Summer Squash Pasta with Ricotta Pesto and Tomatoes

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In the introduction to the Summer chapter of my cookbook Whole Grain Mornings, I talked about my approach to summer cooking — how it should be easy and effortless. How ironic it is that with all of the beautiful produce and fruit in the markets, summer meals are usually the ones that feel the most haphazard and thrown together. I used to get down on myself about this, wondering why I never took advantage of all the beautiful squashes and tomatoes and fresh herbs, making more complex meals or interesting new recipes. Instead I often rely on simple dinners of sliced tomatoes, cheese and good bread or big leafy salads with homemade buttermilk dressing. Dessert is often a simple bowl of berries or a scoop (or two) of homemade ice cream. I think moving to Seattle a few years ago changed the way I think about summer cooking. I’m no longer hard on myself or set any major expectations for kitchen goals or recipes to tackle. When it’s light until 9 or 10 p.m. and you happen to have the warmest June on record, the picnic table in the backyard is too inviting to pass up and standing at the stove can … wait. Plus, what better way to celebrate all of the beautiful summer produce than doing very little to it and letting it speak for itself?

That’s what this Summer Squash Pasta with Ricotta Pesto and Tomatoes is all about: simple, delicious, summer “cooking.” We’ve eaten this twice a week now for the past few weeks, mixing up the add-ins and the type of pesto — some nights making a cashew pesto, other nights experimenting with a kale and arugula version. This recipe today uses a creamy, summer-worthy ricotta pesto and fresh little grape tomatoes. It doesn’t require any cooking and, this past week, we discovered on a rather impromptu trip to Orcas Island that it’s easy to make on the road, too. And even more satisfying, perhaps. One of the things I most love about this blog is the way I can look back through the seasons and years and glean a sense of what that time felt like for me, judging by the food I was eating, the things I was baking, the stories I was telling. If there is just one recipe that will speak to the way we ate this summer, this is it: We can’t get enough.

 

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I first got the idea for these summer squash “noodles” from Kimberly Hasselbrink’s book, Vibrant Food. She has a recipe for the squash cloaked in a Green Goddess dressing and I bookmarked it and began experimenting with the noodles as more of a template, using different sauces and a variety of vegetables and cheeses. I know many of you are staring down a glut of zucchini or summer squash right about now — or will be in a few weeks — and I can’t imagine a better way to use it up.

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As for the pesto in this recipe, it is from Nina Plank’s The Real Food Cookbook that I mentioned in my last post. I’ve been excited to dive into one of her recipes and out of all the simple main dishes and beautiful salads, this creamy ricotta pesto is the first thing that spoke to me. It’s a nut/seed-free pesto which originally had me skeptical, wanting to add walnuts or cashews, but I trust Nina so I made it just as written (except I did use walnut oil in my version instead of olive oil). Pesto purists would likely call it more of a creamy basil sauce than a true pesto — and they’d probably be right. Regardless, it’s a little slice of summer in a bowl.

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The pesto is super versatile: it’s wonderful as a dip for fresh vegetables, a creamy sauce for pasta, a spread for sandwiches — we’ve even mixed a little into soft scrambled eggs. And we discovered recently that it also travels well. As I mentioned, we snuck away to Orcas Island mid-week for a little getaway. In truth, the land of wedding planning was feeling a little tense and we needed to get away from our desks and lists and email. We stayed in a little cabin at Doe Bay (I can’t wait to return and stay in a yurt!) where we read a lot on the porch, soaked in the hot springs, and had lazy mornings the likes of which I haven’t seen in some time. They looked a lot like these photos: foggy and cool, coffee in hand.

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Around noon, the fog would burn off to reveal stunningly blue skies and we’d pick up and stumble into the day. We hiked Turtleback Ridge, drove to the top of Mount Constitution, and rented paddle boats at Moran State Park. There was ice cream and naps and a lot of quiet. We both settled in so quickly that we ended up booking one additional night because we couldn’t bear to head home just yet.

