and suspect it will be a good addition to my summer lunches!

  22. Beth Says:

    This looks wonderful – and I certainly have a lot of zucchini around these days! Thanks for the idea.

  23. Christine @ Fresh Local and Best Says:

    This is one of the best ways that I have seen to use up prolific zucchinis! Five pounds magically turned into a wonderous sauce!

  24. Mary Says:

    Wow. This is so different! I’ve made zucchini ribbons with pasta sauces, but never pasta sauces out of zucchini.

  25. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Good point, Mary. Maybe this could be the ultimate use: zucchini sauce on zucchini ribbons!

  26. Simply Life Says:

    fun dish! I LOVE the shape of the noodles and the pesto looks great!

  27. Karen (Back Road Journal) Says:

    When the taste is great the name doesn’t matter. The sauce is a terrific way to use zucchini.

  28. Kitchen Belleicious Says:

    oh this is like music to my ears! i always have leftover zucchini and this is perfect way to incorporate the veggie in your dish without being boring! So creative! i just love it and can’t wait to try! Sorry I have been MIA- was busy last 2 weeks but I’m back now! Hope you had a great weekend

  29. Juliana Says:

    Zucchini sauce? Yeah! It sure sounds and looks great…I will definitely give this sauce a try…great for a weeknight dinner :)
    Thanks for the recipe and hope you are having a wonderful week Nancy!

  30. Sara Says:

    I made this tonight and sprinkled walnuts over the top with the parm. We had a salad of cucumber and yellow cherry tomatoes with a little salt and balsamic, and a cold white Bordeaux. Lovely!

  31. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Sara–Walnuts on top, yes! terrific addition. I’m so glad you made this dish and enjoyed it. perfect meal, on the cusp of summer. thank you for letting me know.

  32. ernestine lawson Says:

    With 10 small zucchini picked early this warm
    I now have a new recipe.
    Zucchini bread one of my favorite with an addition
    of pineapple – I make all the time.
    Thank you…

  33. tracey Says:

    simply sensational. & amazing to read how you put it all together. zucchini is such a yummy veggie; thanks for including some of its history. here’s to good food made with love and attention.

  34. Sara Says:

    I make this often. Today’s successful variation: using potato flour as a thickener for soup. Added another subtle layer of flavor deliciousness, and the soup has a really creamy texture. I am also adding a little shredded sorrel on top for an occasional lemon tart bite.

  35. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Hi Sara–sounds like a terrific variation on the theme! I like the idea of adding the sorrel.

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