Weekly Winner: Creamy, Dreamy, Guilt-free Pasta

IMG_0815I am not one of those people who ever feel guilty about eating pasta.  Carbs and I go way back and we’ll always be BFFs.  That’s one of the many reasons why I never want hubby to give up his Saturday morning running group.  It gives me carte-blanche to prepare a pasta dish every Friday night for dinner. Runners have to carbo-load, right??)

That does not mean I can go crazy and have sausage-laden, cheesy, ooey-gooey pasta every week (I, do not run).  I still want a meal that I won’t regret eating come Saturday morning.  That is why I absolutely love this Linguine with Chickpeas and Zucchini that I found in Cook’s Country magazine.  It tastes creamy and rich due in part to the partially smashed chickpeas and grated zucchini.  There’s also just enough cheese to satisfy without making it seem heavy.  All around the perfect summer pasta.

You know it’s good when hubby decided to freeze the leftovers to have again this Friday when I won’t be home to cook!

Linguine with Chickpeas and Zucchini

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 lb linguine

Salt and pepper

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving

4 garlic cloves, sliced thin

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

2 zucchini, shredded and patted dry

1 (15 oz) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

2 oz Pecorino Romano cheese, grated (1 cup)

3 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

1 Tbsp lemon juice, plus lemon wedges for serving

Procedure:

  1. Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in a Dutch oven.  Add pasta and 1 Tbsp salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente.  Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, then drain pasta.
  2. Heat oil, garlic, pepper flakes, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper in now-empty pot over medium heat until garlic is lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes.  Add zucchini and chickpeas and cook until zucchini is wilted and most of its excess moisture has cooked off, about 6 minutes. Using a potato masher, lightly mash chickpeas.
  3. Off heat, stir in 1/2 cup Pecorino, parsley, lemon juice, pasta and reserved cooking water. Serve, passing lemon wedges, extra oil, and remaining 1/2 cup Pecorino separately.
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Weekly Winner: All Aboard the Buffalo Zucchini Boat Bandwagon!

zucchiniI’m not even sure where to begin with this recipe.  I thought my last entry was odd.  It honestly was nothing compared to this one.  I remember thinking when I saw the recipe for Buffalo Chicken Zucchini Boats “Wait, what? This doesn’t make any sense!  Who thinks up these things??” But something about it intrigued me and I could actually envision it working out.  I’m not sure why, but the thought the zucchini being stuffed with a buffalo-spiced chicken mixture was weird enough, that it just might… maybe… work out.

And it really did!  This is a super tasty, satisfying, amazingly easy dinner.  It feels indulgent and almost like a cheat meal since you’ve got buffalo sauce and cheese but actually it’s quite healthy.  The recipe for Buffalo Chicken Zucchini Boats comes from The Wholesome Dish blog which I discovered in a listing of 20 recipes using ground chicken (yeah, this is the kind of stuff I stay up nights looking at!).  Anyway, its crazy-easy — four ingredients! OK, full disclosure mine had 5 since I thought some chopped celery would be a nice addition as celery and buffalo wings go hand-in-hand.  It worked great but would be fine without it too.

Buffalo Chicken Zucchini Boats

Serves 4

Ingredients:

4 small to medium zucchini (about 1-1/4 pounds)

1 lb ground chicken

1/2 cup Buffalo Wing Sauce

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Procedure:

  1. Preheat oven to 400F degrees.  Spray a 9×13 inch baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Place a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the chicken and break it apart with a wooden spoon.  Cook for 7-9 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through.
  3. Remove the skillet from the heat.  Stir in the buffalo wing sauce
  4. As the chicken cooks, cut the zucchini in half, lengthwise.  Use a spoon to scoop the seeds and center out of each zucchini half, leaving a 1/4-inch thick zucchini boat.  Place the zucchini in the baking dish cut-side up.
  5. Spoon the chicken mixture into the zucchini boats.  Sprinkle the zucchini evenly with the cheese.
  6. Cover the baking dish with foil.  Bake for 35 minutes.

Weekly Winner: Zucchini’s Cinderella Moment

Zucchini gets a bad rap.  It’s maligned, it’s looked down upon, and whenever possible, cast aside.  And that’s a shame.  I admit that by itself it is not terribly glamorous.  While I enjoy it raw with dips or sautéed as a side, it generally is not something I crave.  But whenever I have it, I think to myself “Why don’t people just give zucchini a chance?”  I think, like anything or anyone, with the right preparation and make-up, it can be a real stunner.

zucchini pastaCase in point – Pasta with Zucchini Pistou.  This dish is luscious.  It is decadent.  It is even elegant.  Things that are never associated with the lowly zucchini.  I got the recipe ages ago in Cooking Light Magazine and as soon as the weather warms up, I find myself searching for it again.

So as the farmer’s markets and well-meaning friends start pushing their zucchini at you, don’t look the other way.  Grab them and make this pasta.  You’ll be so glad you did.

Pasta with Zucchini Pistou

Serves 4

Ingredients:

4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

2 ½ cups (1/4-inch-thick) slices small zucchini (about ¾ pound)

1 cup packed basil leaves

½ cup (2 ounces) shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided

2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted

4 garlic cloves, chopped

2 cups chopped Vidalia or other sweet onion (about 1 large)

1 ¾ teaspoons kosher salt, divided

8 ounces uncooked tube-shaped pasta – I used rigatoni

¼ cup heavy whipping cream

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Instructions:

Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add zucchini to pan; sauté 5 minutes or until tender and golden. Remove from pan; cool.

Place ¼ cup cooked zucchini, basil, ¼ cup cheese, pine nuts, and garlic in a food processor; process until finely chopped. (Keep mixture in processor.)

Heat remaining 2 teaspoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion to pan; sauté 10 minutes or until golden. Return remaining cooked zucchini to pan. Remove from heat.

Combine 6 quarts water and 1 teaspoon kosher salt in a large Dutch oven, and bring to a boil. Cook pasta in boiling water according to package directions. Drain in a sieve over a bowl, reserving 1/3 cup cooking liquid. Add pasta to vegetables.

With processor on, add reserved liquid to basil mixture; process until smooth. Add basil mixture to pasta. Add cream, remaining salt, and pepper; stir. Top with remaining cheese.