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As for food, our cabin had a little, tiny kitchen and we brought some things along with us: coffee, fruit, eggs, bacon, bread, and ingredients for this zucchini pasta (I told you: dedication!) We also explored a bit on the island: While I’m a loyal convert of the quiche at Cafe Besalu here in Seattle, I think the quiche at Brown Bear Bakery trumps it. And the wood fired pizzas at Hogstone were delicious after a long day in the sun.

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But, really the highlight was the noodles and the quiet time away. The picture below is from the picnic table right outside our cabin. We did well with the Prosecco that night, and decided to add bacon to our squash pasta (goooood idea!). I hope you like the recipe and I hope you’re finding a chance to sneak away for a hike or drive or ice cream cone this summer, too.

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Summer Squash Pasta with Ricotta Pesto and Tomatoes

Summer Squash Pasta with Ricotta Pesto and Tomatoes

  • Yield: 4, as a side
  • Prep time: 15 mins
  • Inactive time: 25 mins
  • Total time: 40 mins

Ingredients

For the Pesto:

2 cups loosely packed basil
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup ricotta
1/2 cup walnut oil (or olive oil)
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to season
freshly-ground black pepper

For the "Pasta":

2 pounds summer squash (zucchini and yellow squashes), ends cut away
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup grape or small cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley

Instructions

To make the pesto: Place all ingredients in the food processor and blend until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning as you see fit.

To make the “pasta”: Slice the squash into very thin strips using a mandolin, julienne slicer, or spiralizer (see note below). If you’d prefer, use a vegetable peeler for wider, thin strips. Place squash in a medium bowl and toss with salt. Place squash in a colander and let sit for 25 minutes, allowing the excess water to start to drain away. Using a clean kitchen towel or your hands, work in batches to squeeze the moisture away from the squash. Place in a medium serving bowl.

Toss zucchini noodles with 1/2 cup ricotta pesto. Fold in tomatoes and parsley. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if you’d like. This salad is best served the day that it’s made; I like to serve it immediately with crusty bread and cold wine, preferably outdoors.

Note: I broke down and bought a spiralizer last month to help make little veggie noodles. I was hesitant at first because we really don’t need any new kitchen appliances or tools, but it’s relatively inexpensive and we’ve been loving it. Alternatively, you can certainly use a mandolin or julienne slicer.

Comments

  1. Elle

    This sounds delicious. If you wouldn't mind, I'm curious which spiralizer you chose. Contact me privately if you wish to avoid a public product endorsement. Thanks.

    1. megang

      Hi, Elle: No problem. I bought the Padermo one from Williams Sonoma. As I recall it was around $35 and well worth it! Enjoy. ~Megan

  2. molly

    Squeeee!!!!!!!!!!!

    I just received Nina's book, also, and this creamy ricotta pesto is at the top of my list! We happen to have a batch of homemade ricotta in the fridge AS I TYPE (not because we are Type-A that way, or that hard-core, or even remotely DIY, but because I have a boy who had a goal involving cheese...). And a garden-full of basil. Happy day!

    Love the idea of putting this on zucchini noodles, particularly the spiralized sort. (Because: yes, also, that. Because: who wouldn't want spiralized food??)

    But really, I'm here to see chin up and eyes out up and out beyond the horizon of the urgent manies. We celebrated our 19th anniversary in June (eep! i was just a babe!), and Megan, I am here to tell you, the wedding itself was, to this day, one of our highest hurdles. (And we went very barebones and basic. As in: got married less than 24 hours after finals :)

    In other words: it only gets better. Hale and hearty winds to you both, as you carry through these next weeks and months. Enjoy the ride; it's a big, wild, joyous, crazy one.

    xoxo,
    Molly

  3. Kathleen

    This is my kind of summer meal. You made me want a spiralizer because I've just been using a carrot peeler to get zucchini strips. I love throwing the highlights of summer together for pestos. I kick it off with garlic scapes and arugula and move on to basil. Such a treat. (Glad you had a nice getaway, Megan. It's very clear that you've been working hard!)

  4. wendy@chezchloe

    So glad you got some island time in! We are just down the road from Doe Bay and it makes it all that much nicer out on this end of the island. And did you see Hogstone got a nice write up in the Seattle Times last Sunday. Jay and Ryan are rockin' it:) Take care and happy summer... wendy

    1. megang

      Hi Wendy- I hadn't seen that article, but I'll look for it now! We loved Hogstone: mellow and charming. You live in quite a special place -- we kept saying, "we should move here!" (which I'm sure most tourists say on warm, blue sky days) Hope you're enjoying it ~Megan

  5. Traci | Vanilla And Bean

    Every time I open my email with a post from you, I am linked to a smile! This one came in the form of three of my favorite things: 1. A new recipe to try with our new spiralizer (yeee!) 2. The gift of summer veggies 3. Orcas Island. I could go on and on about Orcas... that it IS my dream spot and we get up there as much as possible. Turtleback ridge is one of my favorite hiking spots; the views are spectacular, there's hardly anyone there and Red-Breasted Nuthatches are prolific! Did you see them!? But, I've not been to Hogstone and will definitely visit next time I go. So happy you two got away for some rest. What a perfect place to do just that! Thank you, Megan!

  6. Maryea {Happy Healthy Mama}

    I use a julienne peeler to make zucchini "noodles" and love it! Pairing them with this pesto (or creamy basil sauce--that sounds good to me!) looks absolutely perfect. Summer is served. :)

  7. JOE

    I posted your blog on our facebook page. Thanks for the shout out and you are always welcome at Doe Bay. Was surprised that you didn't mention the Doe Bay Café. It has become a culinary phenomenon of sorts. We grow all of our own food and no shortcuts. Sysco trucks are not allowed on the property. BTW, I am also a BBB quiche fan! JOE

    1. megang

      Hi, Joe! So nice to see a comment from you here. We are looking forward to coming back and staying in one of the yurts. And I was remiss not to mention the cafe because we did dine there one night and it was wonderful. I had the pho and my partner Sam had the salmon. The bread was killer and that zucchini salad with burrata! We've been recommending it to friends ... thanks so much for all you guys are doing out there! ~Megan

  8. Christina @ but i'm hungry

    This looks fantastic. Homemade ricotta has, for us, become our summer "thing", along with pesto, which has always been THE summer "thing", hasn't it? And I can't wait to send this recipe to my mom, who is having a serious love affair as we speak with her spiralizer.

  9. Carole

    What a fortuitous post this turned out to be. I was just instructed today to try a gluten free diet for some digestive issues. And since zucchini has done its annual thing and taken over our lives, I think the spiralizer will be a good investment all around. I can't wait to see bowls full of all kinds of twirly food. I'm picturing beet curls on top of ..............how about everything? I, too, would like to know which spiralizer you chose.

    1. megang

      Hi, Carole: I bought the Padermo (spelling?) spiralizer from Williams Sonoma. Enjoy!

  10. Ashley

    I've been eyeing a spiralizer for a while, but haven't made the leap yet. I didn't think to check Williams-Sonoma, so I'll have to look at that one as well.

    I love that you all brought food from home for your trip!

    I need to get out to Orcas Island/San Juan Islands. I am kicking myself for not making the trip when I lived in Seattle. I actually just finished reading about a place out there, in Eileen Goudge's cookbook, called Cayou Cove. I'm not sure if it's still the case, but when she stayed there they had a garden and orchard that guests could help themselves to, which sounds amazing.

    As to wedding planning, it helped me to remember that a wedding is a day and a marriage is forever. Kinda corny but it helps to keep things in perspective. ;)

  11. kristie @ birchandwild.com

    What beautiful photos! And your writing is always so wonderful and inspiring. I always enjoy stopping by your blog. Thanks for sharing this recipe. It looks perfect. I may just make it for my camping trip tonight.

  12. Kate @ ¡Hola! Jalapeño

    This is exactly what I want to eat in the summer; light, healthy, but ultimately flavorful food. Photos are stunning too!

  13. francesca

    Zucchini. Spaghetti. is. genius. We can't get enough of this in our home.

  14. Elizabeth

    I'm so happy to bump into this today- there is one tiny summer squash holding out in the garden and I just pulled the last of the basil. I live near you (Vancouver Island) and it was nice to see pictures of familiar ferries and grassy island knolls. Thanks!

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